Saturday, March 7, 2009

Black & Brown Are the New Colors in Today’s Politics


That’s right. Now that Barack Obama is President, black and brown are the new colors in today’s politics. Yes, I’ve said it. On the surface, it appears to be a good thing, but considering the folks coming out of the woodwork these days, maybe not so much.

First, let me say that Barack Obama is a “one of a kind who shocks your mind.” He is a one-of-a-kind achiever.

Actually, there have been a number of one-of-a-kind achievers: Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. Dubois, Marian Anderson, Ralph Bunche, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Lorraine Hansberry, Jackie Robinson, Mae Jamison, Oprah Winfrey; just to name a few, an exhaustive list that Obama is now a member. Obama’s campaign for president is unprecedented and certainly, his presidency has set goal posts and unlimited boundaries for everyone in this country, whether they are black, brown, yellow or white.

Here is my recipe for one-of-a-kind achievers: An achiever manages to lead the way in a specific field of endeavor and transcends under the bleakest circumstances. They believe in a universe of unlimited possibilities, and are undaunted by any problems and challenges by accomplishing “firsts.” Always rising beyond obstacles, they set goals and forge ahead. There is joy in living meaningfully, with a clear purpose that uses their creative intelligence.

Having said that, we have begun to swim into some murky waters as of late. I say this because recently, people like Republican National Committee Chairperson Michael Steele, Senator Roland Burris of Illinois, Former Ambassador Alan Keyes and Governor Bobby Jindal (who I have ceremoniously lumped into the “brown” category), have somehow surfaced from the obscure to the surreal as the new “black and brown” in politics. They've tried, unmercifully, to compare themselves to Barack Obama in an attempt to sneak on my list of one-of-a-kind achievers.

Let’s look at Michael Steele. Yes, he has managed a couple of firsts.

Steele was the first African American Republican to serve in a statewide office in Maryland as the Lieutenant Governor for Governor Ehrlich of Maryland, from 2003 to 2007. As a matter of fact, Steele likes to tout that from 2003 to 2005, he was the highest-ranking elected African American in the United States (Jennette Bradley of Ohio, served from 2005 to 2007 as Ohio State Treasurer) “before there was a Barack Obama.” He’s also the first African American to chair the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the second to chair either major U.S. party's National Committee after Ron Brown, who chaired the Democratic National Committee (DNC) from 1989-1993.

Even though Maryland traditionally votes Democratic and had not elected a Republican governor in almost 40 years, Governor Ehrlich won the race, defeating Democratic opponent former Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend by 51% of the vote. Townsend lost because she was tied into former Governor Glendening’s failures, coupled with a poor campaign strategy. Governor Ehrlich, who ran for re-election in 2006, was the only incumbent governor to be defeated in the November 2006 elections. Steele was out of a job.

In 2004, Steele was tapped to speak at the Republican National Convention, eliciting comparisons with Barack Obama's keynote address at the Democratic convention that quickly anointed him as the new black guy on the right. After losing both Lieutenant Governor and the 2006 Senate seat in Maryland (no surprise there), in order to keep his name in the public’s eye, Steele began spending an exorbitant amount of time developing himself as a professional Repug pundit by appearing on numerous cable news and talk shows.

Steele vigorously campaigned and won the Republic National Committee (RNC) chair. Once elected he had big plans for the RNC. He believed in developing a 50-state strategy, and to make better use of the internet and other technology to spread a GOP message that engages youth (college students), blacks and other minorities on a permanent basis, not just during election time.

Oh my God? Does this sound familiar? Wait! Didn’t Howard Dean successfully create and implement this very same strategy for the DNC, which ultimately paid huge dividends for the Democrats in 2006 and 2008? Okay, so maybe Steele’s ideas are a tad “unoriginal,” but at least it’s been proven effective.

In his first month as RNC chair, Steele decided to reorganize the RNC by firing everyone on staff, yet he has neglected to replace key positions with advisors that could help him during this build-up period and to keep him in line with his message.

So Steele’s missteps on CNN with D.L. Hughley weren’t a surprise. In fact, it came after a series of other poorly received public statements. He first warned the president that the Repugs plan to give the Democrats a run for their money in every community in America. Then he suggested the party might take revenge on the three GOP moderate senators who supported the stimulus bill. In an attempt to appeal to the black community and specifically, black youth, Steele began promoting a planned “hip-hop” overhaul of the GOP, which was not only painfully phony, but a big reach from what the Repugs had come to represent these past 40 years. He also publicly threatened Repugs who might oppose his plans within the party. Obviously, Steele forgot who he was working for and started acting like a “big black buck.” Translation? An independent thinking black man. And regardless of whether you agreed with him or not, you had to admire his chutzpah.

