A Washington press corps that stood idly by while Bush and Cheney plundered the country, wrecked the environment, spied on Americans without a warrant, tortured civilians and lied the country into a war that will only get worse, woke up one morning and collectively decided: "Let’s all play Get Cynthia!"
Let’s get her for being too outspoken, bringing up the wrong issue at the wrong time, failing to get with the program, becoming a distraction, leaving House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi beside herself with rage.
Let’s get her because, hell, she practically volunteered for it, and besides, she’s an easy target, standing practically alone, fired upon at will by Republicans — who seem to think her story cancels out DeLay, Abramoff, Katrina and Iraq — and virtually undefended by Democrats, except by the rolling of eyes heavenward, as though to say, "Oh, please! We’re not responsible for HER!"
Rep. Cynthia McKinney has now apologized for her part in the face-off at Checkpoint Cynthia. It was not enough to stop the cartooning of the coverage. Already the news wires are spinning her statement as a complete about-face, an abandonment of everything else she has said about the incident. Look, she said there was racial profiling in Washington! Look, now she’s apologizing!
Journalists are reporting this story as though it were their job to "get" her, breathlessly revealing that the woman who receives more hate mail than Teddy Kennedy employs a part-time bodyguard, as though it proved something about her mental state.
But note, please, Rep. McKinney did not take back anything she has said about racial profiling in the nation’s capitol. And the fact remains that, while each day’s mail brings a new wave of personal threats, some of the people charged with protecting her affect not to recognize her. A Republican colleague offered the suggestion that she could announce "I am a Member of Congress" each time she passes a security checkpoint. But McKinney has served for eleven years, not eleven minutes.
Here’s a test of media fairness: how many times, over those eleven years, have you seen Rep. McKinney on CNN, NBC, ABC, or CBS, asked to explain her views on Iraq and the Middle East? Not once, you say? Read on for the "why come" of it all.
The leaders of her own party turn their backs while she endures the most vicious racial stereotyping I’ve seen, since the last time I looked at that old KKK rag called the "Thunderbolt" when a fellow college student stuck a copy in my face back around 1963. "I know it’s probably racist," he said, "but it’s funny," as if that would have made it all right.
It wasn’t funny, it was disgusting, and I don’t think what’s happening to Rep. Cynthia McKinney is funny now. Much of the commentary seems to have been written by the same sort of people who say they don’t agree with Rush Limbaugh, they just listen to him for "entertainment." (Anybody out there who listens to Rush for entertainment, please get your eyes off of my words, I’ve got nothing to say to you and I sure as hell don’t want to "amuse" you.)
Two-party collusion in the destruction of a reputation is the story here, folks. For Pelosi, the affair is "not something we need to focus on." Judging by Dennis Hastert’s comments, Checkpoint Cynthia was the biggest national security event since 9/11.
Rep. Tom DeLay called McKinney a racist. Nothing DeLay said would surprise me, and that comment was no exception. What did surprise me was that I couldn’t find any stories quoting any Democrats saying, "Tom DeLay called somebody a racist? Tom DeLay?!"
Oh, I know. They didn’t want to take the bait, fall into the trap, keep the ball in the air for another news cycle. But really, how can they stand this? How can anybody?
Right wingers, aided by Democrats, are spinning McKinney as "arrogant," "haughty," a "nut-case," even "the madwoman McKinney" — a woman who, just between us pros, wink wink, doesn’t understand how "the game" is played.
She understands the game all right. She just refuses to play it. When CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, trying to take control of an interview, said to McKinney, "Let me stop you there," what came back on her was something spoken in a tone rarely used toward a TV personality: "You can’t stop me, Soledad."
And you can’t control me, she might have added, and you can’t dictate your own framing of the issues with me.
How easy it is for people who don’t have a history of having their right to be present challenged, to counsel others to be more "calm" and "sensible" when provoked.
How easy it is to imagine a senior party member sitting down with Rep. McKinney, patiently and paternalistically explaining that politics is the art of compromise, sweetie. We all know what’s supposed to be meant by that, but what kind of compromise do we really want our elected representatives to make with racial profiling, warrantless wiretapping, torture, and a war founded on lies?
The Democratic Party has already compromised this country into desperate straits, going along to get along with Bush. It has been so long since one of them stood ground on anything, we’re all shocked when it happens.
Cynthia McKinney is standing firm, with little visible support, but then she has stood alone before. Like that time when she actually voted to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, when given the chance. She was joined by only two other members of the House. The Republicans dared the Democrats to vote for withdrawal, and the Dems all frantically denounced the maneuver as a trap. McKinney seized the moment and called their bluff. Is that what her critics have in mind when they call her a "nut-case" or even worse names?
