Congress and the Presidency
A Blogger Should Ask Questions at September Forum
Now that the PBS/Tavis Smiley candidates forum has come and gone, it is now the Republicans’ turn to speak to issues of importance to people of color. September 27 is the date and Morgan State University in Baltimore is the place where as many as one dozen Republican candidates may gather to make their pitches to a national audience. While many will be focused on the candidates and their responses, I will be focused on who asks the questions. Smiley said after the forum that he wanted to showcase three journalists of color to query the candidates and they all acquitted themselves well. I’m sure some of the questions that were posed would never have seen the light of day absent the perspectives that informed the lives of the questioners. As we look to September, however, there is still an opportunity to widen the net of perspectives and give additional richness to the discussion. Hey, Tavis: Include a well-informed blogger to the panel.
Adding a blogger will help legitimize the forum in the eyes of an increasingly important sector of the “new media.” It will also demonstrate Smiley’s willingness to be on the cutting edge of communication with segments of the American populace, without regard to race, that is often left at the station by legacy media. More importantly, it may draw younger viewers to the television screen.
As someone who blogs, I must confess to being somewhat self-serving as I think about this. I would love to be among those who ask questions of the candidates in September. As public policy professor, someone who researches and writes at the intersection of race and politics, and the author of the recently published book Republicans and the Black Vote, I believe that I can craft questions at least as intelligent and probing as any member of the media. But enough about me. I’m focusing here on the multitudes of committed, smart, and well-versed bloggers out there who should be considered to ask questions at the debate. Don’t get me wrong, most of the bloggerazzi is self-absorbed, parts of the political and cultural echo chamber that has degraded our public discourse. But there are some great ones out there and I hope Smiley decides to look for, and find, one to include in the September forum.
I had the occasion to obtain a media credential for the June 28 forum at Howard University. As I made my way around the spin room after the forum, I found myself impressed by the extent to which the other bloggers take their work seriously and aren’t afraid to mix it up with legacy media, the candidates, and their spinners to give their readers the view from the grassroots. I also took note of the respect some candidates and their representatives gave bloggers. Indeed, many candidates made it a point to visit with bloggers after the Howard forum, which struck me as a clear acknowledgment of the substantial role some cyber-muckrakers in the public debate. Bloggers often take on obscure important issues that legacy media too often ignores. This is certainly the case on issues that are of acute importance to African Americans and other minorities. Given America’s changing demographics, it’s time to bring a wider range of issues to the country.
The Beginning of the End for McCain
I am about to go out on a thin limb on this one: John McCain’s presidential campaign will not make it to Iowa. At some point between Halloween and Thanksgiving – and after months of sinking poll numbers, fundraising that is heading in the wrong direction (the third quarter report is going to be a mess), and staff shakeups that smell of panic – it will occur to the senior Senator from Arizona that Republican primary voters do not want him to be their nominee in 2008. The announcement will come around Christmas, though his stubbornness might lead him into Iowa anyway or out of the Senate completely, doubling down with an “all in” candidacy unencumbered by his Senate duties. After he accepts this verdict, and it will be difficult given his ego and all he has put into this race over the past seven years, he will do the honorable thing and withdraw from the nomination contest. Doing so early will allow him to return to the Senate – jaded and humiliated, but still able to be a real leader. Some of the best senators ever became so after accepting the fact that they would never be president.
McCain’s undoing is a shame. Base Republicans have long-despised him for his willingness to work in a bipartisan way coupled with his penchant for telling uncomfortable truths to the faithful. His flip-flop on the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Rev. Pat Robertson, and people of their ilk was seen for what it was and undermined his support among secular conservatives. “The Base” wants ideological purity, not functional governance. Despite McCain’s rock solid conservative record, he could not give the base what it wanted in this regard. Add to this the age discrimination that is working against McCain, and his candidacy was doomed from the start.
He thought he could overcome this, but the fact is that he can’t. While he is too conservative for my tastes, he is far more substantial than those to whom he is now getting left in the dust. The notion that Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Fred Thompson can seem more presidential than McCain to Republican voters strikes me as insane. All of them have shown far less consistency in their conservatism and, more to the point, seem less craven in their ambition.
I’m particularly blown away by Thompson who, along with his people, has done a great job in orchestrating a campaign to get him into the presidential sweepstakes. Not one credible person was talking about him running for president a year ago, but here he is surging in Republican polling. He’s part fiction, part Hollywood, and part desperate answer to the prayers of those that don’t like McCain, Romney, or Giuliani. Playing authority figures on television and on film don’t translate into being president. His Senate service was largely undistinguished and as we get to know more about his lobbying work – it was recently reported that he lobbied on behalf of an abortion-rights group, a no-no in GOP politics – the shine will likely fade from his candidacy.
But it’s not over for McCain. He can still be a significant player in his post (non) presidential Senate career. Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy became the “liberal lion” after he conceded that he would never be president and buckled down to do the dirty work of being a Senator. Very few major pieces of domestic policy have been crafted without his input. He showed how to lead from the minority during the crafting of No Child Left Behind. That he is a major player in the Senate is borne out by the extent to which the Republicans use him as their fundraising bogeyman. Republicans don’t use Kennedy in this way because they view him as inconsequential; they do it because the respect and fear him. McCain can have the same future if he would just come to grips with the reality that lies before him: he won’t ever become president. His leadership on campaign finance reform is well known and much work needs to be done on that front. He has credibility on this issue and can leave a legacy that will span the generations if he continues to lead the country away from these massively expensive campaigns that corrupt the entire political process.
Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author Republicans and the Black Vote.
Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Congress and the Presidency
U.S. Electoral Politics
In what can only be seen as a political payoff, President Bush commuted the 30-month prison sentence that was part of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's perjury conviction. It's hard to be surprised by the move, given the craven way in which this administration operates. It's not a stretch to believe that Judge Reggie Walton was so adamant that Libby not be released pending his appeal because he suspected Bush might trump the entire investigation, trial, jury deliberation, and conviction. President Bush has nothing left to lose by taking this action. Conservatives are upset with him over immigration and a number of other issues. Liberals have been on the hunt for the President's head from Florida in 2000; Iraq has the left in an absolute lather. So what if he pokes a finger in the blindfolded eye of Lady Justice?
President Bush's statement, released on a quiet Monday in July when many people are focused on their Independence Day holiday, has the uncomfortable scent of quid pro quo. Part of the statement reads: "I respect the jury’s verdict, but I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison." While he claims to respect the jury's verdict, he certainly doesn't respect the judge's sentence. Overturning a verdict of such a significant crime -- perjury and obstruction of justice -- is disrespectful of the criminal justice. Now that the commutation is granted, Libby has no incentive to come clean on the rest of the story that he couldn't recollect during Grand Jury testimony or during the trial. Bush/Cheney looked out for Libby, now Libby will look out for Bush/Cheney.
Conservatives are hailing the decision, while liberals are outraged. The response to it all is predictable, but what isn't so clear is what impact this will have on the remainder of the president's term and the Republican presidential nomination fight.
In many ways, things can't get much worse for the President. Gallup and CNN polls showed that nearly 70% of those queried opposed a pardon for Libby. Given the arrogance surrounding the way in which this administration has operated -- Iraq, domestic surveillance, Guantanamo Bay, etc. -- it's difficult to see how public opinion could have swayed the President. Moreover, it's unlikely that his approval rating, firmly settled in the high-20's, can be improved by this or any other action he takes.
Republican presidential candidates have a problem. On the one hand, they want to rally around a loyal party operative who has served their needs. On the other hand, their support for Libby suggests that the rule of law is less important to them than the rule of political loyalty. How can they run on law and order when their party's standard-bearer shows such contempt for the criminal justice system? That won't sit well with general election voters who are tired of a status quo that includes increasing amounts of corruption and cronyism. These candidates have to balance their political inclinations with the will of the people.
What strikes me in all this is that conservatives are likely to be only temporarily satisfied by all this and some still want the entire conviction tossed out. President Bush's decision to commute rather than pardon isn't enough for some.
So what message is being sent by the commutation? The obvious answer is: you can get away with perjury and virtually any other crime if your close to the President. A better answer, though, is: the rule of law only applies to those who aren't well connected.
Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of Republicans and the Black Vote.
Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Monday, July 02, 2007
Congress and the Presidency
What Obama’s Money Really Means
It may be over before it starts. All the talk of a titanic battle for the Democratic Party presidential nomination may not match the actual contest. That is because Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s rocketship ride to the top of America’s political consciousness is picking up steam. The reports that he raised $25 million from his official announcement on February 10th through the end of March have sent much of the punditocracy and the bloggerazzi into collective head scratching mode trying to figure out what this means. Is Obama is more than just a good speech, dashing figure, and compelling personal story? What does all this mean for Hilary and the Clinton army? Is it just a two person race? My only wonder is what his money will do to, not for, his candidacy.
Obama definitely opened some eyes with his number. More impressive than the total dollar amount is the total number of donors. His 100k donors means that the number of people who reached the legal limit ("maxed out") is small; amazingly, 90 percent of his donors gave less than $100. The legal limit is $2,300 for the primary campaign, and another $2,300 for the general election, so he can go back to the overwhelming majority of his supporters throughout the campaign. That’s a good place to be in politics.
The money also poses a quandary. The large amount of campaign contributions from such a vast range of people allows Obama to speak freely in a way that most other big money candidates can’t. The question for me is: Will he use his freedom to speak out forcefully on issues on which most Americans care deeply? Or will he simply play it safe, take few chances, and try to run out the clock to the nomination? The people want the former, but the latter is more the norm for front-runners.
Obama's success is really an expression of public frustration with the political status quo. The current candidates on the Democratic side, many of whom are very well qualified to seek the presidency, all represent different versions of the status quo. Obama’s appearance on the political scene offers hope to millions of Americans who seek something new. How else does one explain his rise to the top of American politics? It can't be about what he has done in office, because he hasn't done anything legislatively to warrant the attention he receives. He’s not closely associated with one particular policy issue and hasn’t established himself as the "go to guy" on anything.
Clinton has to be sick about this. Now, some of her donors are going to give to Obama just to make sure they are on his list in the event that he wins the nomination. That, combined with Obama’s ability to go back to the same donors on numerous occasions throughout the year means that he will be able to raise at least $20 million each quarter for the rest of the race. If Hilary doesn't broaden her donor base (she has a much larger number of maxed out donors), then she will be in trouble and the race could be over before the first ballots are cast.
© Michael K. Fauntroy, Ph.D.
April 8, 2007
Subpoena Fight is About Respect
Respect. It is a word that is bandied about in all areas of American life from sports to religion to pop culture. Everyone wants it and those who do not get their requisite share can not wait to payback those who fail to show it. In politics, respect is almost everything. It allows opponents to set aside their differences and work together to solve problems, even those that previously seemed intractable. Sadly, the absence of respect is an unfortunate byproduct of American politics and explains many of the silly fights that plague governments at all levels. The longer adversaries show disrespect to their opponents, the less likely things can get done. That’s why the standoff over whether White House officials will testify under oath and in public over their roles in the firing of U.S. Attorneys threatens to intensify into something that could plague the Bush administration as much as Iraq.
The fact is that the George Bush does not respect Congress. He didn’t respect Congress when Republicans were in charge and certainly hasn’t changed now that Democrats are in the majority. He governs as if Congress is a contemptible nuisance that exists simply to nitpick at his preferences. He has little patience for a co-equal branch of government that has the temerity to question his authority or wisdom. That was fine from a political strategy perspective when the Republicans were in charge of Congress because they did not want to give Democrats the satisfaction that would come with real governmental oversight. The problem for the administration now, however, is that it can not steamroller or ignore the Democrats the way it did with the Republicans. While House and Senate Republicans spent the entire Bush administration with their eyes and ears closed, rarely raising their collective voice beyond a whisper when it disagreed with the White House, the Democrats have very little to lose by asking hard questions and insisting on answers. This is so even if subpoenas have to be issued to ensure that the truth is revealed. The ability of a subpoena to focus ones thinking would not be necessary if people did not lie, but as we have seen throughout history, most recently with investigation of the leak of the identity of a covert CIA operative, sometimes the threat of jail is required to get to the truth.
The Democrats should settle for nothing less than full, public hearings, under oath, to find out if Republican-appointed U.S. Attorneys were fired because they showed insufficient fealty to the White House. Bush defenders are quick to point out that these public officials serve at the pleasure of the president and can be fired for any reasons. Both points are true, but so is something else: just because you can fire someone for any reason doesn’t mean that you should fire someone for any reason. If it turns out that these attorneys were fired because they "over prosecuted" Republicans or "under prosecuted" Democrats, then it’s not a stretch to charge that the White House was trying to monkey around with the justice system. That is unacceptable and should be punished.
The Bush administration, through incompetence, heavy handedness, and arrogance, has lost any claim to the benefit of the doubt. Consequently, the White House is standing on political quicksand in its refusal to come clean on the process they undertook to remove U.S. Attorneys, all of whom were highly rated. While it is too early to know where this all will lead, the Bush Administration is becoming quite Nixonian in its relationship with the truth and lack of respect for the rule of law.
© Michael K. Fauntroy, Ph.D., March 23, 2007
Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Saturday, March 31, 2007
Congress and the Presidency
Is He Black Enough
The latest turn in the Barack Obama for president circus is a sideshow focusing on how well he will do with African American voters. The assumption is that African Americans will overwhelmingly rally around Obama just because he is Black. Of course, any evidence to the contrary is a story worth covering and the coyness with which some prominent African American leaders have responded to queries about their support or endorsements of Obama has caused a mini fury. The media’s fixation on this issue centers on one question: Is Barack Obama Black enough to win the lion’s share of Black votes? While the “Black enough” question is silly and can be seen as an insult to African Americans because it suggests that only certain kinds of Blacks can represent other African Americans, the truth is that it may be a legitimate concern for the top tier Democratic candidates. If Obama can’t nail down his “base,” then he can’t be a serious contender.
Many Black leaders are being evasive about endorsing Obama. They don’t want to be accused of simply “going with the Black guy.” They may also have legitimate concerns about Obama and his lack of experience. Some may also have a stronger feeling about another candidate such as senator Hilary Clinton or former senator and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards, both of whom have serious ties to the Black community. Of course, there are some Black leaders who are turned off by Obama’s educational pedigree and multi-racial background and, thusly, don’t think he can aggressively represent Black interests. For them, Columbia and Harvard universities are not the stuff of “real” Blacks.
This isn’t the first time Obama has had to deal with questions about his political-racial purity. During his first run for Congress in 2000, his opponent, incumbent Representative Bobby Rush, employed a well-worn tactic among entrenched Black incumbents: He suggested that his opponent wasn’t “Black enough” to represent the voters of the district. Rush won and Obama continued to serve in the state senate.
Other Black candidates have used this unseemly tactic against fellow African Americans. Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Barry used it against Patricia Roberts Harris in his successful 1982 reelection campaign. Congressman Earl Hilliard tried it also, albeit unsuccessfully, in his 2002 race against Artur Davis. This “Blacker-than-thou” politics plays on social class, is fraught with danger, and is the unfortunate by-product of the quest to keep power and influence by any means. While unfortunate, it is no surprise that questions are now being asked about Obama.
There is a curious irony to the “Black enough” whispering that the nationalist wing of Black America has to confront. If Obama isn’t Black enough, then who is among the announced candidates? Hillary Clinton? Tom Vilsack? Joe Biden? Chris Dodd? This is where things get tricky because the only candidate who has given much voice to the kinds of issues of particular interest to African Americans is a White man: Edwards. He may well be the candidate who best represents Black interests. Wouldn’t that be ironic? And wouldn’t that pose problems for Black America?
