The day the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died Appeals Court Judge and Scalia’s nominated replacement, Neil Gorsuch, said he could barely get down a ski run in Colorado because he was so blinded by tears at his death. This was not a private utterance or personal feeling of deep emotion that he shared with friends and family. He told of his profound sorrow in a speech in April 2016 at Case Western University. Gorsuch wanted the world to know that Scalia was more than just a heartfelt friend. He was a man and a judge whose legal and judicial ideas he was in total lockstep with.
The 50th anniversary of the monumental 1963 March on Washington was accompanied by a wave of commemorative events that tried hard to recapture the energy and the spirit of the 1963 March. This was a tall order. The original march, punctuated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s towering "I Have a Dream" speech, acted as a powerful wrecking ball that crumbled the walls of legal segregation and ushered in an era of unbridled opportunities for many blacks. The results are unmistakable today. Blacks are better educated, more prosperous, own more businesses, hold more positions in the professions, and have more elected officials than ever before.
Yet the towering racial improvements since the 1963 March on Washington mask the harsh reality: The challenges 50 years later are, in some ways, more daunting than what King and other civil rights leaders faced.
When King marched in 1963, black leaders had already firmly staked out the moral high ground for a powerful and irresistible civil rights movement. It was classic good versus evil. Many white Americans were sickened by the gory news scenes of baton-battering racist Southern sheriffs, fire hoses, police dogs, and Klan violence unleashed against peaceful black protesters. Racial segregation was considered immoral and indefensible, and the civil rights leaders were hailed as martyrs and heroes in the fight for justice.
As America unraveled in the 1960s in the anarchy of urban riots, campus takeovers, and anti-war street battles, the civil rights movement and its leaders fell apart, too. Many of them fell victim to their own success and failure. When they broke down the racially restricted doors of corporations, government agencies, and universities, it was middle-class blacks, not the poor, who rushed headlong through them. As King embraced the rhetoric of the militant anti-war movement, he became a political pariah shunned by the White House, as well as mainstream white and black leaders.
King's murder in 1968 was a turning point for race relations in America. The self-destruction from within and political sabotage from outside of black organizations left the black poor organizationally fragmented and politically rudderless. The black poor, lacking competitive technical skills and professional training, and shunned by many middle-class black leaders, became expendable jail and street and cemetery fodder. Some turned to gangs, guns and drugs to survive.
A Pew study specifically released to coincide with the 50th anniversary celebrations graphically made the point that the economic and social gaps between whites and African-Americans have widened over the last few decades despite massive spending by federal and state governments, state and federal civil rights laws, and two decades of affirmative action programs. The racial polarization has been endemic between blacks and whites on everything from the George Zimmerman trial to just about every other controversial case that involves black and white perceptions of the workings of the criminal justice system.
A half century later, the task of redeeming King’s dream means confronting the crises of family breakdown, the rash of shamefully failing public schools, racial profiling, urban police violence, the obscene racial disparities in the prison and criminal justice system, and HIV/AIDS. These are beguiling problems that sledgehammer the black poor and these are the problems that King and the civil rights movement of his day only had begun to recognize and address. Civil rights leaders today also have to confront something else that King did not have to face. King had the sympathy and goodwill of millions of whites, politicians, and business leaders in the peak years of the civil rights movement. Much of that goodwill has vanished in the belief that blacks have attained full equality.
Then there’s the reality that race matters in America can no longer be framed exclusively in black and white. Latinos and Asians have become major players in the fight for political and economic empowerment and figure big in the political strategies of Democratic and Republican presidential contenders. Today’s civil rights leaders will have to figure out ways to balance the competing and sometimes contradictory needs of these and other ethnic groups and patch them into a workable coalition for change.
It's grossly unfair to expect today’s civil rights leaders to be the charismatic, aggressive champions of, and martyrs for, civil rights that King was. Or to think that 50 years later, another March on Washington can solve the seemingly intractable problems of the black poor. The times and circumstances have changed too much for that. Still, civil rights leaders can draw strength from King's courage, vision and dedication and fight the hardest they can against racial and economic injustices that have hardly disappeared. This is still a significant step toward redeeming King’s dream.