If she’s a nut-case, then maybe we need to send some more crazy people up in there.
She stood alone in 2002, when power brokers in her own party recruited a Reagan Republican stalking horse to defeat her, after McKinney expressed support for Palestinian rights and was among the first to call for an investigation of the Bush Administration after 9/11. The party line at that time was that "we’ve all got to stand behind the president" in the Wonderful War on Terror.
And then, when McKinney rose from the political dead and returned uninvited from the oblivion they had consigned her to, and reclaimed her seat without anyone’s special blessing, other than the voters of her district, the Democrats in the House celebrated her historic comeback by refusing to restore her seniority.
That was Nancy Pelosi’s way of saying, "You will comply."
They wanted to keep Crazy Cynthia away from the microphone, of course they did. Out of sight, out of mind. Can’t have our elected officials running around saying the same things the public is saying about the war on Iraq! Makes us look bad! And thus it comes to pass that we get news stories saying things like, "Since returning to Washington, McKinney has kept a lower profile until last week’s incident," as if keeping quiet on public matters was her own idea.
The incident with the Capitol Police wasn’t about her hair. It wasn’t about the identity pin. It’s about the fact that when you are female, black, antiwar, and militant, invisibility looks good on you, from where the pro-war Dems sit.
Some of us are old enough to remember that many Democrats accused Martin Luther King, Jr. of "ingratitude" when he began to speak out against the Vietnam War. That was the very moment when, in the eyes of many who had previously and publicly despised him, he was transmogrified into the Great Civil Rights Leader, who had now "gone too far" and "risked" damaging the wonderful "reputation" he had earned, not to mention all the "progress for his people" that (hint, hint) could be rolled back if a "backlash" were provoked.
Vestiges of this view persist today in some quarters. William F. Buckley has said (recently) that he regrets that National Review opposed Civil Rights. He has not, insofar as I am aware, expressed a hint remorse for not supporting King in trying to stop the war in Vietnam.
So now, today, we have Rep. McKinney calling Israel to account, demanding justice for Palestinians, questioning what happened on 9/11, giving no quarter on racial profiling, and voting against the war in Iraq.
How are the do-nothing Democrats supposed to get the benefit of the antiwar crowd, if there are people running around actively voting against the war?
They act as though they believe all the country really needs is not to end the disaster in Iraq but to let the "good guys" run it.
The noble John "Nobody Spins Me" Kerry writes an op-ed calling for not one but TWO deadlines in Iraq (top that, Hillary!) and the whole party has a conniption fit because all anyone can talk about is this uppitty Black woman who won’t let security or anybody else, including party leadership, manhandle her.
Nancy Pelosi had her party theme all picked out: we were all supposed to be talking about Tom DeLay and this "Republican culture of corruption," and if anyone pressed us on Iraq, we were to demand, with one mighty voice (are you ready? all together now …) "that 2006 be a significant period of transition" in Iraq.
The Democratic Party, in splendid unison, calling upon American sons and daughters to hurl their bodies into the immolating fire, for the sake of "a significant period of transition" — who could resist?
How different from that other voice, that Black voice from Georgia, joined by a handful of others, saying "Bring the troops home. Stop this war. Now."
You begin to get a pretty clear idea why the Democrats have never asked McKinney to give the rebuttal after a Bush State of the Union.
And as for the Republicans, with few exceptions, they don’t ever intend to let another person of color claim to be a victim of racism without attacking her credibility. Not one more. (Recall how patiently they explained to us all that what happened in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina "wasn’t about race.")
Let them convene their grand jury and push their polls. Maybe one day a polling agency will call you, to ask what you think about white folks telling people of color that they’re wrong to feel that anything, anything, is ever about racism.
Before judging Rep. McKinney, ask yourself, what kind of person would still be in public service, after setbacks and sabotage attempts like these? What kind of person would keep reporting for duty after being consistently disrespected, and repeatedly challenged to "identify" herself after 11 years in Congress? And then to be mocked and attacked for her refusal to meekly "comply" when physically prevented from going to cast a vote.
You got a bit of the answer if you saw Rep. McKinney on CNN with Wolf Blitzer. I liked it when she refused to let him control the conversation, but I have to tell you, we stood up and cheered at my house when she told Blitzer, "Don’t even begin to twist my words."
Among the comments at our table that evening was, "Why can’t SHE be president?"
Singer-songwriter DAVID VEST can be reached at: email@example.com.