But it was on Hughley’s show that Steele imploded in front of a national audience. First, Steele attacked Rush Limbaugh. Second, Steele didn’t challenge Hughley when he stated that last year’s Republican National Convention “literally looked like Nazi Germany. It really did.” While the Rushies lost their minds, Repug insiders were abhorred that Steele didn’t challenge Hughley’s comparison of the Repugs to the Nazis. Oh well. (As a sidebar, Hughley quit his show. Did it have to do with the Nazi remark? Who knows?)

But of course now, the Repugs want blood and are already talking about unseating Steele. Having seen what other Repugs have done, such as Sarah Palin’s fear mongering, Obama Waffles; and Watermelon email, which I believe is far worse than the “Nazi” reference, it's likely Steele’s fellow Repugs are using this as an excuse to get rid of someone they never wanted in the first place. They already succeeded in forcing Steele to kiss Limbaugh’s big fat smelly ass in public, knocking Steele down a peg or two from his “big black buck” status.

In choosing their new black hope, Steele's selection was based on his ability to skillfully represent the Repugs in the media. But for some, he went too far – Steele didn’t’ realize what we already knew – he was only supposed to undergo changes that fit within the current constraints of the party line. So far, I think it’s safe to say we have seen little evidence of any improvement with the Repugs. Three words from me: “Bye-Bye Steele.”

Then there is poor old Roland Burris of Illinois, a left over from the old Chicago Democratic machine that has dominated politics since the 1930s. If Obama proved anything, the old machinery doesn’t work anymore, a lesson that Democrats in Congress are continuing to struggle with. So here’s Burris, the first African-American elected to statewide office as Illinois Comptroller in 1978, and then as Illinois Attorney General in 1990, the second African American elected to a state office of Attorney General in the United States.

While these are respectable “firsts” it doesn’t fit within the parameters of my “one-of-a-kind achievers.” Apparently, Burris feels the same way, which is why having run unsuccessfully for Mayor (once) and Governor (thrice), he’s anxious to etch that one-of-a-kind achievement on his existing headstone. (I’m not kidding!) One way to instantly insure one-of-a-kind achiever status is to get a seat you don’t have to run for or win or lose on your own merits. Burris (along with others) began jockeying to become the caretaker of Obama’s Senate seat. Governor Blago picked Burris. Now Burris can die a happy man.

But at what cost? Here’s Burris, a mouse of a man that never got the due he felt he deserved, taking a short cut to greatness. But what’s truly frightening is that ever since he stepped into the spotlight, Burris has yakkity yakked us to death. Since he gained the seat under the most bizarre circumstances, instead of chilling out, Burris began running off at the mouth, even after the Senate initially refused to recognize his seat. After that incident, you’d think he’d shut-up? No.

Now, there are accusations flying around that Burris may have actually made an under-the-table deal with former-Governor Blago to get Obama’s seat. Seems like people were actually paying attention to Burris and his double-talk. Either way, whatever Burris may have did or did not do, Burris’ constituents and his fellow Democrats feel he’s become unworthy of keeping the seat, even if it means removing the only black Senator of the United States. Mindful of this, Burris, who still refuses to keep his trap shut, is now using racism as his trump card – “you don’t want me because I’m black.” Boo-hoo. Burris is not only his own worse enemy; he’s also become our worse nightmare. He just needs to go. Period.

And then there’s Alan Keyes, a name that just won’t disappear, forever coming back to haunt us all.

A former Reagan diplomat and a conservative political activist (he’s an activist because he’s not electable), Keyes is the perennial candidate for public office. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 1996, 2000, and 2008; and ran for the U.S. Senate in 1988, 1992, and again in 2004, losing to guess who? Barack Obama.

Keyes latest mantra is calling Obama a communist and usurper (you think Keyes is a sore loser, perhaps?) and refuses to acknowledge the validity of Obama's inauguration. Why? Because he’s a sore loser (I said it before but it’s so blatantly obvious, I’m repeating it here again).

So to get even, he has aligned himself with the kooks, nuts and conspiracists that keep suing the federal government about the 44th president's birthplace. (Some of the suits have been ridiculous: Hawaii isn’t a state (says who?); he must have been born in Africa (why is that?); and is he a British citizen (how come?). Even after reviewing a copy of Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate, these kooks keep insisting it’s a fake and are even more pissed-off that the Governor of Hawaii has sealed Obama’s certificate. (Copies of Certificates can only be issued to the individual it belongs to or family members.) The latest case, heard several days ago, was kicked out, with the judge threatening to make the plaintiff reimburse the Court for “wasting its time in a frivolous case.”

But Keyes, remaining ever diligent, continues to lead this charge. I guess he has nothing else better to do, since he is an unelectable buffoon. He refuses to acknowledge that Barack Obama is President of the United States, accusing him of being an “illegally elected president” that is on the path of destroying this country. Gee whiz, where was Keyes when Bush became the illegal president of the United States via the Supreme Court? Oh well. I guess that accusation only works when it’s surreal, not when it’s real.