Editor's Note: Senators on Thursday outlined a bipartisan "compromise" that would dramatically increase spending on border enforcement. The plan, which includes 20,000 additional border agents, military technology upgrades and the completion of 700 miles of fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border, is an attempt to move immigration reform forward by addressing what Republican lawmakers say is one of their most pressing concerns -- border security. But NAM contributor Earl Ofari Huchinson writes that Republicans' interest in border security is a myth.
For more than a decade, the GOP has relentlessly latched onto the issue of the United States’ supposedly leaky borders to torpedo any deal on immigration reform. The current “compromise” is no different, even though the shellacking that Mitt Romney took from Hispanic voters in the 2012 presidential election, coupled with the grim prospect that the GOP could be mortally wounded in 2014 and 2016 by Hispanic voters, has Republicans proclaiming that they are now sincere in their desire for immigration reform. Yet those fears haven’t stopped the party from pulling out the old border enforcement card. GOP Senator Marco Rubio, the party’s point man on immigration reform, said bluntly, “The only way we're going to pass an immigration reform law out of the House and Senate so the president can sign it is if it has real border security measures within it." Safe and secure borders, they say, are simply in the public and national interest.
This is simply more GOP mythmaking at its worst. The U.S. spends nearly $20 billion annually on border security measures and that figure will be ramped up even higher in 2014. That’s more spent on border security than ever before, and far more than the government spends on all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. The massive spending has paid off. Nearly every inch of the border is patrolled, around the clock, by waves of more than 20,000 border patrol agents and at least six unmanned aircraft. Both outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Homeland Security officials have publicly admitted that unarmed drones are used to patrol the Mexican and Canadian borders, as well as the Caribbean Sea, and in other law enforcement operations.
The result has been that illegal border crossings have plunged steadily for the past few years. That drop, combined with the surge in deportations which are at an all-time high, add up to an historic low in net illegal immigration into the country. The unstated downside is that with the hyper aggressiveness of border patrol and the immigration crackdown there has been a sharp rise in deaths since 2010 from the desperate efforts of undocumented immigrants to skirt the patrols, and the use of lethal force by patrol agents under dubious circumstances.
The irony is that there was a brief moment a decade ago that the GOP seemed to get it right on immigration reform. Then President George W. Bush was widely and unfairly blamed at the time for making a mess of the immigration reform fight in Congress by not pushing hard enough for passage of the immigration bill debated in 2007. Immigrant rights groups lambasted Republican senators for dumping crippling demands for tight amnesty, citizenship and, of course, the border security provisions on the bill. Leading Republican presidential contenders that year didn’t help matters by flatly opposing the bill as much too soft on amnesty and border enforcement.
This did much to kill whatever flickering hope there was for the bill’s passage. This undid the inroads that Bush made in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections when he scored gains with Latino voters. A big part of that was due to the perception (and reality) that Bush would push hard for immigration reform. Immigration then was not just about fixing America’s alleged broken borders but a crass, naked political grab for Latino votes. Even so, the party still couldn’t shake its ingrained, nativist xenophobia on what American citizenship should be about. That didn’t include any backpedaling on the party’s opposition to a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented.
Two crushing presidential defeats, and the unrelenting hostility of Latino voters, has only slightly changed the party’s thinking on immigration reform as can be seen from its pile on of amendment after amendment to the current bill, with the centerpiece being border security as the non-negotiable condition for the bill’s passage.
Arizona Senator John McCain in a candid moment, without saying as much, admitted that the GOP’s canard of hopelessly porous borders was a sham. He not only said that the borders were more secure than ever, but also gave figures on the colossal number of illegal immigrant apprehensions during the past near decade to give lie to the insecure border myth.
The question now is how far the GOP will push the border myth to get its way on immigration reform. If the past political battles over the immigration reform bill are any guide, the answer is all the way.
In a week’s time the wide range of what was once considered routine GOP bigotry was on full display. Dave Agema, a former West Michigan state representative, and Republican National Committeeman called gays “filthy homosexuals." Next, Alaska Rep. Don Young blurted out the epitaph “wetbacks” in discussing the immigration issue. Then 23 members of the so-called White Student Union attended the Conservative Political Action Conference where its leader tacitly endorsed segregation and even slavery.
