Noah thought he had it bad. For 41 days and 41 nights, the Republican Party rained down racial obscenity upon Black America, beginning with Trent Lott’s December 5 birthday greeting to Strom Thurmond and climaxing on Martin Luther King’s birthday, January 15, when George Bush declared the University of Michigan law school’s affirmative action program unconstitutional. Bush capped off the holiday weekend with a visit to a Black church, where he tempted the congregation with faith-based favors. The Queen of the show, Condoleezza Rice, blew kisses to the crowd – an image that should be etched in memory, raising as it does the most profound challenge to historical Black political behavior.
If we cannot be moved to revulsion by brazen acts of treason, then we cannot hope to exercise the power of a coherent political force. Condoleezza Rice is the purest expression of the race traitor. No polite description is possible.
As a people historically excluded from high titles, Blacks have applauded every African American “first” as a collective victory. This was a logical and correct response to the solid wall of white refusal to tolerate the presence of Black faces in high places. In such circumstances – which still prevail today in vast swaths of American society – individual advancement actually does represent a kind of collective triumph. The rule applies, even in areas of endeavor having little effect on the lives of Black people, in general. Indeed, the more exclusively white the enclave or activity, the greater the shared victory once the color line is crossed.
White people invented the rules of this game, and can end it at will. Beginning in earnest less than a decade ago, and at the urging of Right think-tankers bent on maintaining white domination, the Republican Party adopted a strategy of selective, high profile minority appointments. This approach allowed the GOP to continue to cultivate its core racist base, while reassuring white “swing” voters that they had not allied themselves with a racist party. Of decidedly secondary importance was the possibility of finding substantial support among Black voters. Significantly, the GOP simultaneously downgraded efforts to elect Black Republicans to Congress. For the party’s narrow purposes, an appointive Black strategy provided large propaganda payoffs at minimal political cost.
His obedient servant
During the six weeks between the birthdays, Condoleeza Rice and, in a related role, Armstrong Williams, demonstrated the destructive utility of the Black appointed (or self-appointed) operative. Williams, the multi-media propagandist and political consultant to the entire Hard Right infrastructure, orchestrated a contrived confrontation-reconciliation between Black Republicans and party leadership, thus providing a theatrical catharsis to “heal” the wounds of the Trent Lott affair. (See “Armstrong Williams’ Big Move, January 16.) For this service, Williams will be amply rewarded as prime contractor for the GOP’s Black appointments and candidate bankrolling apparatus.
Rice’s special assignment, far removed from her training as a Sovietologist and her National Security job description, was to deflect Black anger when George Bush launched his long-planned assault on affirmative action in higher education.
Rice was more than willing, having logged 18 years service to the Bush family. However, the crude racists of Bush’s inner circle betrayed Rice and Bush from the start. They had railed against “reverse discrimination” their entire political lives, and were incapable of finessing the issue or understanding the sensitive nature of Rice’s mission.
Contemptuous of their own scripts, senior Bush men spun a tale to the Washington Post (“Rice Helped Shape Bush Decision on Admissions”) that gave the impression that Rice is even more hostile to affirmative action than Bush.
“The officials said Rice, in a series of lengthy one-on-one meetings with Bush, drew on her experience as provost at Stanford University to help convince him that favoring minorities was not an effective way of improving diversity on college campuses,” said the January 17 piece.
This was bad spin for all concerned, an inept maneuver that embarrassed the national security advisor and made Bush seem soft and squishy on race, causing alarm among his base in the White Man’s Party.
Later the same Friday, according to a Reuters report, Rice got permission from the President to issue her own statement. In this version, it was Rice who had positioned the President oh so delicately between the opposing pulls of the Hard Right and Compassionate Conservatism. She was a helpmate, not a harpy.
Rice’s opinion was that “race could play a role in college admissions, endorsing a civil rights principle that President Bush has avoided,” Reuters reported.