Quite obviously, Keyes is a psychotic, but while the Republicans usually keep their distance from him, in the vision of the party elders, he is the perfect black Republican. Yippee yay for them.

Finally, there is Piyush “Bobby” Jindal. While Jindal is not black, as a non-white whose skin color is the same as mine, Jindal does fall under the “brown” category. And while Jindal doesn’t “face the same radical-black-guy stereotypes as Obama,” as an Asian-Indian, he will more than likely get caught up in the “model minority” fervor that has resonated in this country these past twenty years, which may easily work against him, especially among other non-white folks.

Jindal’s “firsts” have certainly run the gamut. Having served in the Louisiana State government in a number of positions, Jindal first ran for Governor in 2003 and lost; but was elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2006 as a Representative of Louisiana’s 1st Congressional district. At age 36, Jindal became the youngest current governor in the United States; the first Asian-Indian elected to statewide office; and the first non-white to serve as governor since P.B.S. Pinchback during Reconstruction.

Jindal’s winning the governorship, which was no small feat, propelled him into the national spotlight during the Presidential Campaign when John McCain was considering him for the Vice Presidential spot. He has since then been compared to Palin and Mitt Romney as the powerbrokers of the "newly improved" Repug party. To that end, Jindal was selected to give the Repug’s rebuttal to President Obama’s speech before Congress on February 24, 2009.

What a disaster. His speech was poorly written (riddled with inconsistencies) and badly delivered. Pundits and bloggers across the board ridiculed Jindal (Frank Rich of The New York Times wrote a great analysis of the speech). Comparing his presentation to a Mister Rogers’ monologue, Democrats, Liberals and Progressives have been quick to point out that Jindal is no match to Barack Obama. Yes, this may be true, but out of Steele, Burris and Keyes, Jindal is a force to be reckoned with and should not be underestimated.

In spite of his poor performance, Jindal has managed to cross the threshold of “one-of-a-kind” not because of what he is, but because of who he is. He has been quietly attending a string of out-of-state fundraising events that have amassed close to $4 million dollars for his 2011 gubernatorial re-election, despite having no challengers. Since Jindal is smarter than Palin (who isn’t?) and more likeable than Romney (the Repugs can’t wrap their heads around a Mormon) he can easily rise above the ashes into something else altogether.

Jindal’s policies are not clear and he has a scant record with no extraordinary legislation to back him up. However, as he continues to build momentum, the only thing that can bring him down is his inability to clean up New Orleans, which could very well lose him his re-election bid. So folks shouldn’t sit back and relax, thinking everything is “all good” because Jindal appears to be an idiot. Not. Rather, we need to remain diligent on “Bobby-watch” and not take anything he says or does for granted, mishaps and all. Really.

It would be silly to pretend that the only reason the Repugs have thrown Steele and Jindal into the spotlight is because they are in love with these guys. It’s obvious they’re simply using each other. The Repugs need them to try to “lure” voters from the Democratic Party and bring the Republican Moderates back home. Steele and Jindal need them to obtain power. The Repugs may think this strategy is their answer to Obama’s success, but lightening doesn’t always strike twice, especially when people appear openly fake to the point of being offensive. Besides, even if Steele and Jindal were to succeed in the media, there are bigger issues that need to be addressed.

Since the 1960s, the Repugs traditionally counted on the "Southern Strategy" of stirring up white fear, especially in the Deep South, to ensure victory at the polls. Obama's victory and his upset victory in traditionally Republican states have forced Repug party leadership to figure out a new way to politic. The old race-baiting style of politics doesn’t work well these days, since the United States is quickly becoming a full-fledged, multiculturally enlightened country. The problem is that the Repugs are in a rut, grasping at straws because they can’t let go of the past. So they’re pinning their hopes on these black and brown hopefuls, to make their party more palpable to the rest of the public. But what they fail to understand is that it’s not just the packaging; it’s also what’s inside the package – substance. So until they can figure that out what that “substance” is, all the Steeles and Jindals of the world will not change the fact that they are stuck with the same old message.

Keyes will never be taken seriously. He is so painful to listen to and watch you’d wish he’d just go away. But as long as the Repugs find him useful, he’ll always pop up intermittently, looking to find his place in the sun.

And then there is poor Burris, who is so out of touch with reality, he should, at this point be taken out of his misery. We need effective people in Congress, not old timers who believe they are due a “pass” because of an allegiance to a party or simply because one is black. Barack Obama has promised change and change is happening . . . we need to pave the way for people who truly believe in change and that represent our interests, first and foremost, not folks who are mouthpieces for an outdated ideology that does the public no good.

I would be delighted to see African American, Asian, Latino and Native American public servants from both sides of the aisle step up to the plate and present us with new ideas that’ll dazzle and shock our minds. So I’m not against these guys, they’re just not the right kind of blacks and browns our country desperately needs to insure our political future. >>END

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