Throughout the fall campaign, the Democrats paid great lip service to the ideal of inclusion. Al Gore planned to create a big tent under which all minority groups could unite (with the established elite) and work together toward greater understanding of each other and policies that benefit everyone.
Gore lost the election. But his message obviously wasn’t lost on the black population, 90 percent of which voted for him in the general election. Unfortunately, prominent leaders in the black community are now rejecting President-elect George W. Bush’s attempt to erect his own tent, which looks to deliver the picture Gore painted of an American executive branch that was truly representative.
Whether Bush purposefully sought out minorities to fill his cabinet or whether he was admirably color-blind when he chose the best people for each job, the fact remains he has assembled the most racially diverse cabinet in the history of this country, not to mention any Western democracy. This is something, I argue, the minority community should applaud. Instead, however, many have already threatened the success of Bush’s administration with divisive tactics born largely of shameless partisan devotion.
The first time division was incited was during the counting of the electoral votes in a joint session of Congress earlier this month. In turn, twelve members of the Black Congressional Caucus stood to object to the counting of Florida’s 25 electoral votes. The fact their objections were procedurally flawed and unsubstantiated didn’t stop them from rising even as Gore, who presided over the counting, gaveled each down in succession. The protest culminated in a walkout of many black members of Congress.
After the walkout, there was a press conference in which leaders of the Caucus charged black voters had been disenfranchised in Florida. They made these accusations without one shred of solid evidence, not one. The implication Bush had some agency in this, however, was unmistakable in the tenor of the remarks.
The second example of division is the opposition to Bush’s cabinet choices, especially John Ashcroft, a former Senator from Missouri. Ashcroft’s record, whether you like him or not, makes him the most qualified candidate for this office in history. Before he was a senator, he was a two-term state attorney general and a state governor, a far cry from the fortunate brother of a president-elect. Minority groups and Democrats have been opposing Ashcroft’s confirmation largely because they fear he is a racist. Why do they fear he’s a racist? Because he led the assault against the promotion of Judge White to a federal bench.
The only evidence they offer to substantiate this fear is the fact that Judge White is black. Well, that’s plain ridiculous. There is plenty of evidence that Ashcroft is not racist. While governor, he appointed more minorities and women to state judgeships than any of his predecessors. The fact his successor appointed more does not diminish his paving the way.
Judge White himself, while testifying before the Judiciary Committee yesterday, declined to charge Ashcroft’s opposition of his candidacy was racially motivated. And make no mistake, the Democrats on the committee gave him plenty of opportunity to do so. Both these cases of baseless accusation demonstrate a disturbing tendency on the part of the minority community to give a Republican a chance to govern in their interests.
We can trace the opposition of blacks to Bush’s candidacy all the way back to the summer, when he spoke before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The crowd jeered him so much that his message was lost.
To any minority group that thinks Bush won’t act in their interests as president, I implore you to wait and see before you make up your mind about him. Tomorrow, as a nation, we will be distracted from the ceremony of the inauguration by countless protests led by civil rights leaders across the country, but I tell you the man taking the oath of office is worth listening to.
I tell you Bush is a man who is going to work with Colin Powell to address the problem of AIDS in Africa, a continent largely ignored by the NAACP’s beloved Clinton.
He is a man who is going to work for greater choice in education so minority students and others who can’t afford to leave failing public schools will be able to exploit whatever opportunities they earn.
He is a man who is going to allow citizens to invest some of their Social Security taxes in the stock market, providing an opportunity to minorities and other disadvantaged people to become winners in the new economy.
Our new president is a man who wants to welcome all Americans into his tent, if they’ll come.
Phil Fortino is a senior in Saybrook. His columns appear every Friday.