In times past, the silence from the GOP officials and rank and file would have been deafening. It would have reconfirmed the standard knock against the GOP as a party of Kooks, cranks misanthropes, and, of course, bigots. But in each of the three cases, there was an outcry from local GOP officials, bloggers, and GOP campus groups. They publicly denounced the bigotry, and in the case of Young, House Speaker John Boehner, Arizona and Texas Senators John McCain, and John Cornyn, and Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus blasted Young’s remarks.
At first glance, this seems a signal that the GOP recognizes that it’s widely considered the party of bigotry, and that it’s willing to do something about it. But the sea change may be much less than meets the eye. Many top GOP officials are still mute on its party’s bigots. The official record still stands that no top GOP official aggressively and consistently denounces the bigoted remarks or acts by a GOP operative, representative, or senator.
The RNC in its near 100 page blueprint for reaching out to minorities, gays and young people did raise faint hope that the GOP may indeed have finally woke up that America is changing, and it can’t win national offices anymore solely with conservative white male Heartland and Deep South voters, or through the use of the crude race baiting. But this hope ignores the GOP’s horrible history of dealing with its blatant bigots and bigotry. The pattern was on ugly display in 2002 when then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott touched off a furor seemingly touting the one time pro-segregation battles fought by South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond. It took nearly a week for then President George W. Bush to make a stumbling, tepid disavowal of Lott.
In the next decade, a legion of Republican state and local officials, conservative talk show jocks and even some Republican bigwigs made foot-in-mouth racist cracks that invariably got them in hot water. Their response when called on the carpet was always the same: They make a duck and dodge denial, claim that they were misquoted or issue a weak, half-hearted apology. Each time, the response from top Republicans was either silence, or if the firestorm was great enough, to give the offender a much-delayed mild verbal hand slap. Lott was dumped from his Senate Majority Leader post, but soon got a top post back as Senate Minority Whip after a kind of, sort of mea culpa.
The bigger dilemma for the GOP when the bigots of their party pop off is that they remain prisoners of their party's racist past. It’s a past in which Republican presidents set the tone with their own verbal race bashing. President Eisenhower never got out of the Old South habit of calling blacks "nigras."
In an infamous and well-documented outburst at a White House dinner party in 1954, Ike winked, nodded and whispered to Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren that he understood why white Southerners wouldn't want to "see their sweet little girls required to sit in school alongside some big black buck."
President Nixon routinely peppered his talks with his confidants with derogatory quips about blacks. He enshrined in popular language racially tinged code words such as, "law and order, "permissive society," "welfare cheats," "crime in the streets," "subculture of violence," "subculture of poverty," "culturally deprived" and "lack of family values." And President Reagan once told a black reporter how he would treat black leaders, saying, "I said to hell with 'em."
In 1988, President Bush, Sr. made escaped black convict Willie Horton the poster boy for black crime and violence and turned the presidential campaign against his Democrat opponent, Michael Dukakis into a rout. He branded a bill by Senator Ted Kennedy to make it easier to bring employment discrimination suits a "quotas bill" and vetoed it.
The sentiment that underlay the casual, and sometimes blatant, racist trash talk of top Republicans, even Republican presidents, inevitably percolated down to the troops. If GOP minor players feel that they can say whatever they want about blacks, Latinos, gays and women and get away with it, it's because other Republicans have done the same, and there were no real consequences for their vile remarks.
There are many Republicans who don't utter racist or homophobic epithets, use code speak, or publicly denigrate minorities, gays and women. Yet Colin Powell recently took much heat from many Republicans when he called the GOP racist. This still makes it a good bet that the next public official or personality hammered for a bigoted outburst will be a Republican. It's also an equally good bet that few top Republicans will immediately rush to condemn their GOP compatriot for it.
LOS ANGELES--President Obama took much heat a year ago when he floated a series of proposed budget cuts that would have slashed programs for the poor.
The cuts would have reduced funding or eliminated outright community-service block grants that fund an array of local education, health and social service programs in low-income, underserved, largely inner-city neighborhoods. And they would have slashed funds for programs in science, technology and youth mentoring programs, as well as employment and training assistance.
The proposed cuts were just that--proposed. There was little chance any of them would go into effect. The proposals were mostly made to counter the forced concession that Obama had to make with the GOP on the Bush tax cuts, namely allowing them to stay in place for the wealthy. The presidnent also used the proposals to wring more spending concessions out of congressional Republicans on unemployment benefits and health services.
