Jewish World Review Jan. 8, 2001/ 13 Teves, 5761
Laying the political race card
WHEN BILL CLINTON said he would choose a Cabinet that "looks like America,'' Democrats cheered.
But his Cabinet was chosen as if off the menu at a Chinese restaurant -- an attorney general and an
energy secretary from Group A, a secretary of state and a defense chief from Group B. The flavors
were consistent if not exciting, as if from the same Cantonese kitchen.
George W. Bush offers something different, with spicy dishes from Szechwan and Hunan provinces,
a Peking Duck and dumplings either steamed or fried. It's too soon to know what's in the fortune
This president-elect is clearly not rigid about the appearance of ethnicity. He has chosen qualified
people for his team of cabinet-level positions who happen to belong to certain minority groups, but
who were not chosen to reflect a certain skin color or sexual persuasion. There's one Democrat,
two black men, one Asian-American man, five women (including one black, one Hispanic), a
Hispanic man, a Lebanese-American man and five men wryly characterized in the newspapers as
"non-Hispanic whites.'' Critics who mock George W's command of the English language have to
concede that his Spanish is fluent enough.
Linda Chavez, a Catholic woman (married to a Jew) opposes affirmative action even though she's
both Hispanic and female. Rod Paige, the Houston schools superintendent and the
designated-secretary of education, is black, but he doesn't sound like Jesse Jackson or Maxine
Waters. He raised test scores of children regardless of race by demanding excellence and taking no
excuses. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice were chosen for experience that has nothing to do
This is bad news for Democrats itching to play the race card. Black voters who turned out in great
numbers for Al Gore, many voting for the first time, learned how bitter and frustrating defeat can be.
(Welcome to the club.) Certain Democratic pollsters are trying to transform this bitterness into rage.
John Ashcroft, the Bush nominee for attorney general, is the designated target and Jesse Jackson
has designated himself as the hit man. He vows to use street protests and demonstrations to
The Rev is skilled at this. It's what he does best. Some of his critics say it's all he knows how to do.
When there was talk several years ago that Mr. Jackson ought to run for mayor of Washington,
Marion Barry, the incumbent, did not tremble. "Jesse,'' he said, "don't want to run nothing but his
mouth.'' Some Democratic senators who intend to press Mr. Ashcroft at his confirmation hearings
are similarly dismissive of Jesse Jackson's "help'' now. They're not only embarrassed by his threats,
fearful that he will provoke a backlash of sympathy and disgust, but don't want to risk the civility
and congeniality they want to nurture in the new Congress.
"It's foolish to threaten members of Congress,'' says one Senate aide. "Threats are not very
effective. The senators do not need to be scolded.''
Playing the race card against Mr. Ashcroft because he opposed the confirmation of one black
Missouri Supreme Court justice to a federal judgeship is tempting, because most blacks are
Democrats. But it won't survive close inspection. When John Ashcroft was governor of Missouri, he
appointed the first black to the state court of appeals, signed the law for a state holiday
commemorating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., named a black woman to a state judgeship,
led the fight to save traditionally black Lincoln University, founded by black soldiers after the Civil
War, and led efforts to commemorate the birthplace of Scott Joplin, the ragtime composer. As a
senator he voted to confirm 26 of 28 black judges nominated by President Clinton. This is hardly a
record to warm the heart of the grand kleagle.
The president-elect says he welcomes the tough questions Democrats will pose to Mr. Ashcroft, but
he expects him to be confirmed. "In the great land we call America,'' he says, "(Jesse) can do
anything he wants to do.''
It's a shame about Jesse Jackson. "He coulda been a contenda. [cq]'' Early in his career in
Chicago, when he first emerged on the national stage, he inspired everyone, black and white, who
heard him telling young black men and women how they could "be somebody.'' He pushed them to
get an education, to work hard in the new opportunities opening up to them in a society that was at
last trying to do the right thing. This was hard and often thankless work, as any good teacher or
preacher knows, and it's no doubt a lot more fun to watch yourself on the evening news fanning the
flames of racial politics. But it's a recipe for defeat. Maybe not for John Ashcroft in the issue at
hand, but ultimately for Jesse Jackson, and for us
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©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate