Water Man Spouts

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Dear Matt and Christina Drayton:

I read in the Nov. 8 edition of the Syracuse Post-Standard that civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson will be speaking at the Hendrick’s Chapel of Syracuse University on the 17th. I am hoping that you will be able to attend the speech, because I believe that it might help to address some of the concerns that you expressed about my recent essay "On Impeachment." It seems that some of the beliefs of one segment of the democratic party makes another segment uncomfortable – in fact, a few members of the Democratic Underground stated that my proposals in "On Impeachment" were "dangerous" – and I believe that Rev. Jackson is uniquely qualified to define the role of the Rainbow Coalition in democratic politics.

It was with some amusement that I read, in the Post-Stand article(page B-5), that one of the university faculty was concerned that Jackson would "give a speech that is purely political. That is going to be the greatest temptation right now." I hope that Jesse gives a very political speech, and explains how "politics" impacts the every day lives of those students.

It would be important for Jesse to talk about his runs for the presidency in 1984 and ’88. In particular, I would hope that he covers that time period found in Chapter 17 of Marshall Frady’s 1996 book, "Jesse: The Life and Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson." That chapter is titled, "The Desperation After Coming This Far." It tells about how Jesse had brought large numbers of the progressive movement into the democratic party. He had earned consideration for the VP spot on the ’88 ticket.

US News & World Report had a poll that showed that a Dukakis-Jackson ticket would beat George Bush by 47% to 42%, while and Dukakis ticket without Jackson would lose by a similar amount. Jackson made it clear he wanted the chance: "For some people who have come by the way of the stars and have had silver spoons in their mouths and many job options – shall they run their father’s ranch, shall they run his plantation, shall they run the family corporation? -- maybe the vice presidency is not quite the top, but it’s a long way from where I started …" (page 402)

The book tells of how Dukakis invited Jesse and his wife to dinner at his home in Brookline, and then to the 4th of July celebration along the banks of the Charles River, to listen to the Boston Pops and watch the fireworks. It was a strange night. There was no one to pick the Jackson’s up at the Boston airport. Jesse’s staff had told Dukakis’ staff that he could not eat any milk products, yet almost the entire meal was milk-based. After the meal, Dukakis asked Jesse, "If I offered you the vice president spot, would you accept?" Jesse said, "Yes." It was, however, the last time they ever discussed the issue. Dukakis did not contact Jesse to tell him he had made another choice. And, as we know, Dukakis lost by the margin the US News & World Report had predicted.

Jackson’s address is sponsored by the African American Male Congress. I hope that Rev. Jackson talks about how the recent elections make it likely that Detroit Congressman John Conyers will likely be the chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee. In that position, the Nov. 6, 2006 TIME predicted Conyers will hold hearings to examine the Patriot Act (page 30). Jesse can tell these young people how Rep. Conyers is familiar with how the executive branch can abuse powers such as those granted by the Patriot Act. In fact, Jesse could read from the first Nixon White House "enemies list," made by Charles Colson, that had Conyers near the top: "Coming on fast. Emerging as a leading black anti-Nixon spokesman. Has known weakness for white females." (The American Police State; David Wise; Random House; 1976; page 329)

Those students might find that interesting, perhaps especially so in light of the republican ad attacking Harold Ford, Jr. For you see, Mr. And Mrs. Drayton, William Faulkner was correct when he wrote in "Intruder in the Dust" that "The past is never dead. It’s not even past."
Rev. Jackson might point out that the 2006 elections were so close that no one group can claim the full credit for the many democratic victories. It was a group effort. There are many good democrats who believe the victories were the result of "taking the middle." That is true, but it is equally true that the margin of victory was less than the number of progressives in the party. Take away that middle, and there would not have been progress; take away the progressives, and the democrats would find themselves in the middle of defeat. Again.

Each group that makes up the democratic party is a finger. Alone, our enemies can twist and break any one finger. But when we combine in a common effort, we make a powerful fist. It’s that fist that led us to victory in the elections, not just any one finger.