Post-Election Radically Different
Obama’s decisive election victory in November radically changed that. So far he has stood firm on his demand that the wealthy pay more, and has proposed an array of other tax hikes that would also squeeze more revenue out of the rich.
The only major proposed spending cut at this point that has raised eyebrows among Democratic supporters has been the $340 billion from health care programs. But the cuts would not directly hit elders and the needy. The cuts are mostly to health providers, and do not impact benefits.
In addition, much of the public bought into the GOP's bogus line that Obama's alleged reckless spending was hopelessly drowning the government in a sea of red ink. Nervous foreign investors as well as a slew of financial experts and economists endlessly claimed that the budget deficit -- projected to soar to nearly $1.6 trillion in the last fiscal year -- would saddle the nation, with higher taxes; deeper cuts in education, health and social services; staggering permanent debt; and possibly even bankruptcy.
That doomsday scenario was part political hyperbole, part financial panic. Even then many economists noted that the claim of financial Armageddon was way overblown.
But Obama is not out of the woods on spending cuts, and neither are the poor. Although his proposals would protect programs that directly benefit lower-income people, Medicaid, unemployment insurance and food stamps, the GOP’s counter proposals don’t.
As the deadline for reaching a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff creeps closer, the pressure could build for the White House to eye programs for potential cuts that it has firmly and repeatedly taken off the table.
The two proposals put forth by both sides outline deficit reduction efforts in broad budget categories and are not entirely clear about whether cuts will hurt poor people or not. A small army of the nation’s leading business leaders have screamed loudly that a plunge over the fiscal cliff would be a disaster for business, wreck the nation’s credit rating and shove the United States back into deep recession. That must be avoided at all cost, they warn.
Obama’s consistent answer is that a deal can be cut by approving the tax hikes and revenue raising measures he’s proposed, as well as the major check that he wants to put on endless runaway military spending. This would bring the deficit under $1 trillion and would spare cutting programs that would devastate the poor and working class.
The political and social and economic consequences of the fiscal cliff debate on the poor are enormous. Surveys show that the ranks of the poor are still huge and that the wealth and income gap between the rich and poor is wider than in recent years.
Government Programs Bolster Economy
There's also the greater public recognition that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, unemployment insurance and other government programs play a huge part in bolstering the economy, and American's living standards.
The GOP’s favorite whipping program, food stamps, is a perfect example of that. It helped lift nearly 4 million people--almost 2 million of them children--out of poverty. Then there’s the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is a refundable federal credit for low- to moderate-income working Americans. The estimate is that this lifted nearly 6 million people, half of them children, out of poverty.
These programs provide income for the poor that goes directly into spending on goods and services. This in turn creates jobs, spurs business expansion, and sharply boosts tax revenues for local, state and the federal governments.
Lower-income Americans, far from being a drag on the economy, fuel it with their spending. Obama’s budget does not hammer the poor. The GOP’s counter to it would. Obama’s proposals, as they now stand, would be the only ones to keep the poor from barreling over the fiscal cliff.
Less than two weeks before his death, I was scheduled to interview Rodney King on the public stage at the annual Leimert Park Book festival in Los Angeles. I had two conflicting thoughts about the interview. One was that if the well-worn term "accident of history" ever applied to anyone it was King. The second was, what made King -- twenty one years after that fateful night that his beating by four white Los Angeles Police officers was captured in shocking detail on videotape -- still such an enduring figure, name and most importantly, symbol.
During the 2008 presidential election campaign, the GOP plan of attack on then-candidate Barack Obama was simple: pound him relentlessly as soft on terrorism and antagonistic toward the military. GOP presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., and especially George W. Bush in his 2004 reelection fight against Massachusetts Senator John Kerry used this ploy masterfully against their Democratic opponents.
The instant the news broke that a soldier with an Arab name shot up the base at Ft. Hood, the Council on American-Islamic Relations wasted no time and issued a loud and vigorous denunciation of the mass murders. The Council didn’t know whether Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the alleged shooter, was a Muslim by birth, a converted Muslim, or even a Muslim at all. The name and the horrific murder spree was enough to drive the group to quickly distance itself from the rampage. Other Muslim organizations instantly followed suit and issued their own equally strong disavowal of Hasan.
