'Never trust a son of a Bush'

January 31, 2001

'Never Race and class in the US: trust a son of a Bush'


SAN FRANCISCO — “Never trust a son of a Bush.” This was one of many signs at George W. Bush's presidential inauguration in Washington on January 20. Some 25,000 marched in Washington and 15,000 rallied in San Francisco. The Washington protest was the largest at a presidential inauguration since 1973 — when Richard Nixon was sworn in for his second term as president of the United States.

The marchers included a cross-section of the US population, led by African-Americans who gave Bush only 9% of their votes — the lowest total for a Republican presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater in 1964.

Other popular slogans on placards at the inauguration protest were: “Hail to the thief”, “What part of 'counting' don't you understand?”, “If Gore got 500,000 more, how did Bush win by 5 to 4?”, and “Supreme Coup”. These signs pointed to the unprecedented role played by the US Supreme Court in stopping the recount of votes in the state of Florida when it appeared that the Democratic Party presidential hopeful, Vice-President 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.”

New York black leader, Al Sharpton, led 2000 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 nation is and how limited a mandate Bush has. Only 51% of those polled considered Bush's victory legitimate. Among African-Americans, only 12% said so.

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

Groups joining the protests included supporters of abortion rights, gun control, strong environmental regulations and civil rights. The first act by Bush after being sworn in was to sign several executive orders seeking to reverse executive orders issued by President Bill Clinton before he left office that protect national land from big oil and other major energy monopolies.

And on his first full day in office, January 22, Bush reinstated the Reagan-Bush Sr. ban on US government funding for overseas abortion counselling. He also announced plans to take public money and give it to private schools in the form of “vouchers”.

The “compassionate conservative”, as he campaigned, turns out to be a mainstream rightist.

African Americans take the lead

African-Americans are taking the lead in protests because history has taught them that gains in democratic rights can be reversed, not just eroded by the capitalist ruling class. While the Democratic Party big wigs 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 population.

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 and other steps taken to fight institutional racism. This is why Jesse Jackson, the most prominent national civil rights leader, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the largest mainstream civil rights organisation, 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.

There is a deepening anger and growing mood of black militancy today in response to the “stolen election”. Not surprisingly, black Democrats in the House of Representatives 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. There is not a singe African-American in the upper house of the US Congress!

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 centre of capitalist politics. The more astute of the Democratic Party leaders, beginning with Bill Clinton, are using civil rights issues to attempt to do that. Clinton used his last days in office to seek to consolidate the Democratic Party's base, especially the African-American vote.

Clinton's proposals

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 organisations. Among the recommendations, as reported by the New York Times, were:

* 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 non-partisan 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 issue of the 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.”

Clinton, of course, had eight years to implement most if not all of these proposals but refused to do so.

“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 with not alienating the racially privileged white middle class layers he sought to pull into the “centre” of the Democratic Party. The 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 people, disportionately black, into homelessness and despair.

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

The mass protests on January 20, however, indicate that black militancy is capable of exploding into mass mobilisations on the streets if organised. 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 a Green Party supporter observed at the Washington protest: “If the Democrats don't become more progressive, the Greens will continue to grow until we become the majority.”

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