And that is why we want our place at the table today. Progressive democrats pitched in the funds it took to win the elections. We did our part in the hard work that brought the victories. Now we expect to be seated at the victory feast.

Jesse can tell the Syracuse students about the difficult work that was done in the 1960s. There was a lot of friction in those days. I think about part of the wonderful series "Eyes on the Prize" that played on PBS. There is an episode titled "Bridge to Freedom," about the march from Selma to Montgomery. There was an infamous film clip of James Foreman, dressed in the movement coveralls, telling the crowd, "This problem goes to the very bottom of the United States. And you know, I said it to them and I will say it again: If we can’t sit at the table, let’s knock the fucking legs off, excuse me." I remember afterward that James said he wished he hadn’t cursed in front of the people that day. But he was frustrated.

The progressive democrats are not cursing the party, or threatening to overturn any tables. But we want our say. We know that there have been episodes where those in that "middle" have been not only silent, but unwilling to listen to our voices. All you need to do is to look at Michael Moore’s film "Fahrenheit 9/11," and in some of the opening scenes, there are progressive members of the House of Representatives asking for the help of even one US Senator, because they were intent on making concerns about the republican effort to disenfranchise black voters in Florida part of the official record. Those Representatives were trying to do the same thing that the Selma marchers did.

Today we want to say that we must be willing to put the most important of topics on the table, even if it makes some people uncomfortable. We recognize the Patriot Act, because we have seen it before. It had a different name, but it was the same danger to democracy. In the Nixon days, it was called the Huston Plan. You can read about it in David Wise’s "The American Police State." Or in Bob Woodward’s "The Secret Man." Or, better yet, read about it in the historic Ervin Committee Report, in the Section A of Chapter 1, "The Background of Watergate." The Senate Committee, made up of both democrats and republicans, noted that the Huston Plan was in direct opposition to the Bill of Rights. It was this Huston Plan that led to the crimes we know as "Watergate," and which posed a danger to our democracy.

I thought it interesting that some on the Democratic Underground thought that my essay "On Impeachment" contained "dangerous" suggestions. Indeed, I think that they are in gross error. It is the Bush-Cheney administration that poses the dangers to our society. I merely suggested that when we are confronted by an updated Huston Plan, with the Patriot Act, the threats to the Bill of Rights that Keith Olbermann has noted, the Downing Street Memo, the Plame and the neocon/AIPAC espionage scandals, the WMD lies that led us to war in Iraq, and many, many other related crimes, that we lobby Representatives like John Conyers and Henry Waxman, and ask them to investigate. Investigate in the manner defined by the Constitution of the United States.

I remember that Dick Gregory spoke to a group of parents in a Selma church, to address their concerns that what their children were doing by marching was "dangerous." You can find Dick’s beautiful and moving speech at the end of his book "Nigger." He told the crowd,"Let’s analyze the situation. We’re not saying, ‘Let’s go downtown and take over city hall.’ We’re not saying, ‘Let’s stand on the rooftops and throw bricks at the white folks.’ We’re not saying, ‘Let’s get some butcher knives and some guns and make them pay for what they’ve done.’ …

"We’re saying, ‘We want what you said belongs to us. You have a constitution …. And you make me take a test on the United States Constitution, a constitution that hasn’t worked for anyone but you. And you expect me to learn it from front to back. So I learned it’." (page 202)

My essay "On Impeachment" shows that I’ve read that Constitution from front to back, too. It’s not dangerous. I suggested others read it. That’s not dangerous. I quoted from Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Look at him: he’s an elderly intellectual who wears a bow-tie. He isn’t threatening. If you don’t want to read his "The Imperial Presidency," then please read his wonderful books "A Thousand Days" (about JFK) and "Robert Kennedy" (the best book on RFK). Then you will understand the promise that was made to progressive democrats. And you’ll know who invited us to this table.

I hope that you will be able to hear Rev. Jesse Jackson’s message. Perhaps afterwards, we could go out for a meal. I promise I’m not planning to kick the legs out from under that table.


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