New America Media Editor's Note: During the 1980s crack epidemic, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., then a House member, voted to impose harsh sentencing for crack cocaine. Now he says he “made a mistake 20 years ago,” and is introducing legislation to remove the disparity between crack and powdered cocaine possession. But the fact that his bill does not make the sentencing change retroactive -- Durbin has said he hopes to leave that debate to the Sentencing Commission – means that his Fairness in Sentencing Act 2009 is anything but fair, writes commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson.
One presidential candidate has brashly played the race card. It wasn't presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain or his rival Barack Obama. Both have tipped lightly around race in the campaign. But Ralph Nader didn't have any qualms about bring race into the campaign. The perennial political gadfly accused Obama of saying and doing nothing to threaten the white power structure. If Nader had stopped there he might have opened up a reasoned debate on whether Obama panders to corporate interests in his stance on high gas prices, home foreclosures, the lack of affordable heath care, the Iraq war wind-down, corporate and environmental regulations, and labor protections. This might have prompted some to ask, does Obama rise to the standard of a politician who has actually sold his political soul to corporations and the Beltway establishment?
But Nader didn't stop at criticizing Obama for being a Beltway insider. He asked, rhetorically, "Is it because he wants to talk white?" as an explanation of why Obama supposedly doesn't take hard stances on these issues. He then tossed in a reference to Jesse Jackson as an example of someone who Obama allegedly doesn't want to sound like because he obviously sounds black. He didn't tell exactly how he thinks an African American is supposed to talk too avoid sounding white.
The one thing Nader got right is that Obama doesn't sound like Jackson. But this has absolutely nothing to do with him talking white. It has everything to do with him wanting to win. The instant that Obama declared his candidacy the buzz question in the press and among much of the public was whether an African American could be a viable candidate for the presidency. This was quickly followed with the question of whether whites would vote for an African-American candidate for the highest office. From the first start of Obama's campaign the overwhelming majority of whites said they do not vote for candidates based on their color but based on their competence, ability and qualifications. The polls show that whites continue to say that Obama's color is of no concern.
For his part, Obama early understood the potential minefield that race poses to his chances, and that even the slightest perception that there is a racial tilt in his campaign would render his campaign DOA. He has said and done everything possible to sell himself and his campaign as race neutral and all inclusive. He's stuck tight to the script in which he talks almost exclusively about the broad based issues of the Iraq war and the economy.
That script is too bland and saccharine to have much meaning to Nader. He's spent decades and three presidential campaigns blasting political cronyism, two party dominance, corporate greed and malfeasance, war mongering and profiteering. He plainly regards Obama as a corporate candidate who has no antidote to those ills. Nader could have easily made that point without racially knocking Obama. But he did knock him, and the only real explanation is that Nader holds Obama to a totally different standard than he holds McCain or any other white mainstream politician; a standard that's based solely on his color. Put bluntly, because he's black he must be by definition in Nader's eyes an inherent rebel or at the very least actively challenge the white corporate and political establishment. But that assumes that blacks are instinctive rebels because of their color. Earth to Nader on this one; the likes of blacks from Clarence Thomas to Colin Powell should have long since dispelled that myth. Yet, to even think that blacks should be open racial crusaders is crass, cynical, and even borderline racist.
The only standard that Obama can and should be held to is the one that governs mainstream politicians. Obama's a centrist Democrat, a consummate party loyalist and Capital Hill insider. Any change he could effect could come only from working within the tight and narrowly prescribed confines of Washington politics. Race has little to do with that. And even if that wasn't the case, Obama likely still wouldn't be on the frontline of the racial battleground.
He belongs to the younger, post-civil rights generation. That generation did not experience the terror of snarling police dogs, fire hoses, racist sheriff's batons, and Jim Crow segregation. They did not fight prolonged battles for equality and economic justice in the streets as those of Jackson's generation did. The racial battleground for Obama's generation has been in the courtroom, corporate suites, and university boardrooms. He fought those battles as a student at Harvard University, as a poverty organizer and civil rights attorney.
Obama blew off Nader's racial dig at him as a ploy to get attention by an aging political crusader whose political star has since long dimmed. Nader certainly wouldn't have gotten that attention if he had just rapped Obama for his alleged corporate and insider political sins. But then again that wouldn't have been Ralph.