As an elderly African-American who was involved in the black struggle years before MLK and ever since, what do I really believe in 2005? As a black man who served in the army during the Korean War and was prepared to die, if necessary, in defense of a democracy denied me, what do I really believe? As a black male political activist for more than 50 years, what do I really believe?
First, I dismiss almost all the political rhetoric about liberals and conservatives as phony.: 55 million people, of every political persuasion, voted for John Kerry, a man described by President Bush as the number one liberal in the senate. I don’t know one real liberal or real conservative in the senate. Senators are politicians trying to get reelected and ideology is mostly a tool. Ted Kennedy and his martyred brothers didn’t qualify as liberals. 58 million Americans, of every political persuasion, voted for the president. Indeed, Kerry and Bush are upper class white men from Yale and the Skull and Bones fraternity, perhaps with more in common than either has with most Americans.
Few thoughtful people, including Kerry, and whatever their politics, do not now understand in their heart-of-hearts that Mr. Bush is a failure at home and abroad. They cannot miss the obvious fact that he is often without a clue, and they must be uneasy with lectures “about staying the course” from a leader who had no plan once he conquered Baghdad, was mistaken about why he needed to conquer that nation in the first place and aside from WMD, can’t find 380 tons of explosives in that troubled land that everyone knows is there and are now undoubtedly being used to kill Americans.
I believe if Mr. Bush had been born black in Selma, Alabama with the same abilities he has shown as President, he would probably be incarcerated in the county jail for committing a petty crime and much too poor to post bond.
Young Americans write home every day from Iraq and explain how they and their commander-in-chief, Mr. Bush, are hated in that country, and how the troops are “sitting ducks” whenever they take to the road. Iraq had zero involvement in 9/11, but Mr. Bush turned his attention away from Osama bin Laden and went after Saddam Hussein. Can there be any wonder why Mr. Bush initially opposed an investigation into why and how 3000 Americans died on 9/11?
The president is no more a true conservative than is Rush Limbaugh, but that is to the president’s credit. Mr. Bush is an aggressive, reckless spender of other folk’s money who squandered a huge surplus, created record-breaking deficits and the largest debt in history. That is not to the president’s credit. His tax cut was so disproportionate in favor of the wealthy that it is really a hidden tax on everyone else. Even worse, the Bush Administration, in the name of national security, pries into everything from bedrooms to library records while leaving our busy borders and ports virtually unguarded.
Republicans control the White House, the congress and the courts and cannot shift blame for what is happening on their watch. The country is deeply divided and has been on edge since before the presidential election; nevertheless, Mr. Bush looked at the TV camera and said he had earned political capital and intended to spend it and it has been down hill even faster ever since.
This is what I think about our present debacle:
1. I do not think it is wise to make the federal courts even more backward in the anti-African American biased justice they dispense. Justices Scalia and Thomas are soul brothers of George Wallace and Strom Thurmond, not Thurgood Marshall. That is bad, not good.
2. I do not believe any nation, including this one, has a right to invade another nation anymore than I believe I have some right to travel half way around the world and shoot a father sitting at the dinner table with his family because I believe (or know) he is capable and might do me harm in the future. That is self-delusion, not self-defense.
3. I do not believe our huge government debt – the largest in the history of government – is good for anyone, including rich white Republicans. I do not believe in tax breaks for people in my tax bracket. I do not believe an all volunteer military is best for this nation and our young people. I believe the lack of guaranteed health care for our people in this super rich nation is a moral issue, a “family value” and I believe the presence of starving children here and abroad is a moral issue, a Family value.”
4. I do not believe America is one-third along the way to real citizenship for African-Americans and, notwithstanding far reaching efforts in that regard, over the years the country has never really and fully committed itself and its resources to that significant task; thus, “quotas” is not a bad word but racism and discrimination are terrible words and they describe something worse and are far are more American than the flag!
J.L. CHESTNUT, Jr. is a civil rights attorney in Selma, Alabama. He is the founder of Chestnut, Sanders and Sanders which is the largest black law firm in Alabama. Born in Selma and, after graduating from Howard University Law School, he began practicing law in Selma in 1958. He started as the only black lawyer in the town and has been challenging the establishment since then. His law firm now owns two radio stations in Selma and Mr. Chestnut hosts a radio talk show three days a week touted as the most popular radio show in south and central Alabama. He is the author of “Black in Selma” with Julia Cass (1989 Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and writes a weekly column called the “Hard Cold Truth”. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.