Many of you read about the recent meeting between the Congressional Black
Caucus and President George W. Bush several weeks ago. In my view,
the way the CBC played this encounter is exemplary of the problem with so
many black Democratic elected officials. They didn't go to the meeting
representing black America. They went to the meeting representing the
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They complained about unfair ballot counting in the black districts in
Florida, counties which were presided over by Democrat appointed boards.
They protested the nomination of John Ashcroft as attorney general. I am
no fan of Ashcroft. But the notion that the future welfare of black America
turns one way or another on John Ashcroft is ridiculous. What's more, if
it were true, it would be a staggering measure of the across-the-board
failure of 40 years of civil rights leadership. The protest against
Ashcroft was simply designed to rally the faithful and raise money for
liberal organizations which thrive off of scaring people into thinking that
fascism is around the corner.
If I had gone to that meeting with George Bush, here's what I would have
done. I would have sat down and said, OK, Mr. President. Let's talk
business. First, I want your support for an immediate mobilization of the
private sector. I want to raise $10 billion to fund innovative community
programs based on a developmental approach that helps young people perform
beyond their capacities. You could call them "no faith-based" in the sense
that they are based on having no faith that government-funded programs can
be effective because they become too politicized. Alternatively, you call
these programs "supplemental education." I want you to introduce me to 100
major business leaders who will pledge to raise that money from corporate
America. I have created several model programs -- without a dime of
government money. You can use them as a model.
Second, what do you intend to do about school vouchers? Eight percent of parents in
black and Hispanic communities want them. The teachers' unions oppose them,
which means the Democrats oppose them, which means we're looking at
permanent gridlock. Meanwhile, the kids in our communities are suffering
in failing schools, because both parties are afraid to go up against the
unions. I'm ready to join with you in a partnership to introduce vouchers,
and I will pressure every black Democrat to support us in doing so.
Third, while we're talking about taking on the unions' influence over
public policy, let's talk about corporate influence. Let me be very blunt,
Mr. President. You have said you want to address the inequities in our
society. You have said you want to reach out to the African American
community. Good. Let's talk about poverty. In order to deal with poverty,
we must have a redistribution of wealth in this country. I understand that
is not the Republican way. It's also not the Democratic Party way, except
insofar as it has funded a self-perpetuating poverty industry and used
taxpayer money to do it. But to effect an equitable distribution of wealth
in a society such as ours means the society must have greater control over
the terms on which business does business. Profit-making is successful in
the context of a social contract, but the American people have had their
power to shape and reshape that social contract drastically curtailed.
Therefore, we must have a serious redistribution of political power. I'd
like your support for a program of radical political reform that opens up
the ballot, the debates and the voting booth, and which imposes term limits
on all elected officials. Ordinary citizens must be empowered.
Independents -- who are the emerging majority in American politics -- support
these kinds of reforms. John McCain almost beat you with his
anti-corruption pro-reform campaign. That movement has not gone away. I
would strongly urge that you and your administration become allies of mine
in reforming the American political system.
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Do I have an expectation that President Bush would accede to these demands?
That's a complicated issue. At one level, no. For President Bush and the
Republicans have their own set of institutional ties and class loyalties,
just as the Democrats do. However, as far as African-Americans are
concerned, our greater involvement in independent politics and independent
policymaking weakens the Democratic coalition. And that, presumably is
something that President Bush and the Republicans would take to be in their
Black America's capacity to pursue such a path requires
that we seek out new alliances and new coalitions -- as independents -- with
other sectors of U.S. society. That is the core of my political tactic.