Los Angeles, California -- How can a fifty-something man summarize a lifetime of political education in less than many thousands of words? In earlier drafts of this post I went on for about seven thousand words and even that was not enough. My word processor says this essay is exactly 2,137 words long. No editor of a journal would accept this for publication but one nice thing about having your own blog is setting up the rules. And so, 2,137 words it shall be.
Between the two of us, my dear wife, Cathy Deppe, and I have lived and worked in Alabama, California, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
Some of these places were run by politicians who called themselves “conservatives.” Some were run by politicians who called themselves “liberals” or "progressives." They all have problems, but “liberal” places are consistently better (it’s not for nothing that “conservative” Condolezza Rice from “conservative” Alabama settled in “liberal” California). Cathy and I have both been involved in the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the women’s movement, the labor movement, and the environmental movement.
Some politicians are very good at making speeches, but God (and the devil) is in the details. High-minded speeches and deliberately vague legislation aside, on issue after issue, that matters to me, Republicans and Democrats are, indeed, the “One Corporate Party with Two Names.”
I was born and raised in Hampton, Virginia.
During the Civil War, Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy, but Hampton was occupied by Union troops based at old Fort Monroe. In 1861 three slaves, Frank Baker, James Townsend and Sheppard Mallory had been contracted by their owners to build defense batteries for the Confederate Army. They escaped at night and rowed a skiff across Hampton Roads seeking asylum at Fort Monroe. General Benjamin Butler declared the three men were “contraband of war” and refused to return them. And so throughout the war thousands of Blacks, including my great, great grandparents, fled behind the Union lines to freedom in Hampton.
Mary S. Peake, a free black woman, had been running schools for blacks even before the war when it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write. She used to conduct classes under a large spreading oak tree. When Lincoln issued the Emacipation Proclaimation it was read to the freedmen gathered under this tree. The Hampton Agricultural and Normal Institute (now Hampton University), one of the nation’s oldest historically black colleges, was founded on this site in 1868 and “Emancipation Oak” is in the national registry of historical sites.
Both my parents graduated from Hampton Institute in the 1940s. I went to 100% all-black segregated public schools in Hampton through the 9th grade. In college I studied engineering and political science. I graduated from Hampton University in 1972.
I lived and worked in Virginia until I was thirty. In 1979, I started working as a full time computer programmer at Michie-Bobbs Merrill Law Publishers in Charlottesville, Virginia. By the late 1970s Old Virginia had almost completely “flipped” from one-party segregationist Democrat to one-party “conservative” Republican.
My wife grew up in Glen Ellyn, a village in one-party Republican DuPage County, Illinois just west of one-party Democratic Chicago. As of the 2000 census, the village was 26,999. When Cathy was growing up it was sleepy, leafy, little village. Today, it is part of the (ahem) “Illinois Technology and Research Corridor. “ Most of Cathy’s family still lives around Chicago. Some live in the City of Chicago where the crooks run around saying: “Vote Democratic or else those suburban rednecks who hate us will take over!” Others live in DuPage County where the crooks run around saying: “Vote Republican or else those inner-city mau mau savages in Chicago who hate us will take over!” The codependency of the “One Party With 2 Names” is so clear that it takes an expensive education at someplace like the University of Chicago not to see it.
The Chicago area has a curious tradition of gross political corruption dating back almost a century. Last Fall The Chicago Sun-Times reported that in the last three decades, at least 79 local elected officials have been convicted of a crime, including 3 governors, one mayor, and 27 aldermen. Whenever some pain-in-the-ass honest person arises out of the muck of Illinois politics, like Adlai Stevenson, Jesse Jackson, or Barack Obama, the clever solution of the Chicago gangsters is to send ‘em to Washington where their “do-gooder” notions won’t interfere with “business as usual” at home.
Cathy graduated from the University of Illinois. She was a student there when she volunteered to spend the summer of 1965 helping to register voters in Greene County, Alabama and what she saw down there changed her life.
Cathy taught school on a small island in the West Indies for two years. She has been an employment counselor, a “job coach” at a sheltered workshop, and a public school teacher. I have been a software engineer in Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts before settling in California. While living and working in the Hudson Valley of New York served as vice-president of the Northern Dutchess NAACP and co-chair of the Dutchess County Committee Against Racism in Poughkeepsie, New York.
The late, great Molly Ivins once wrote this about growing up in Texas:
If you grew up white before the civil rights movement anywhere in the South, all grown-ups lied. They'd tell you stuff like, ‘Don't drink out of the colored fountain, dear, it's dirty.’ In the white part of town, the white fountain was always covered with chewing gum and the marks of grubby kids' paws, and the colored fountain was always clean. Children can be horribly logical. I believe all Southern liberals come from the same starting point -- race. Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything.
And so it was, by different paths, Cathy and I started early in our lives “to question everything.”
Some good people seem genuinely surprised by just how bad the Bushies have been. Serious historians say President George W. Bush may be the worst president of the United State -- ever.
At the risk of sounding immodest, I am not surprised. Especially for those of us who have worked in the civil rights movement and the peace movement, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, Ashcroft, and Gonzalez in every respect are the flowers of post-civil rights “white backlash” and post-Vietnam War “Chickenhawk” mediocrity.
The Green Question
Almost every argument about the Green Party gets hung up on Bush vs. Gore vs. Nader and goings-on in Washington. Today, almost all sharp political commentators are obsessed with Mr. Bush’s war in Iraq. This is perfectly understandable and we can talk about the sins of Bush and Cheney all day.
Nevertheless, I am here to say, dear friends, all that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Our critics invoke "practical politics." Very well. Let's talk practical politics. Where would the Democratic Party be without organized labor or progressive women or "minority" voters throwing away 80% of their ballots for Democrats? It would be extinct! Yet, for some weird reason, while Democratic leaders disagree with Republican conservatives, they despise progressive Democrats.