© Michael K. Fauntroy, Ph.D.
Separating Myth From Reality for Democrats
History may mark 2006 as a landmark political year. The Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives and Senate and some believe that the elections reflect a new turn in American politics. Republicans are playing defense for the first time in more than a decade with a national leader taking the country over a cliff. Many people are now rhapsodic over the Democrats taking control of both houses of Congress, but I’m here to separate myth from reality for the Democrats in Congress and their supporters around the country. While there are many from which to choose, I think three myths have emerged that must be dealt with to avoid disappointing the many elements within the Democratic coalition.
The first myth is: Now that the Democrats are in charge, everything will change quickly. The reality is: That’s not the way our political system works. While our system is “winner take all” it is not “winner take all right now!” The political process takes a long time, so patience is critical. Don’t expect immediate change and don’t be surprised if things don’t always go the way you think they should. This will be complicated by the fact that various groups within the Democratic Party who have been shut out for so long are going to rush to get their piece of the pie. That will, undoubtedly, slow down the process as who gets what is sorted out.
The second myth is: Black people are in for some good times now that so many committees and subcommittees are chaired by African Americans. The reality is: while it is important and notable that so many African Americans are in significant leadership positions in the House, the fact is that they are operating within a larger context. The future will be better legislatively for African Americans, but it will take a while for the damage done by the conservative movement on Black America to be undone.
The third myth is: Now Republicans will be a compliant minority until the next election. The reality is: they will do everything they can to sabotage Democratic efforts, even if it means hurting the country in the long run. Like a retreating army, Republicans tore up railroad tracks and planted legislative land mines to make it harder for Democrats to govern when they take power in Congress next month. Most notable among these land mines was not finishing the fiscal year 2007 budget, leaving it to the Democrats to resolve many difficult issues.
Republican avarice, both economic and political, finally caught up to them in 2006. Under Republican control, it is more difficult to pay for college, healthcare, and housing. Plus, wages are down, justice is too often an illusive ideal, and the Middle East is a powder keg in need of a light. The Democrats must now deliver on their promise to reverse much of what has gone wrong in recent years. If the Democrats confuse myth with reality, it’s quite likely that restless voters will turn on them as well.
© Michael K. Fauntroy, Ph.D.
January 2, 2007
. . . And You Wonder Why Blacks Don’t Vote Republican?
The Republicans’ handling of the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) represents a unique ineptness that has resulted in their adding yet another brick in the wall that separates it from African Americans. Even though the House ultimately voted to renew the Act, Republicans damaged their ability to build a serious relationship with African Americans by flirting with the possibility of killing the most important piece of civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. Politically, Republican handling of the VRA also provides a significant impediment for Black Republicans seeking office this year sends the message to African Americans that their votes are welcomed, as long as they don’t expect much in return.
Black Republicans running for statewide office such as Michael Steele in Maryland, Ken Blackwell in Ohio, Lynn Swann in Pennsylvania, and Keith Butler in Michigan just saw their campaigns get a little more difficult. It’s even worse for Black Republicans running for seats in the House, such as Vernon Robinson and Ada Fisher in North Carolina, Sherman Parker in Missouri, and Ron Miller in Maryland. How can these candidates go to Black voters with a straight face asking to be sent to the same Congress as members of the same party that sought to block or water down renewal of this seminal legislation? Black Republican candidates, along with White Republicans in need of Black votes, are hurt by the shortsightedness of House Republicans. If this is what Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman has in mind when he goes to Black communities saying “give us a chance and we’ll give you a choice,” then heaven help us all.
House Republicans slapped African Americans in the face again and, given the history of this country that required the implementation of the Voting Rights Act in the first place, poured political salt in wounds that haven’t healed. Along with the controversial 2000 and 2004 presidential elections that clearly disenfranchised Black voters and the GOPs standing among African Americans, the GOP proves, yet again, that it just doesn’t get it with regard to Black voters.
House Republicans revolted over provisions that require bilingual ballots and continued federal oversight of voting practices in Southern states, despite the Act’s renewal passing through the Republican-controlled House Judiciary committee by a 33-1 vote. Scrapping a floor vote despite a near-unanimous committee vote reveals an unbecoming cowardice among House leaders. The Republican leadership melted in the face of a small, but vocal gang dedicated to returning America to a previous era of electoral administration in which it was easier to discount the votes of certain citizens. Disgraceful.
The conservative uprising was led by a group of Texas Republicans who objected to the continuance of Section 5 Preclearance requirements, among other concerns. These requirements, which have protected minorities from onerous and unfair electoral administration decisions, require states to win Federal approval of any electoral change before it is instituted. The Texans, arguing that the requirement is no longer necessary, want the requirement dropped. Their fallback position is that if their state should be subject to this rule, then the entire nation should as well. Calling for national coverage seems reasonable on its face but, upon further scrutiny, can only be seen as an effort to dilute Federal protections for disenfranchised voters who live in jurisdictions with continuing histories of shaky electoral administration. This is an end-run around the Voting Rights Act and appears to reveal a Republican strategy of crippling what it cannot kill.
