Saturday, January 17, 2004

I Have a Dream (the Details Are Not Important Right Now)

You may recall that in the 2000 presidential campaign, the Democratic Party candidate won the votes of about 92% of the African-Americans who showed up at the polls . . . and Gore still lost.

This year Democrats know that they have to get 92% of the African-American vote again just to stay even. To win they'll need to hold on to every one of those votes and convince another few percentage points to support their as yet unnamed candidate.

How do you convince a diverse group of people with little in common but their ethnicity to think in lockstep uniformity about such a complex issue as the future of the nation?

Here's a hint: calm and logical reasoning will not get the results you need.

How do you get at that last 8% of the African-American vote . . . that last 8% of holdouts who may harbor sympathetic views about President Bush's response to the deadly terrorist attack on Lower Manhattan, who may agree with the Republican Party's position on parental choice in public education, who may have noticed the number of African-Americans serving in critical national security posts in the Administration responsible rather than, say, overseeing weather forecasts at the Commerce Department?

Only an appeal to fear and unreasoning emotion will get these fence sitters to abandon hope and vote as with the permanently enraged.

So it's no surprise that President Bush was dogged by vociferous protestors as he made a very public appeal for support in African-American communities in New Orleans and Atlanta.

Never mind that many of these protestors were white. Never mind also that Bush is appealing to individuals rather than monolithic voting blocs. And certainly pay no mind to the horror of African-America audiences actually agreeing with Bush's neanderthal fundamentalist Christian beliefs:

Mr. Bush spoke about the power of faith to change lives in personal terms at the church. At a discussion with members of the church and community leaders, Mr. Bush recounted his decision to stop drinking. "I wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't ask for Christ's help in my heart," he said.

Later, during his speech in the church, there were repeated murmurs and shouts of assent and approval from the largely black audience as Mr. Bush discussed harnessing the power of religion and the resources of churches, synagogues and mosques to help people in need.

Yikes! This guy is connecting! We can't have Republicans muscling in on our constituency!

So of course the wails of protest were heard throughout the land. Unruly dissenters disrupted President Bush's visit to the grave of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. According to Sheriee Bowman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Mr. Bush's presence was "politically motivated."

Well, he is the president, and it is an election year, and King is a politically powerful symbol. So yes, in fact, when is a political office seeker not politically motivated?

"We question the integrity of the timing of the move because last year at this time he took a stand against affirmative action, the Michigan case, which is part of Dr. King's legacy," Ms. Bowman said, referring to the Supreme Court case that considered the use of race in college admissions.

Jeez, the timing is the 75th anniversary of King"s birth and if King was once noted for anything it was his dream of a colorblind society "where people are judged by the content of their characters not by the color of their skin."

(minor aside: It's curious how often you see the film clip of Dr. King saying "I have a dream," yet how rarely do you see the rest of the clip and hear what his dream actually was.)

"Bush was not invited," said Lance Graves, a black social worker who took the day off from helping people socially to demonstrate outside The King Center. "He (Bush) is diametrically opposed to everything Dr. King stood for."

Actually, I believe it was the good doctor himself who said to people like Graves, and possible to a young Graves himself, "instead of 'Burn, Baby Burn", you should "Learn, Baby Learn", so that you can go out and 'Earn, Baby Earn'"?

What Dr. King was diametrically opposed to was dependency. He was opposed to using race and victimhood as an excuse for underachievement. He was opposed to sitting idly by as injustice prevails or deferring to others rather than taking personal responsibility for improving your world.

Maybe I'm missing something but that sounds a lot like W to me.

Imagine the irreparable harm to the African-American community if politicians actually had to compete for their vote. Why, you might even see candidates treat black Americans like regular thinking people instead of must-win-at-all-costs constituencies.

Come to think of it . . . wasn't that Dr. King's dream?

And now the Democrats have a vested interest in seeing that not happen. That's no dream. That's the same nightmare of segregation Dr. King died to prevent.

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