Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Republican Bogeyman

The Republican Bogeyman
My disgust with the Democrats' complete lack of political sense is well-known. Here's yet another egregious example.

I happened to peruse the MyDD.com site (it was mentioned in an Economist article), and I happened to run across this little gem on "New" African-American leadership.

The essential claim of the piece is that stories about black Republicans and centrist democrats should be viewed with great skepticism. The author, pollster Tom Grayman, uses as his example Cory Booker, the leading candidate for mayor of Newark (though of course he misspells his first name as "Corey," a mistake that 5 seconds of fact-checking would have uncovered!) .

Full disclosure: Cory and I were at Stanford as undergrads at the same time. I didn't know Cory well, but I met him a number of times, and a number of my good friends know him very well and think highly of him.

Grayman sneers, "When you read any profile of Booker, however, or hear him speak, it becomes clear that there is not that much which is new about his perspective on government's role in the lives of black Americans -- or all Americans. What all the hoopla seems to come down to is that he supports educational vouchers for private schools (a topic I'll address in a later post). That's pretty much it."

Well let's see...Cory actually supports a policy innovation that over 60% of black voters agree with...but is opposed by the Congressional Black Caucus like the Republicans would oppose a law allowing gays to get married while burning Bibles wrapped in American flags. To me, having the courage to go against the establishment to help the people seems like a new perspective.

Grayman continues: "What's really "new" about Booker with respect to other black politicians are his marketing skills. First, upon returning from Yale Law School, Booker, who grew up in an all-white suburban neighborhood, moved into one of the city's worst housing projects."

Maybe it's just me, but isn't marketing part of politics? This contempt for marketing and other such trappings of the evil world of business seems horrifically misguided and self-defeating. If marketing is bad, why even bother with television commercials and rallys? Just write a good campaign platform for the ballot, and count on the voters to read the literature and make the right choice.

From there, it seems even crazier to criticize Booker for growing up in an all-white suburban neighborhood. I'll ignore the fact that any neighborhood that a black kid grows up in cannot, by definition, be "all-white." Criticizing a candidate for something that he can't control (he didn't grow up in the inner city!) makes about as much sense as criticizing a candidate for his hair color.

Next, Grayman turns to his smoking gun: "Second, for his fudraising activities he courted not the money men of Newark (there are almost none), nor of the (very) wealthy nearby suburbs in New Jersey. No, instead, Booker has has been raking it in from the stock brokers of Wall Street and the professional class of Manhattan."

God forbid that a Democrat raise money from the people who have it. Why is union money (taken from the pockets of the worker) better than contributions from professionals? Shouldn't the Democrats try to broaden their appeal?

Now he comes to his grand finale: "From Wall Street power brokers to conservative think tanks to the mainstream (as in non-African-American) media, Booker's biggest boosters do not seem to have any roots in the black community, or even the local New Jersey community, despite the fact that he is looking to govern a city that is almost 60% black.

This makes more than a few of us uncomfortable. Perhaps this is a lot of worrying over nothing. Perhaps Booker will prove to do the right thing by his constituents once in office. But blacks, particularly in Newark, are right to wonder about this latest example of the alleged "new" wave of black leaders. Where exactly do they want to lead us?"

In essence, Grayman argues that outsiders are dangerous, and that black candidates who are supported by the mainstream media (that vast Republican outpost!) or people with money cannot be trusted.

Lest we forget, in the previous two decades, Newark was run by "insider" Sharpe James (born in Jacksonville, Florida):

As the Wikipedia states: "James, however, is a very controversial figure. In 2002 he made, as mayor of a medium sized city, $213,000 a year, a salary higher than any governor in the nation. (This figure does not include his $49,000 salary as State Senator.)

James also presides over a government that collects less than 85 percent of the tax money owed it, and a city that has higher crime and infant mortality rates than other similar cities in New Jersey. In the 1990s, a good decade for American cities, Newark still lost 20 percent of its tax base."

I'm not sure that business as usual is the right approach when the mayor you've had for almost 20 years has presided over a continuous decline.

This closed-mindedness and unwillingness to listen to new ideas is the Achilles heel of the current generation of Democratic leaders. It's as if they're obsessed with ideological purity ("keeping it real"?) at the expense of pragmatism. There are certain values that are important and worth fighting for. Requiring candidates to have been born poor and black (shades of Steve Martin) is not one of them.

And the fear of the Republican bogeyman is absurdly unwarranted in Cory's case. I know Republicans. I work with Republicans. I can assure you that Cory is not a Republican, though he is wise enough to be willing to accept "Republican" ideas like school vouchers that he thinks will actually help the community.

The Democratic leadership needs to focus on winning. If they don't, they might as well be like my left-wing friend Thomas, who doesn't bother to vote Democrat because, "There's no difference between the parties, and the more the Democrats lose, the closer we'll be to the day when they actually recognize the need for change."

3 comments:

MJ said...

This is typically intra-party jockeying for power. But I agree with your reaction -- Democrats should be grateful that people like Booker can be drawn to politics instead of corporate life, where he could have a much easier and remunerative career.

Industriage said...

Identity politics and performing one's authenticity...so hot right now.
Here's a view you may be interested in reading:
it's an article by Ishmael Reed on CounterPunch.org

http://www.counterpunch.org/reed04142006.html

Chris said...

Thanks for the link! It's always hard to tell what is truth and what is not, but it's very clear that Rove and company are experts in rolling out people of various ethnicities when it suits their purposes.

On the other hand, the interesting question is what those purposes are, and who they think they're fooling.

Let's examine the possibilities.

First, the conservatives may be using black faces to fool other blacks.

But if that's the case, I think they're failing miserably. Clearly many black commentators, including Ishmael Reed, see them as misguided Uncle Toms.

Second, they may be using black faces to fool whites and other ethnicities. This has more promise. And yet, if this is the pernicious secret goal of the Rovian conspiracy, is Ishmael Reed's response the best way to combat it?

After all, if Rove's minions are telling people what they want to hear, how is Reed's sort of criticism (well-written but inflammatory in the way it denigrates thinkers like Shelby Steel) going to help?

I'm not sure what is the right way to fight Rove. But I am sure that the current tactics aren't working, because from here, it sure seems like Rove is winning.