Some of the Representatives who participated in the uprising are clearly delusional about the reality of voting inequities. One lawmaker, Rep. John Carter, was quoted in The Houston Chronicle saying, “I don't think we have racial bias in Texas anymore.” Representative Henry Bonilla said, “It would be dumb to discriminate, that is the last thing anyone is trying to do.” This kind of reasoning flies in the face of America’s recent electoral history and shows either an arrogance or ignorance about how elections are administered.
If the Republican Party wants to overcome its low favorability ratings in the Black community, then responsible party members in Congress will have to step up and do the right thing – wrest control of the party from those who want to move the country backward, not forward.
© Michael K. Fauntroy, Ph.D.
July 11, 2006
So Much for GOP Outreach to Black America
Republicans have long been unpopular among African Americans. Too often, the GOP purposely played on racial fears and hatred among many White conservatives to win elections. From the Southern Strategy, to “Welfare Queens,” to opposing a Federal holiday to commemorate the life and work of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., to “constructive engagement” in South Africa, and “mandatory minimums” that warehouse Black men in the prison-industrial complex, the GOP has rarely missed an opportunity to turn away from Black America. Add New Orleans to the long bill of particulars that African Americans have for the GOP and it’s no wonder why Republicans get almost no support in Black America. The pathetic, disgusting response of the Republican-controlled Federal government will long be remembered in the Black community and will explain why recent Republican outreach efforts to the Black community are now shot to hell, perhaps never to return.
Now I know some will say it’s too early to think about the political implications of New Orleans. I say politics explains everything and ignoring it is naive. You better believe that Karl Rove and the political arm of the White House as well as the Republican National Committee are surveying the political damage that is now following the physical and emotional pain caused by Hurricane Katrina. The Rove gang is building strategies to minimize the damage to President Bush and congressional Republicans while silently heaping as much blame as possible on New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, both Democrats. I’m sure they’ll figure out a way to blame Bill and Hilary Clinton too–the former first family is the GOP’s default source of criticism.
Republicans have controlled the House of Representatives for the last ten years and the Senate nearly as long. They’ve held the White House for 16 of the last 24 years. Their budget cuts are partly responsible for the flooding that has submerged New Orleans. Republicans reduced or stripped altogether money from Federal budgets intended to strengthen the levee system. The penny wise and pound foolish Congress thought the $14 billion dollar price tag presented years ago by the Army Corps of Engineers and other state and Federal agencies was too high. That figure looks like a bargain now given what it will cost to rebuild New Orleans. Republicans, no doubt, will point out that the Democrats didn’t do anything about the levees when they were in charge. That is true, but irrelevant. The GOP is in charge now and they failed. They have to take the weight for their failure to act efficiently and compassionately for New Orleans.
Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee and leader of recent GOP/Black outreach efforts, may not know it yet, but his job just became impossible. That’s because what is going on in New Orleans elicits angry and negative responses throughout the Black community. Some shake their heads in pain after watching for television for hours seeing American citizens stranded for days waiting for their government to help them deal with the greatest, widest, most expensive natural disaster in American history. Some note the concern they have for friends and family who are trapped and possibly dead. Others note how a Black mayor wasn’t properly supported when he called for the evacuation of his city.
The most common response, though, is one of anger and disgust about how the Federal government has handled this and is voiced in two questions. First, how is it that the U.S. government can be so efficient in dealing with crises in other parts of the country (e.g. Florida hurricanes) or the world (e.g. Tsunami response) and leave so many Americans in the lurch, struggling to live? The second question is more pointed: would the Federal response be the same if New Orleans were two-thirds White and middle-class instead of two-thirds Black and poor? Conservative protestations aside, the only correct answer is: of course not. Who among us believes that it would have taken President Bush five days to get to Austin, Texas, San Diego, California, Orlando, Florida, or Phoenix, Arizona? Who among us believes that White bodies would be allowed to rot in the streets of New Orleans?
Black people are rightly livid with President Bush and the Republicans; only an apologist would argue otherwise. Bush’s performance through all this has been abysmal, callous, and inept and only feeds the growing belief in some segments of America that he has been a catastrophic failure as president who doesn’t care about the well-being of America’s poor. A few minutes of Black talk radio, Black Internet sites, and conversations in Black barber shops and hair salons reveals a rage in the Black community that far exceeds what was heard during the Rodney King fiasco, for example. Indeed, this kind of anger hasn’t been seen since the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Inflaming matters was the disgusting site of President Bush holding a press conference with Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, Alabama Governor Bob Riley, both Republicans, and Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown. It was a mutual admiration society as they heaped accolades upon one another. Bush praised the work of Brown, who has incompetently presided over the worst ever Federal response to a natural disaster. He also lauded Barbour and Riley for being “leaders.” Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who can never be expected to express criticism of the President or the party, and Riley, have fallen all over themselves to praise and defend the Federal response. All this while dead Black people are floating in filthy water throughout New Orleans.
The Republicans' failure will be duly noted in the Black community.
© Michael K. Fauntroy, September 3, 2005
Bush: A Do-Nothing President for the Poor
The abject failure of President George W. Bush’s international policy has longed obscured the damage he and his policies are doing to working Americans. Backstopped by a media fixated on an overheated housing market and increasing gas prices, many have overlooked other indicators that the Bush economy is creating more space between wealthy and poor. While his inability, some say unwillingness, to help low-income Americans is no surprise to most. There are millions of people around the country who have seen their jobs go oversees, access to health care and education limited, and general fiscal well-being decrease or evaporate. Despite this reality, Bush defenders continue to advocate his economic policy plan. That’s unfortunate because the facts on the ground clearly indicate that there is a growing segment of America that is in big economic trouble.
