Thursday, June 08, 2006

Racism, Anti-Semitism and William Jefferson

The current brouhaha in activist Democratic circles over the Congressional Black Caucus' (CBC) refusal to back the removal of Rep. William Jefferson from the House Ways and Means committee exposes the Achilles heel of the Democratic electoral coalition. The growing divide between White Democrats and Black Democrats. The Gulf isn't absolute. There are Democrats of all colors on both sides but in democratic politics what counts is which positions are most representive of constituent opinion. Who is willing to argue that the CBC's insistence on rigid formality is out of sync with their constituents?

This is real 800 lbs gorilla in the room. African-Americans generally view the Jefferson case from a starkly different perspective than those outside of their community. Superficially, this mirrors the difference's in perspective that one finds in any political interest groups, from farmers to women, to Gays and Lesbians.

This easy equation is misleading. It ignores the fundamental difference that distinguishes the African-American community from every other constituent interest. Blacks have been the perenial whipping boy and sacrificial offering of U.S. politics since the inception of the republic.

When it comes to the African-American community, the history of the U.S. is a series of murderous oppressions and betrayals in which no political faction has clean hands. Expecting Black elected officials to behave as though this were not so is rather like expecting Jewish people to rely on the enlightened good will of Europeans in dealing with anti-Semitism or that Armenians should swear eternal friendship with the Turks.

There will be snow in Hades before the CBC or any representative African-American organization will agree to deprive any Black elected official of any office by informal agreement. This is a survival instinct based on a solid appreciation of the fact that African-Americans were driven from politics by force and fraud in the past, while their erstwhile allies averted their eyes.

Now I'm sure that some folks reading the above will shrug their shoulders while muttering "That's all ancient history. They should get over it." I've a question for such people. If the increasingly desperate Liebermanites began to deploy acusations of anti-Semitism against Lamont supporters, are you going to say that Jewish folks should "get over it?"

No, of course not. No one will question concern over anti-Semitism as a well founded defensive reflex. To the contrary. All efforts will be bent to debunking the charge and convincing Jewish voters that they can trust Lamont. A perfectly reasonable response, considering history and the importance of Jewish Voters to the Democratic Party's prospects.

Contrast this to the incomprehension and, yes, anger that greets the CBC's defensive reaction. In one discussion on Daily Kos, someone argued that the CBC's attitude is identical to the mindset that acquited O.J. Simpson. Whatever Jefferson's sins, I doubt they rise to being accused of butchering his ex-wife and a hapless witness. Excuse me but this is waving the bloody shirt with a vengence.

What's the purpose of raising such a false comparison? To insinuate that the CBC would defend murderers as long as they were black? To suggest that Jefferson is the moral equivilant of a slasher? Or perhaps the poster is under the false impression that the jury in the Simpson case was uniformly African-American as is the Congressional Black Caucus. Of course, since that wasn't the fact, the entire jury can't be accused of acting from racial bias or animus. Some, at least, simply didn't buy the prosecution's case.

I've spent time on this bit because I'm afraid it's all too representative of attitudes found in Democratic Circles outside the Black community. Whereas every other constituency is at least lent a respectful, sympathetic ear, African-America's Representatives are constantly hectored to pipe down and get with the program, when they're not being ignored altogether. Currently, the Black community is being treated in the same fashion that the GOP has, in times past, treated it's Religious Right base: as a constituency with no place else to go. There's a moral pertinent to this sort of political cynicism embedded in the GOP's present floundering. Don't imagine that African-Americans will put up with such contemptuous treatment indefinitely.

People need to consult electoral reality. The African-American electorate is a key component of the Democratic Party's electoral coalition. Without it, there is precious little chance of a national Democratic resurgence on anything more than an agenda of Republican Lite. The African-American Community is not going to play the part of the disgraceful relative who's shunted off to the attic whenever polite company comes to visit. You may find this both inexpedient and inconvenient but it is a political fact of life. You ignore it at your peril.


At 9:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wrote you back over at Yglesias.

- jhschwartz


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