As I See It.... 7-8
Monday, May 12, 2008

By Gwen Richardson
     Several weeks ago, I wrote a widely publicized op-ed piece, raising the issue of the 1995 Million Man March and whether or not all Black men who attended would now be barred from seeking higher office. I had no idea whether or not Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, had attended the march, but I understood the twisted mindset of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing talk show hosts and their racist rants. It appears that my comments were prescient.
     Hannity of FOX News, apparently dissatisfied that the issue surrounding Rev. Jeremiah Wright did not successfully derail Obama's campaign, is now trying to link the Illinois senator to Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan via the Million Man March. As it turns out, Obama attended the march, but did not play a prominent role.
     The objective of the Million Man March was to make a positive statement that Black men were responsible, upstanding citizens who take care of their families and were not all criminals as portrayed in the media. It was completely peaceful and attracted one million-plus Black men from all socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. Farrakhan was a catalyst for organizing the event, but the march's success was a result of a nationwide grassroots effort. Through a 1995 interview with a publication called the Chicago Reader, Obama had some very critical things to say about Farrakhan and his approach to issues, as well as a critique of the march.
     But these facts are lost on Hannity and his right-wing cohorts because, in their world, facts don't matter. Their real objective is to make racial division the dominant wedge issue of the 2008 presidential campaign. That appears to be the only way Republicans have been able to win national elections because they have been unable to win on the issues.
Take a look at the last 40 years in presidential politics and every Republican victory has had the underlying theme of racial animus. Richard Nixon based his 1968 campaign on his "Southern strategy" of building a conservative majority by exploiting racial and class tensions between White and Black Democrats.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan ran against "Chicago welfare queens" (presumably Black) who were getting a free ride from the government. Reagan, proclaiming support for states' rights, launched his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site of the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, with an apparent olive branch to the descendants of those who condoned this horrendous deed.
And who could forget George H.W. Bush's 1988 campaign against Michael Dukakis and the specter of Willie Horton. Horton was a Black man who, while on a prison furlough, raped a White woman while her husband was forced to watch, conjuring up images from the 1915 film Birth of a Nation.
During the presidential primaries in 2000, George W. Bush made a pilgrimage to Bob Jones University, an institution known for its objection to interracial dating among its students, to shore up his redneck bona fides. And 527s, independent political groups, ran an underground campaign during the South Carolina primary insinuating that John McCain had a Black love child when, in fact, he and his wife Cindy had adopted a dark-skinned girl from Bangladesh. In 2004, Bush won re-election based on the anxieties about gay marriage and a potential attack by brown-skinned radical Islamic terrorists.
     It appears that, should Obama be the nominee, the GOP themes for 2008 will center around Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Louis Farrakhan, the Million Man March, 1960s radical William Ayres, and whether Obama, as a Black candidate, is sufficiently patriotic.
     My personal experience with the GOP was eye-opening, to say the least. Raised in a Democratic household, in my late 20s I had soured on some of the Democrats' issue stances and the fact the party took the Black vote for granted. As someone who is pro-business and conservative on social issues, I decided to switch my party affiliation in the 1990s and became active in Republican politics. I believed then, and still believe, that Black voters would be better off being involved in both parties so neither could take us for granted.
     However, I found that Republicans prefer that Black members of their party be seen and not heard, and were expected to toe the party line at all times. My husband I tired of being one of the few Blacks in the room at most Republican events. If other Blacks were present, we were often mistaken for someone else since, of course, all Blacks look alike. There was also an unspoken mandate that Blacks in the Republican Party speak out in opposition of affirmative action programs, although Republicans exert zero energy to combat racial and gender discrimination that still exists.
     Any hopes of bringing other Black voters into the party were thwarted by the Republicans' constant use of the race card, particularly in Senate, Congressional and presidential elections. After a few years of this abysmal treatment, my husband and I decided that the independent route was our best option.
     Hopefully, McCain, as the Republican standard bearer, will not stoop to the tactic of fanning the flames of racial division, but other members of his party have already taken a giant leap in this direction. Right-wing talk radio has apparently decided that playing the race card is lucrative, good for ratings and serves as red meat for the more extreme elements of its audience. The 527s will be out in full force with video snippets of Rev. Wright, Farrakhan and anyone else they can use to smear Obama as a closet subversive, a potential mole for a radical Black faction, even though his life's work proves he is void of prejudice, open-minded and inclusive.
    This week the North Carolina GOP will unveil a 30-second ad that attacks Democratic gubernatorial candidates Beverly Perdue and Richard Moore for their endorsements of Obama. The ad, per the party, will reference "controversial figures from Barack Obama's past," presumably featuring Wright and Farrakhan, and raise the question of the candidates' "judgment" in supporting him.
     After all, Republicans certainly cannot run on the crumbling U.S. economy, the falling dollar, sky-high gas prices, inadequate access to health care, and their disastrous military and foreign policy in the Middle East and around the globe. A campaign based on racial fears may be their only hope. Even conservative commentator Pat Buchanan said in a recent interview, "I think the only way Republicans can win is if they win ugly." In November, we'll get a chance to see if their tactic is successful once again.

Gwen Richardson is an entrepreneur and author based in Houston, Texas. Her new book entitled Why African Americans Can't Get Ahead: And How We Can Solve It With Group Economics is an Essence magazine bestseller. Richardson is currently writing a book about the 2008 presidential election.


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