Every single time some ethically-challenged Democratic Party Hack politician gets in hot water, they come crying to people like your and me (see William Jefferson Clinton, 1998-1999). In the inner-city neighborhoods the crooks come 'round to Black churches two sundays before the election crying: “Vote Democratic or else those suburban ‘rednecks’ will take over!” (Okay, they don't actually say that, but it's implied). We are told it's our duty to give money, make phone calls, walk precincts, and welcome hacks into our houses of worship, community centers, and union halls.
What happens the day after the election?
The day after the election begins the next cycle of contempt, sell-outs, wheeling ‘n dealing.
First comes the return of the usual contempt for suckers like me. This is the familiar pseudo-sophisticated cynicism about “political correctness“ and “peaceniks” and those feminist “bitches.” Men like me are denounced as “faggots” on account of our insufficient enthusiasm for the presumed superior values of cold-blooded violent macho men. Always, always comes the cynicism about those little “ingrates” out there "whining" about discrimination who don’t know enough to shut up let “real American” businessmen run the world.
Finally, it’s back to business-as-usual: awarding government contracts and patronage jobs to cronies; low-interest loans for mayors-for-life; stealing money from school kids; selling out to Wal-Mart and Arnold Schwarzenegger; and implementing “reforms” like $170,000 salaries for Los Angeles School Board members.
Everywhere the Democratic Party “leadership” is clubby, short-sighted, gutless, and corrupt.
Everywhere the "liberal" intellectuals are clubby, short-sighted, gutless, and corrupt.
No matter what happens in the coming years, "liberal" institutions like The Nation and The New Yorker will offer up the same tiresome fraternity of know-it-all Ivy-League intellectuals to tell us "progressives" what to think.
We are living in a country under the hegemony of Republican conservative ideology and these "progressives" do next to nothing to challenge this hegemony of very bad ideas.
My view of The Green Question is a bit unusual because I am an active California Green who is also African-American.
Civil rights is still my number one issue. In our time the Republican Party has become the “White Man’s Party” in the United States. Indeed, this monstrous "ism" they call "conservatism" is, chapter and verse, nothing more than the Old Southern White ideology: Southern Baptist fundamentalist religion, reckless militarism, swaggering machismo, anti-intellectualism, a union-busting economic philosophy that hasn’t changed much since slavery times, and aboce all, a sick preoccupation with “race.”
After Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans and the knee-jerk reaction of all the "conservative" intellectuals was to defend their Dear Great Leader by launching vicious attacks against those pleading on their rooftops for rescue, New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, described the political dynamic that has dominated U.S. politics for thirty years very succinctly:
Race, after all, was central to the emergence of a Republican majority: essentially, the South switched sides after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Today, states that had slavery in 1860 are much more likely to vote Republican than states that didn't.
And who can honestly deny that race is a major reason America treats its poor more harshly than any other advanced country? To put it crudely: a middle-class European, thinking about the poor, says to himself, "There but for the grace of God go I." A middle-class American is all too likely to think, perhaps without admitting it to himself, "Why should I be taxed to support those people?"
Above all, race-based hostility to the idea of helping the poor created an environment in which a political movement hostile to government aid in general could flourish.
-- “Tragedy in Black and White,” by Paul Krugman, NYT, September 19, 2005
Everything the Republican conservative clique says about African-Americans is based on prejudice and stereotypes. And everything they’ve recently done brings back bad memories of why I originally came to detest their so-called “conservatism.”
Today, so-called conservative “chicken hawks” say “we” have to send “our” sons and daughters (but not their privileged sons and daughters) and spend $3,000 a second (but not their tax dollars) in Iraq even while those same demagogues rant and foam about being taxed “to support those people” at home.
On immigration, the rhetoric of California college-educated, pseudo-sophisticated "conservatives" about “illegal aliens” is as ugly and crude as anything I heard by southern segregationist "rednecks" in Old Virginia. They piously preach little sermons about a crusade for “freedom” in the Middle East, but under stress, they’ll launch into a tirade on Arab “sand n*****s” and “ragheads.” Indeed, the new Washington consensus on the Iraq war is that those bad brown Iraqis are the ones who have failed The Great White Empire.
Hence, my dilemma. I have a hundred grievances against the Democrats, but for a lot of self-respecting people of color like me, supporting Republicans is simply not an option. Telling me we don’t need third parties because I can “choose” between Republicans and Democrats is telling me I have no choice at all. And telling me that if I want "education reform" or "campaign reform" or "environmental reform" then I have to "join Arnold" and those sicko Republicans is telling me that you don't really want reform at all and all your bitchin' about "reform" is just another way of saying "Why should I be taxed to support those people?"
Green and No Going Back
I have traveled a long road since I grew up in a 100% segregated community in Hampton, Virginia. We call ourselves African-American, but my people are not Africans. For better or for worse (and a lot of times it's for the worse), my people are as American as apple pie. When I left the East Coast in 1998 I drove across this vast nation all the way to San Francisco. I drove across Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. I took plenty of time to observe what was going on, reading local papers, and talking to all kinds of folks. I am deeply troubled that America -- the country my ancestors built and fought for -- has too much inequality, ugliness, pollution, and violence.
All my life I have been told that African-Americans like me should stop thinking so much about racism. Over and over we are told to forget slavery; forget segregation; forget lynchings and pogroms; forget those who died in my lifetime just to secure the right to vote. Pompous hypocrites who hated Martin Luther King self-righteously throw his noble words in our faces:
“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
I have judged Republicans and Democrats by the content of their character.
I reject them both.