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Political Animal


By Brian Morton | Posted 3/10/2010

In America, nearly every black person believes in conspiracies.

Now that I've gotten that massive generalization out of the way, think about it for a second. No matter how rationalist an African-American you may be, history has already provided plenty of evidence. What was slavery but a conspiracy against an entire race of people? Jim Crow? A de facto (when it wasn't de jure) combined effort to deny people of African heritage the fruits of the living experiment that is America.

Black folk to this day think that there was more than one man involved in the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. There are still unsolved murders from the civil rights era (remember: there's no statute of limitations on murder) and quite plausibly the people who perpetrated those crimes still may walk this earth.

Recall how long it was before King got his birthday honored as a national holiday, and all the various excuses lawmakers gave in their efforts to block it. Think of how long it took to convince Ronald Reagan (a man who began his presidential campaign waving the code-word phrase of "states' rights") that there needed to be sanctions levied on South Africa because of apartheid, and then to honor Nelson Mandela as a hero. Oh, and recall that the same arguments made about Mandela almost mimic to a "T" the arguments made about King.

This writer isn't really much of a believer in most modern conspiracies. He remembers telling a neighbor once that secrets don't last too long in Washington, which is why somehow the annual budget for the CIA still tends to make it to the front page of The New York Times. Sure, it took over 30 years to find out that W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat, but that was only because the secret involved a pact between Woodward, Felt, and maybe Bernstein and an editor or two at The Washington Post, and nothing that ever needed to be committed to print.

Conspiracies lend themselves to this "don't write anything down" mindset--everyone involved simply knows what to do and agrees on doing it. Bill Clinton had to be brought down, and it didn't matter how, which is why it took more than $70 million, an open-ended investigation, and a committed partisan investigator who worked his way from Washington to Little Rock and back in order to find something, anything, that could keep a young Democratic president from being viewed as a success. That he was elected with large majorities of black votes didn't help (nor did author Toni Morrison calling him "the first black president").

But Clinton's affair and impeachment took away any future arguments for the "great president" mantle, and George W. Bush and Dick Cheney spent the first few years of their first term using the phrase "failed Clinton presidency" to justify turning every Clinton program and policy on its head, from Korea to the Middle East, from energy to the environment.

But now there's a real black president--a Harvard-educated constitutional-law professor confronted with a host of real problems at the start of his term. And nothing can eventually bestow the mantle of "great president" on a leader more than facing two wars, intractable non-state foes (the Taliban and Al Qaida), the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, and the possible rise of nuclear proliferation--and besting or surmounting those problems. Beating those odds is a sure way to get your face on the money at some point in the future.

And deep, deep down, that's what black folk think all this business with Obama is about. It's a conspiracy.

First off: Deny his citizenship. There's your "birthers" for you. Trivialize him: Remember all the efforts during the election campaign to call him "the biggest celebrity in the world?" Demean his intellect: This explains all the lame jokes about the teleprompter.

But then, once he is elected, deny him any success.

This is the only explanation I can think of for Republicans voting against ideas and policies that they originated or sponsored. Putting "holds" on enormous blocs of nominees, for ostensibly picayune reasons. Claiming that using standard political tactics like budget reconciliation--used by the Bush Administration for the first set of tax cuts--is now tantamount to "muscling through" or "railroading" a bill "over the objections of the minority." And the unprecedented act of subjecting everything that passes through the Senate to a 60-vote supermajority--these are the sort of things that whisper to black Americans, "It's a conspiracy."

But modern conspiracies are foolishness, aren't they? Why would an entire political party prefer to let the nation slowly sink into decline rather than address problems head-on? All just to deny a black man even the slightest chance at a legacy? That's just ridiculous, isn't it? Surely we're enough of a postracial society that this wouldn't be some sort of combined, unspoken effort to ensure that Obama leaves office a failure after one term, just to make sure that his name will never adorn schools or airports or heaven forbid, the money.

Nobody would ever believe a thing like that. That would be a conspiracy.

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The Fix (8/4/2010)

Police State (7/7/2010)

Funny Business (6/9/2010)

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