The latest evidence of Bush’s failure to look out for those most in need can be seen in Census Bureau data on the 2004 poverty rate. According to their statistics, the nations poverty rate rose to 12.7 percent of the population last year, the fourth consecutive annual increase. Overall, there were 37 million people living in poverty, up 1.1 million people from 2003.
Four consecutive increases in the poverty rate are ridiculous, given that Bush inherited an economy from President Bill Clinton that drove down poverty. Clinton inherited an economy in far worse shape than current President Bush. Of course, Bush defenders use the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as a major reason why America’s economy has underperformed. That is a tired excuse that overlooks bad policies heaped on top of each other that have driven the poor and near-poor into more distress that can be fixed with a poorly conceived tax cuts or slick marketing of occasional good economic news.
Most knowledgeable observers argue that official government poverty statistics actually undercount poverty rates, so it’s safe to say that things are actually worse than reported. In other words, government-issued poverty data is a minimal indicator. The rate is much higher in certain groups. Black poverty generally runs three times the White rate. For example, while more than 20 percent of single mothers with no male in the home live in poverty, more than half of all Black single mothers live in poverty.
Bush’s legacy begins with Iraq. That’s irrefutable. But the impact of his domestic policies on the poor and his inability to do anything to help should be as much a part of his legacy as his international policy failures. Five years into his presidency, there is no evidence that life is getting better for the millions of people at the bottom of America’s economic order. He is what he is: a president committed to improving America’s corporate bottom line at the expense of workers who see growth in their costs of living, but not their income. Bush’s assault on the poor is an embarrassment to all who cling to the notion of compassionate conservatism and should wake up all that believe that corporate welfare and tax cuts will improve the lot of all Americans.
© Michael K. Fauntroy
August 30, 2005
Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Thursday, September 01, 2005
Congress and the Presidency
Bush’s “Sheehan” Problem
History will record Cindy Sheehan as either the spark that ignited the “bring-the-troops-home” movement or as merely one footnote in a long book on the Iraq War. That we all now know her name is the fault of President Bush, whose arrogance and ham-handedness has made Sheehan a cause-celebre’ and the darling of the anti-war movement. The irony here is, of course, that by dissing Sheehan, he may have ignited the anti-war movement and pushed those on the fence to the anti-war side.
Bush could have put this to rest weeks ago by calling Sheehan into his ranch, talking with her about her issue, and sending her on her way. It would have been a two day story, tops. Now, Crawford, Texas, is the political equivalent of Mecca, with the anti-war crowd making a pilgrimage to the Bush ranch to support Sheehan and advance its own agenda. Add to that the candlelight vigils taking place in large and small cities around the country last week and it’s easy to see that Bush mishandled Sheehan and may have unwittingly been the match that lit the spark that ended the Iraq War. Wouldn’t that be ironic?
Granted, Bush had a tricky decision to make. He could meet with Sheehan for a second time, which could have sparked other “peace moms and dads” to seek meetings too. That would have blown his entire vacation and he didn’t want to do that. Or he could have done what he did, which is to ignore a mother who lost her son and run the risk of creating a media storm that could undo his war. He chose the latter and it was a mistake. Everyone who knows him says Bush is a compassionate man. He may be, but ignoring a mourning mother who has lost her son, is about to lose her husband who wants a divorce, and whose mother just had a stroke is heavy evidence to the contrary.
Of course, hindsight is 20-20, but the choice he made has created “Camp Casey” replete with hoards of peaceniks and the requisite media to document all that is, or isn’t, happening. That can’t be a visual the Bushies expected and certainly not one they wanted. Now, the President looks uncaring and aloof to the pain of a mother whose son made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, one that Bush says was for a noble cause.
An anti-war march is being planned for September in Washington, D.C. This is likely to be a significantly covered story anyway. But the coverage of Cindy Sheehan promises to beat the protest drums from now until the march, giving more publicity and attention to what may now be a massive protest. Imagine for a second what could be part two of the “Camp Casey” visual: President Bush returns to Washington, D.C. following his five-week-long vacation (memo to Bush’s advisors–it’s a bad idea to have the president out so long when so many people can’t take off that much time without losing their jobs or their homes and are changing their vacation plans due to objectionably high gas prices. Where’s your compassion meter?) only to have Sheehan go to Washington also and set up camp in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House.
That would add a new twist to the story and carry it all the way to the march and could mean nearly two months of daily anti-war coverage at the top of the nightly news, which can only hurt Bush’s declining poll numbers. Many people aren’t pay attention now with the last bit of summer vacation with the kids and the preparation for the back-to-school rush but, everything could change once Labor Day arrives–all because of a grieving mother who just wants a few words with the President.
© Michael K. Fauntroy, August 20, 2005
Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Saturday, August 27, 2005
Congress and the Presidency
Renew the Voting Rights Act
August 6th marks the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). While it’s certainly cause for celebration, we should also consider the possibility of a threat to voting rights if the Act is not renewed. No, Black people won’t automatically loose the ability to vote if the Act is not renewed. But there are forces that would like to block renewal of the Act or gut its core. Given recent election debacles in Florida, Ohio, and other places around the country, the VRA should not just be renewed, but strengthened in order to meet the new challenges and opportunities presented by changing technology.
