Thieving Sons of Bushes

Against the Current, No. 91, March/April 2001

Malik Miah

“NEVER TRUST A Son of Bush” was one of many signs at George W. Bush’s presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C. on January 20. Some 25,000 marched in Washington and 15,000 rallied in San Francisco. The D.C. protest was the largest one at a presidential inauguration since 1973 — at President Nixon’s second term.

The marchers included a cross-section of the American population, led by African Americans who gave Bush only eight percent of their votes, the lowest total for a Republican since 1964, and only five percent in Texas.

Other popular signs were: “Hail to the Thief” and “If Gore got 500,000 more, how did Bush win by 5 to 4?” and “What part of `counting’ don’t you understand?” and “Supreme Coup.”

References to “5 to 4” and “Coup” pointed to the unprecedented role played by the U.S. Supreme Court that stopped the recount of votes in the state of Florida when it appeared that Democrat Al Gore, was likely to win the state and thus the presidency.

As one San Francisco resident told the San Francisco Chronicle, “I’m protesting because he was not chosen by the people but by the Supreme Court. I don’t think we should take this lying down. We can’t come together as a nation if people’s votes were left out.”

Supreme Shame

New York Black leader Al Sharpton led 2,000 protesters to the Supreme Court. Protesters pledged to work to uphold the Voting Rights Act and chanted slogans, “No Justice, No Peace” and “Supreme Shame.”

“George Bush was not elected by the people,” said Sharpton. “He was selected by the judges of the Supreme Court, and those judges ought to know that they cannot rob from us.”

A national news poll made public on the eve of the inauguration showed how divided the country is and the lack of a mandate that Bush has. Only fifty-one percent of those polled considered Bush’s victory legitimate. Among African Americans, only twelve percent said so.

“A majority of African-Americans think that the election was stolen,” said David Bositis, an analyst at the Joint Center for Economic Studies, a think tank in D.C. noted after the Florida voting fiasco. Even before the election, Bositis said, the more African-Americans saw of Bush, “the less they liked him.”

African Americans Taking the Lead

African Americans are taking the lead in protests because history has taught them that gains in rights can be reversed, not just eroded by the ruling class. While the Democratic Party bigwigs and other mainstream white liberals have taken a less hostile attitude toward the new regime — seeing it as an opportunity to win back the Congress in 2002 — most liberal Black elected officials and civil rights leaderships are afraid for themselves and the Black community.

The fact that a number of prominent African Americans are in the Bush cabinet (General Colin Powell as the first Black Secretary of State is the most visible), doesn’t change the fact that gains can be reversed. The goal of the ruling white elite is not to remove Blacks from high government places but to end the affirmative action programs (codewords: “quotas” and “preferences”) and other steps taken to fight institutional racism.

This is why Jesse Jackson, the most prominent national civil rights leader, and the NAACP, the largest mainstream civil rights organization, took the lead during the Florida voting debacle. Kwame Mfume, president of the NAACP, charged then that there had been disproportionate purging of voter rolls and other chicanery in mainly African American precincts.

Response to Black Anger

Not surprisingly, Black Democrats in the House spoke up when the Congress voted to approve the Electoral College results. But they failed to get an official challenge to the results because not a single Senator would sign on to the challenge. The Senate does not have a single African American in the august body!

During hearings for Bush’s nominee for Attorney General, the openly racist John Ashcroft, the loudest complaints came from Blacks.

In this context, the Democratic leadership seeks to use the Black anger to push Bush more to the center. The more astute of the Democratic Party leaders, beginning with former President Bill Clinton, are using the issues of civil rights to attempt to do that.

Clinton, who did much less for African Americans than many Blacks and whites believe, used his last days in office to seek to consolidate the Democratic Party’s base especially the African American vote.

On January 14, less than a week before leaving office, Clinton issued a report urging the new Congress to adopt several policies long championed by liberal civil rights organizations. The recommendations as reported by The New York Times include:

“Outlawing racial profiling by law enforcement agencies.

“Immediately shrinking the disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine offenses.

“Enactment of laws providing for greater access to DNA testing for criminals and for competent legal counsel for defendants in capital cases.

“The appointment of a nonpartisan presidential commission on electoral changes that will recommend to Congress ways to increase voter participation and prevent voter suppression and intimidation.”

“People of color,” Clinton wrote in an Op-Ed article in the January 14 New York Times, “have more opportunity than ever before. Still, we see evidence of inequality in the long list of disparities in employment and wealth, education, criminal justice and health that still so often break down along the color line.”

Talk or Action?

The problem, of course, is that Clinton had eight years to implement most if not all of his proposals but refused to do so. His aim now is pure factional (bourgeois) politics.

“Why didn’t he do more on these things during his own administration?” asked Laura Murphy, director of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Jesse Jackson added: “Those gaps existed in 1992. He had eight years to work on them, but that required some heavy lifting.”

The “heavy lifting” didn’t occur because Clinton, the “New Democrat,” was more concerned about the white middle class and conservative layers he sought to pull into the “center” of the Democratic Party. Black voters were taken for granted.

Clinton’s main legacy on race was not the rhetoric but his decision to “end welfare as we know it.” That act drove hundreds of thousands of poor Blacks, and whites, into homelessness and despair.

Bush Cares Less

Bush, for his part, doesn’t pretend to care much about African Americans. He knows Blacks didn’t vote for him, and do not support him. He really doesn’t care what their leaders think or do. But Bush does worry about potential mass protests, especially by African Americans.

The African-Americans Bush appointed to his cabinet and other posts represent the handful of Blacks in the Black middle class who see opportunities by backing the anti-civil rights policies of the Republican Party.

Likewise, Bush’s funding plans for “faith-based” organizations is aimed at getting the more conservative Black church leaders to support some of Bush’s “compassionate conservative” policies.

The mass protests on the 20th, however, indicate that Black militancy is ready to explode if organized. Anger among women, young people and a layer of white liberals also reflects the readiness to challenge the most reactionary policies of the new government.

As one Green supporter observed at the Washington, D.C. protest: “If the Democrats don’t become more progressive, the Greens will continue to grow until we become the majority.”

ATC 91, March-April 2001