American politics is a system that breeds cynicism, corruption, cronyism, and mediocrity. The most successful political candidates are usually the ones that offer quick and easy solutions to problems that can have deep social implications. Can’t afford to rebuild the roads? Issue a bond, borrow the money, and let future generations figure out how to pay for it. Need to balance the federal budget? Tap the social security money reserves intended to help pay for people’s retirement and let the politicians in office when it’s time for people to retire figure out how to get the money. People are complaining about the racial disparity in the public school system? Instead of spending money to support the schools that are lacking, usually in the black neighborhoods, we can spend money on bussing so we can shuffle students around to various schools so everyone can be mediocre. Are the gasoline prices getting too high? We can suspend federal taxes for a time period so that the eighteen cents that the government collects to repair roads and other services stops. Instead of paying four dollars a gallon gasoline with eighteen cents going to taxes we can pay four dollars a gallon and someone just pockets that extra eighteen cents. In the world of politics, immediate, simple solutions are key to winning over a public with little interest for the details of public social issues.
To compound this problem, there are powerful entities that want to make sure that their interest are well represented whatever the political environment. Wealthy corporate and private entities will use whatever vast resources at their disposal to wield influence on just about any serious political candidate from the local level all the way to the federal. These people have the resources to influence even the most powerful politicians to their disposal. It is a foregone conclusion that this influence involves money. But the ultimate goal is the power to bend others, even the most committed type A personality, to act against their own self interest no matter what. Often, it is a system of quid pro quo where I scratch your back and you’ll scratch mine. It is a prime condition for secrets that betray not the public’s trust or sense of faith, but the public’s sense of comfort that the politician will do whatever so the public doesn’t have to care about it. A politician’s penchant for secret deals and under the table partnerships and is a prime environment for fostering the corruption and cronyism.
It is truly difficult for me as a member of the black community to develop a comfortable trust in someone who has become so adept at thriving in such an environment. With rare exception, the political environment of the manipulators and the manipulated rarely has the black community’s welfare at heart. Indeed, a politician that makes the choice to reveal his or her self as a proponent of the black community is a politician that will be quickly guided to the exit door signaling an end to their political career. Therefore, a politician, whether black or white, will do well to keep any affiliation with the black community as distant as possible.
Black politicians have been able to achieve public office at all levels of government. Blacks have been city councilmen, mayors, state representatives, governors, and federal representatives. The only office black people have yet to hold is the president. But just because a black person holds a certain political office means nothing to black people. Black people are just as likely to be lynched by the police in cities with black mayors or black police chiefs as we are in cities with all white public officials. The black community is ignored in states with black governors just as we are in any other state. Poverty in the black community is just as rampant. Black unemployment is just as pervasive. Education for black people will be just as lacking. Medical care for black people will be just as disappointing.
With all of that said, there is an inherent flaw in the black community’s proclivity to put its collective faith in any politician. A cursory glance at American history will show that some politicians have appeared as champions of social change and an enormous boon to the black community. People in the black community have been programmed to accept America’s most famous politicians as people who have done well for the black community. The black community is supposed to appreciate George Washington because he freed his slaves in his will. But the fact is that George Washington condoned and supported the institution of slavery just like every land owner in his day. The black community is supposed to be thankful to Abraham Lincoln because he freed the slaves. But little is mentioned of the fact that Mr. Lincoln was a stout segregationist he never wanted to end slavery, who believed in the superiority of the white race, and would never condone black people achieving equality to white people. John Kennedy may have made the phone call to Doctor Martin Luther King when he was in prison for his civil disobedience. But Mr. Kennedy had a history of selecting some of the most conservative judges to fill the openings in the American south. And while the black community may thank Lyndon Johnson for passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Mr. Johnson condoned the public harassment of all civil rights icons throughout his presidency. And these are the presidents we are supposed to admire.
Richard Nixon hired Donald Rumsfeld to head the office charged with the responsibility of eliminating poverty in America. Hiring the uber neoconservative to manage one of the most socially oriented offices in the presidency is akin to hiring a fox to guard a chicken coop. Ronald Reagan initiated his war on welfare with his story of the black welfare queen who sits at home and robs the federal government blind as justification to cut the social welfare programs that helped the black community to the bone. And no president could have manifested more disinterest in the welfare of the black community than George Bush during the Katrina disaster. President Bush declared a state of emergency for parts of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, but his declaration didn’t include New Orleans or the parishes with a heavy black population.
So it is with a great deal of suspicion and low expectations that a black politician becoming president will do anything with the black community in mind. Indeed, it is interesting that a black politician that has to defend himself against white people who regularly make everything from highly suggestive racial innuendoes all the way through to outright blatant claims of African American inferiority will dismiss such language as something that must be ignored, but will become visibly outraged and angry when his former pastor says that the black politician is required to make politically advantageous moves in order to win the highest political office in the land.
It is understandable after all. A lot of black people say that the pastor should keep quiet in order to help the black man win the presidency. But what will the black community gain other than bragging rights that a black man has finally reached the final political frontier? If the experience with the black governor and the black mayor is any indication, we won’t gain anything that will achieve anything for us. It will be business as usual.
Most of the social changes that have benefited the black community did not come from public office. The social changes that we have craved came through activism. It came through people who have been front and center in the church. Most of our changes have come from the black community that works hard and made sacrifices of dignity, sacrifices of physical pain, sacrifices of time and money, and the ultimate sacrifices of life. No politician is willing to make these kinds of sacrifices to help the black community. The black politician has an image that white people can trust him or her to uphold. Social changes, the type of changes many white people protest in order to keep their white privilege, will damage that image of trust. It is the black church that has gotten us this far. If black people are to ever come back together again to continue our long, arduous fight for some kind of racial equality in America, it will be through the black church and not through any political office.
The way things look it is a fairly safe bet that soon a black man will wear the title of President of the United States. In order to help the black man gain that title, a lot of people are ready to turn their back on the liberal theology of the black church. Many of us are willing to sell our soul in order to gain what we think is the greatest political office in the world. And black people want those bragging rights so badly that we are ready to allow the only institution that has ever truly worked in our favor, the black church, to be labeled as some relic of a segregationist past fueled by black people’s victim mentality. The black community stands ready to abandon our collective soul.