St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dual milestones for racial equality

On January 20, 2009, the United States inaugurated its first African American president. I need not repeat what so many have observed how this is the successful culmination of the struggle of African Americans to overcome the stigma of slavery. The American Dream has become a reality for what was once the most oppressed class of our citizens.

Ten days later, a second, less visible achievement demonstrated the completeness of African American acceptance in our society. Another African American, former Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele of Maryland, was elected chair of the Republican National Committee, a major political party largely shunned by African American voters since the 1930s (and vice versa).

Steele’s accomplishment doesn’t come close to matching President Obama’s. But both men’s accessions share an important attribute that is extremely significant for African American progress. Both men won with significant support from white voters (a majority in the case of Steele’s electorate) because they were regarded as the best candidate for their respective jobs, not because they were black. Neither tokenism nor political correctness played a role in either win.

That was not the case for many of the earlier African American pioneers. While James Meredith (the first black student admitted to the University of Mississippi law school), Thurgood Marshall (the first African American justice of the United States Supreme Court), Colin Powell (the first African American Secretary of State) and Freeman Bosley, Jr. (the first African American mayor of the City of St. Louis) all had important merits that put them in position to achieve their success, their race played a major role in their election or appointment.

Obama and Steele are more in the mold of baseball great Jackie Robinson, who became the first African American player in Major League Baseball, not because he was black (more likely in spite of being black), but because he was just too good at what he did to be denied. While race played an important role in the surge of black voters to Obama (who even won a majority from black Republicans), white voters (first in Democratic primaries and then in the general election) merely concluded that the smooth, articulate, erudite Obama was the best person available to lead our nation out of both our severe economic crisis and our overseas military conflicts. Better than Hillary Clinton, the once presumed winner, and better than John McCain, the respected war hero and, yes, moderate maverick. The fact that Obama was black mattered little to most voters.

Similarly, Republicans elected the smooth, articulate, erudite Steele to lead them back to political relevance because he demonstrated the greatest skills needed to do so of all of the candidates for his job. Steele had previously chaired the Republican Party organizations of both his county and state and demonstrated strong communication skills both on the Sunday talk show circuit as chair of GOPAC for the past two years and as a popular Fox News contributor. It was clear that the party did not elect Steele to score points with African Americans, because they understood that, during the height of national euphoria over the Obama presidency, there were no points the opposition party could make with that electorate. Steele’s race was incidental.

To borrow from Martin Luther King, Obama and Steele both won because of the content of their character, not the color of their skin. And to borrow from a leader from the other end of the political spectrum, that’s the way things ought to be.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Is mystery Coleman filing a Mac attack?

The mysterious last-day filing of attorney Denise Watson-Wesley Coleman for mayor in a field that was supposed to include another Coleman, Sen. Maida Coleman, has lots of fingers pointing at Mayor Francis Slay for encouraging the former to serve as a stalking horse to hinder the challenge of the latter. Slay vehemently denies any connection.

The motivation for the Slay camp is clear: Split the vote of his most dangerous challenger. It's a long city Democrat tradition. Former Mayor Freeman Bosley, Jr. won his first elective office by unseating Circuit Clerk Joe Roddy in an election when a mysterious unknown candidate named C. Jo Roddy won more votes than the difference between Bosley and the incumbent Roddy.

While I am no fan of the mayor, I think Slay is being honest here. While he stands to benefit from the filing, I don't think he had anything to do with it.

The Post Dispatch today editorially opined that lawyer Coleman just decided all on her own to seek the office. Yeah, right.

Just as plausible: Minnesota Sen.-elect Al Franken is behind the filing in order to further embarrass rival Sen. Norm Coleman.

So, who else would gain from Slay winning a third term? How about the man who isn't there? That would be License Collector Mike McMillan.

Many had expected McMillan to be a last-day challenger to Slay, but he didn't file. My guess is that the field of challengers was too divided for Slay to be toppled. There's an old saying in government and politics: You don't touch the King unless you kill him. McMillan decided he couldn't knock off Slay in this environment. Besides, McMillan is young enough to wait four more years when Slay will either retire voluntarily or be politically weak enough to knock off.

But what if McMillan miscalculated (like Dick Gephardt did in 1992 about the chances of knocking off President George H. W. Bush)? If Maida Coleman's challenge to Slay were successful, then she'd be the incumbent mayor in four years, and McMillan would not be in a position to challenge a fellow African American for the top job. (Yes, I know, Clarence Harmon successfully did just that to Freeman Bosley, Jr. in 1997, but Harmon won with white support, not black support.) Slay's reelection is now also in McMillan's self-interest.

Is there anything in lawyer Coleman's background evidencing a connection to McMillan? Why, yes there is! Ms. Coleman was in the political organization of legendary 19th Ward Committeeman and state senator J.B. "Jet" Banks. And who succeeded to the throne of the late senator's 19th Ward kingdom? Why, Mike McMillan, of course! He represented that ward as alderman before ascending to his current city-wide post.