The VRA has been an unparalleled success: 1.3 million new Black voters were registered in the south in the first two years of its existence and continued efforts since leave African Americans near parity with Whites in terms of voter registration rates. The new voters led to more Black elected officials. In 1965, approximately 70 African Americans held elected office in the eleven southern states; that number grew to 248 by 1968, 1,397 by 1974, and 2,535 by 1981. But the Act’s success is not just a southern thing. Now, more than 9,000 African Americans serve as elected officials around the nation. While African Americans are still under-represented among the nation’s elected officials, this incredible growth could not have happened without the VRA.
The VRA also, literally, changed the face of American government by transforming the political landscape from a closed society to one more culturally, racially, and economically representative of the nation than ever before. While the Act primarily targeted African Americans, the entire nation has benefitted from it and the country is better for diversity engendered by it.
There is another side of the coin, however, and it deals with the potential threat to the future of voting rights, particularly as it relates to Blacks and the poor. The threat is legitimate and warranted because portions of the VRA expire in 2007. Some point to sustained Black electoral success and question the continued need for the VRA. Those who question the need for a renewed and strengthened VRA are wrong and need only to be reminded of the outrageous examples of African Americans and others being turned away or otherwise prevented from accessing the ballot box in the last two presidential elections to know that while much progress has been made, more is necessary to secure a well-functioning electoral system.
From my perspective, there is no question that more needs to be done to ensure that the most sacred symbol of American democracy–the vote–is protected. A deteriorating electoral system undermines the credibility of our government when it preaches democracy to the Middle East and Africa. Congress and the president should renew and strengthen the VRA and include provisions that guarantee same-day voting, absentee voting and provisional ballots, and establish substantial penalties for states and localities that do not comply with the new and existing requirements. The new VRA should also provide financial benefits to states that increase their Black voting rates.
So let’s celebrate the VRA and all it has given America while being mindful that future success requires defending and advancing the VRA and continuing vigilance in order to protect one of the most important symbols of American democracy and Black political empowerment.
© Michael K. Fauntroy, July 22, 2005
Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Thursday, July 28, 2005
Congress and the Presidency
Race and American Politics
Don’t Fire Rove!!
Liberals have been up in arms since the revelation that Karl Rove, known to some as “Bush’s Brain”, leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame to reporters. Many have taken to the streets to protest the leak and the abuse of power it represents and burned up talk radio air time demanding that President Bush to follow through on his vow to fire anyone in his administration who was responsible for the leak. I’m here to say to the Air America crowd and the other screamers calling for Rove’s head to do one thing: Stop!!
My desire to see Karl Rove remain a prominent member of the Bush team is not driven by altruistic or an indication of support for Rove and the way he does business. Nor do I believe that Rove is a wonderful beacon of freedom and democracy that should be protected at all costs. Indeed, I believe Karl Rove best represents what’s most wrong about inside-the-beltway politics. Too much of what happens in D.C. is driven by a craven ends-justifies-the-means mentality that sometimes leads people to do scandalous things–even if those scandalous things don’t rise to the level of criminality.
My reasons for seeing Rove survive this storm are far more cynical and blatantly political. I think firing Rove is a bad idea because doing so does away with the best political villain Democrats have had since Newt Gingrich. Rove presents a great opportunity for the Democrats. He is more valuable to them if he stays along and forces White House spokesman Scott McClellan to defend him in those increasingly contentious daily briefings, than if he were to be fired and slinked his way back to Texas to be comforted by a cushy consultancy with a third party that would allow him to continue to do by phone, fax, and Internet what he was doing in D.C. As long as he stays in Washington, he’s a problem for Republicans and a boon to Democrats. His value to Democrats begins to fade the minute he returns to Texas where he recedes from public consciousness.
It is beginning to appear that Rove’s outing is a political, and maybe criminal, abuse of power. That’s nothing new in D.C., but what makes this scandal more intriguing is that it takes on the added dimension of gender. This is critical because Republicans have struggled for some time in trying to eliminate, or at least neutralize, it’s gender gap. Some women who have voted Republican in recent years, perhaps many of the well-educated suburban moms who want the sky to be the limit for their daughters, will look dimly at a political operative (Rove), administration (Bush), and party (Republicans) that would effectively end a portion of a woman’s career to play the game of payback with her husband. You see, the CIA sent Plame’s husband, retired ambassador Joseph Wilson to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein tried to buy nuclear material from Niger. Wilson found no such evidence and concluded the Bush administration had no real case to support its desire for war and was trying to shape evidence to that end.
So Democrats have an opportunity here and, as is their wont, they want to screw it up by seeking the head of their best Republican villain since Newt Gingrich. Hey Democrats, be careful what you wish for. You might get it. In this case, that would be an opportunity missed.
