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Strom and Trent Together: We Shall Not Be Moved by Dr. Lenora B. Fulani


Last week was marked by two interesting events in Black politics. The first
was the public spat among Black Democrats over Reverend Al Sharpton's
proposed presidential run. The other was the firestorm surrounding
Mississippi Senator Trent Lott's racist remarks at Strom Thurmond's 100th
birthday party.

The Lott debacle first. You've got a good ol' boy Republican doing what the
good ol' boys do when they get together. They reminisce about the good old
days when the Negroes knew our place, but those damn liberals stuck their
noses into the white man's business and, in this particular case, tried to
integrate the Armed Forces. In this case, the damned integrationist was
also the Commander-in-Chief, President Harry Truman, a Democrat. So Strom,
loyal son of the South that he was, turned his back on his fellow Democrats
and ran for President as a Dixiecrat who pledged to maintain segregation
forever.

As it turned out, Truman won, the Armed Forces were desegregated, Thurmond
became a Republican, and Black people began to vote for the Democrats. That
trend crescendoed when Democratic President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil
Rights and Voting Rights Acts. Soon Black empowerment advocates staked out
their political turf in the Democratic Party. Millions of African Americans
followed.

This new Democratic voting bloc was a mixed blessing, however. In 1968
George Wallace replayed Thurmond's strategy, broke with the Democrats and
ran for the presidency as a segregationist. He got 13% of the vote and set
the stage for the modern exodus of southern whites from the Democratic
Party. The Democrats have been trying to get them back ever since. (Since
the 1948 presidential election, the Democrats have won the White House only
three times.)

In 1992 a candidate came along who knew that the Democrats needed a
southern strategy to win back the white folks who'd been helping to elect
Republican presidents.

His name was Bill Clinton. He and the Democratic Leadership Council ran a
campaign which hammered home a not-so-subliminal message when he publicly
crucified Reverend Jesse Jackson with his now infamous "Sister Souljah"
remarks: Here was one white Democrat who was not going to be dictated to by
Jesse Jackson and the Black community. That strategy got Clinton elected
and got the Democrats back in the White House for two terms. Black folks
got over being mad at Clinton for hanging us out to dry during the
election. In my opinion, we should use our forgiveness a little more
sparingly - not to mention intelligently.

Now some Democrats are calling for Lott's head on a platter. He's asking
for forgiveness for his slip of the tongue. Truth be told, though I don't
care whether he is or isn't forced out of his Senate leadership post, I
feel a little sorry for Mr. Lott. He is being made to bear the brunt of 50
years of opportunistic partisan politics around America's conflictedness
over race, the Republican Party's willingness to inflame that conflict and
the Democratic Party's inability to assert our social and economic progress
in the face of entrenched racism. The political feeding frenzy is all a
game. It ain't about standing up for Black people or for decency. Both
political parties gave that up a long time ago.

Enter Al Sharpton. He's running for President in the Democratic primary.
Why? Because, he says, the party has become alienated from its progressive
roots and he wants to reassert that tradition. Some Democrats are worried
about this - and none are more worried than the Black Democrats - notably
members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). They don't want Sharpton
to eclipse the CBC's institutional role as the national broker of the Black
vote. Towards that end, they've started floating a story - through Donna
Brazile, who ran Al Gore's 2000 campaign - that a number of Black
Congresspersons might run "favorite son" campaigns in their home states so
that Sharpton won't have an unobstructed path to the Black vote.

The CBC does not want to be supplanted by a competitor. But more
importantly, they're loyal Democrats. They understand that Sharpton is a
polarizing figure who, if he emerges from the primary season as a major
broker, will become a symbol that the Democratic Party is too tied to the
Black community. This will make trouble for the (white) eventual Democratic
nominee. The racialism Lott toasted at Thurmond's celebration is alive and
well in the Democratic Party, too.

Sharpton would say that the point of his running is to overcome that
racialism. Maybe he really believes that, but I doubt it. Sharpton is a
smart man. I think he recognizes that his power is maximized by keeping the
current dynamic in play - even if it does nothing to further the cause of
Black America.

The Republicans, by the way, get this point also. That's why President Bush
distanced himself from Lott. He'll play the part of the anti-racist (wink,
wink) while Lott (whether he stays or goes) is an unsung hero to the far right.

That, in a nutshell, is the state of American politics. Two parties. A high
stakes game. And Black people perpetually caught in the crossfire.

DR. LENORA FULANI is a developmental psychologist and chairperson of the
Committee for a Unified Independent Party, Inc. She can be reached at
1-800-288-3201 or 212-962-1811.


Dr. Lenora Fulani

Thursday, December 19, 2002

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