In fact, the actual White House brief on the Michigan case did not rule out any and all uses of race in college admissions; Bush’s statement to the nation on King’s birthday had been crafted to make it appear that he had taken a position of blanket opposition. Now, by introducing Rice’s clarification of her “own” opinions, as if in juxtaposition to the President’s, the fiction of Rice’s independence was allowed to take root – in the absence of any evidence of real differences between the two.
Here’s how the Reuters story read:
“I agree with the president’s position, which emphasizes the need for diversity and recognizes the continued legacy of racial prejudice and the need to fight it,” Rice said in a written statement.
But, she added: “I believe that while race-neutral means are preferable, it is appropriate to use race as one factor among others in achieving a diverse student body.”
White House officials insisted that Rice was not at odds with Bush.
“I could not be more supportive of what the president did. And the way that he did it, the strong statement that he made about the importance of educational diversity with racial diversity as an element,” Rice said earlier in the day.
Rice had never been “at odds with Bush.” Together, they had corrected the initial spin from Bush’s mean old boys, who had made Rice appear like a Black anti-affirmative action dominatrix. Instead, Bush appeared to be acting in harmony with an independent-minded Black woman whose opinions he happened to share.
What is most disturbing about this manufactured drama starring a hireling and her boss is the institutional performance of the corporate media which, acting on its own imperatives, succeeded in correcting the initial White House spin blunder while elevating Rice to a totally undeserved status.
Instead of a national discussion on affirmative action, or the merits of the case that is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, attention was focused on the opinions of a woman who represents no one besides her patrons. Better the old days, back in the Forties, when Joe Louis was asked to speak for Black America. At least he fought his own battles in the boxing ring. Rice, the foreign policy servant, was treated like an authentic Black leader – a triumph of the GOP’s Black appointive strategy, and a collective insult to every African American.
Ralph Neas, president of the liberal People For the American Way Foundation, couldn’t resist getting into the act, if only to boost the opinions of another Black Bush appointee who represents no one but himself. “It is very good news that Condoleezza Rice agrees with Colin Powell’s long-standing belief that it is appropriate to use race as one factor among others in achieving a diverse student body,” Neas said.
Neas undoubtedly meant well, but he did Black people no favor. Then again, his remarks were certainly echoed in Black barbershops and beauty parlors throughout the nation, over the long King weekend. Republican Black appointive politics, bearing no relation to democracy or Black self-determination, has achieved a status in much of the public mind equal to the real politics of elections.
As confirmation, the affirmative action opinions of both Rice and Powell were elicited on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and CBS’s “Face the Nation,” respectively, Sunday morning. Rice said that Bush “has come out in exactly the right place.” Powell repeated his support for the University of Michigan’s affirmative action program. Headlines filled the news cycle.
Virtually all of Black elected and institutional leadership as well as every Democratic presidential contender except the shifty Senator Joe Lieberman support the Michigan program. Yet Sunday belonged to the two, politely dueling appointees. As an operative fact, the corporate press conspires with the White House to present appointed Blacks as an alternative – more newsworthy – leadership of Black America. It matters little that Powell’s views on affirmative action happen to be closer to those of Black elected leaders and activists with proven constituencies. Powell was not chosen by Blacks, but by Bush. His opinion counts for no more than that of Condoleezza Rice.
No place sacred
The old, reflexive Black applause for members of the race who are chosen for high office, now works against us with a vengeance. The GOP understands the game and, with the enthusiastic connivance of corporate media, plays it with increasing skill. Authentic Black opinion, sensibilities and leadership are relentlessly devalued, even at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden, Maryland on the day set aside for remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King.
The Associated Press recorded the surprise presidential visit:
Though warmly greeted, Bush’s applause paled in comparison to the cheers that followed Rice’s introduction. She smiled and blew kisses to the crowd from her seat behind Bush.
Authentic Black leadership has done little to impress upon the people that Rice is the devil’s handmaiden, an eager accomplice in Bush’s crimes. It is one thing to bear insults with dignity. It is quite another to cheer about it.
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