© Michael K. Fauntroy, July 21, 2005
Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Congress and the Presidency
Bush at the Expo
President Bush addressed a luncheon at the Indiana Black expo last week, highlighting administration policies in education, homeownership, and other areas as beneficial to African Americans. He cited a record number of black homeowners, increases in the number of loans to black-owned small businesses, and strides in closing the achievement gap between Black students and White/Asian students. Bush and his political team are out telling Blacks that their improved station in life is due to Republican policies. There’s only one problem with their arguments–it’s just one side of the coin. A look at the other side shows that Bush and the GOP have much work to do if they want to make inroads in the Black community.
Black unemployment and Black incarceration rates are still notoriously high and the Bush administration does not appear to be doing much to help. Add to that increasing Black foreclosure rates, Black wealth disparities, and recent bankruptcy changes are combining to squeeze African Americans. While there are some successes he can point to in those areas some, like homeownership, built on the Clinton years, there are other areas that Bush will not mention. When you look at Black unemployment rates and incarceration rates, Bush leaves much to be desired.
You may recall that Bush and congressional Republicans argued that their tax cuts would help grown the economy and create job growth. Well, there’s no question that the economy has grown, though at a smaller pace than they predicted, there also is no question that Black job growth has yet to occur. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national black unemployment rate is holding steady at about 10%, twice the national average and White unemployment rate. And while the Black unemployment rate increased by just .2%, it is the only group of Americans who’s employment rate worsened during 2005.
Black unemployment is complicated by job losses due to two factors: technology and outsourcing. Technological gains are making it possible for more work to be done with fewer people. Outsourcing is sending a share of jobs overseas. Many of the states that have suffered the most job losses in recent years are also states with substantial Black populations. Add immigration to the mix and African Americans are getting squeezed in today’s economy. Immigration is cutting into Black employment rates in many cities, particularly in the area of construction.
The data on Black incarceration are stark and must be addressed or Black America may, literally, face extinction. African Americans comprise Forty-four percent of all people incarcerated in the United States. According to Justice Department statistics, a black child born in 2003 has a 29% chance of spending time in a federal or state prison. Consider what that means for the communities in which these men come. While they are locked up, they can’t contribute to the community, which leads to community instability. When they are released they are likely to be without the skills necessary to get a job and contribute to society and become an additional drag on society that everyone else must support.
Black people want safe streets just like everyone else. But they don’t want to see the mass warehousing of Black men in a system that engages in disparate treatment. If Republicans really want to make a dent in the Black community, then they must stand up for sentencing fairness. A White man with an ounce of powder cocaine and a Black man with an ounce of crack cocaine should get the same amount of time.
Bush can talk all he wants about homeownership and education reform, but it will prove pointless if the issue of fundamental fairness is not addressed.
© Michael K. Fauntroy, July 18, 2005
Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Monday, July 18, 2005
Congress and the Presidency
Race and American Politics
Why Rove Matters
Karl Rove, the man called “Bush’s Brain” by some, may well be on the verge of a Federal indictment for illegally leaking the name of a CIA operative. This may not mean much to you now, but it could have a huge impact on President Bush’s agenda for the balance of his presidency. That’s why those who know him and what he is about are intrigued by the possibility that this ultimate political operative and behind-the-scenes guru may now be neck deep in trouble.
Rove isn’t an elected official, important diplomat, or bureaucrat. So why should we care that he is potentially guilty of such a crime? Rove is important because he, more than any other person, is most responsible for George Bush being president and the strategy behind administration policies. You can thank Rove for all of the polling and strategy that has helped shape Bush policies, so the thought of Rove being in the middle of a potential crime jeopardizes not only him but, perhaps, Bush policy on Supreme Court nominations, social security reform, tax policy, health care for the poor, education funding, and so many other domestic issues. Bush’s positions in all these areas could be in jeopardy.
A grand jury is investigating the origins of the leak and Rove’s role in it. It all began when conservative columnist Robert Novak identified Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative. It appears Novak got her name, or at least that she was married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, through a leak that reeks of political retribution. The CIA sent Wilson to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein tried to buy nuclear material from Niger. Wilson found no such evidence and concluded the Bush administration had no real case to support its desire for war and was trying to shape evidence to that end. Two reporters who were investigating the leak story but never wrote about it, Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper, were confronted by court-orders to turn over their notes. Miller refused and is now doing jail time; Cooper received a last minute reprieve from his source (Rove) and testified before the grand jury last week.
Now that Rove has been identified as the leaker, the question is whether the leak was criminal. The mere thought of such an embarrassment has sent the Bushies and their congressional allies into total spin mode. So far, their efforts aren’t very convincing. The proof that some in the White House are nervous lies is in the way the language has been morphing. Some suspected from the beginning that Rove was the leaker and he said when the story broke that he didn’t leak the name. Recently, as the investigation has expanded into new areas, Rove admitted that he spoke with Cooper right before the story broke, but that he didn’t discuss Plame. That explanation went over like a lead balloon, so they tried a new one: Rove discussed Plame, but never mentioned her name. It may only be a matter of time before the story changes again to “Yes, I used her name, but I didn’t know she was a spy.”
Given how poorly President Bush’s second term has begun, the Rove revelation can only weaken an increasingly shaky presidency. Further, the cloud of suspicion surrounding Rove adds a new odor to the White House that far exceeds anything that went on during the Clinton years. We’re talking about national security breaches in the name of political retribution. That’s abuse of power. The success of the rest of the Bush presidency could be on the line here and that’s why Rove matters.
© Michael K. Fauntroy, July 14, 2005