by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
A new black political class has arisen, one with only nominal connections to black voters or communities Their careers and orientation are corporate through and through. Some prominent black Democrats have actually been operatives of the hard right for decades, like Newark's Corey Booker.
Corey Booker and the Hard Right's Colonization of Black American Politics
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
On the first weekend in May, Newark mayor Corey Booker appeared alongside Fox News host Juan Williams and ultra-conservative Republican governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana to sing the praises of charters and school privatization, and the evils of organized teacher and parent power at the annual conference of the Alliance for School Choice.. It's not a big step for Corey Booker, it's the place he's been all along, since his first late 1990s gig as a founding board member of the Bradley Foundation's Black Alliance for Educational Options. What's new is that in 2012 black Democrats with national profiles like Booker can appear in public spouting pro-corporate right wing dogma alongside such creatures, and hardly anyone notices. What has happened to Democratic party politics, to black politics?
To hear mainstream pundits like Andra Gillespie tell it, black politics and the black politician have been re-invented. The poster boys for this new generation of elected black Democrats are people like Newark's Corey Booker, former DC mayor Adrian Fenty, and of course, President Barack Obama. Re-invention, the story goes, is a good thing because the re-inventors are “technocrats,” whatever that means, with access to funding, elite connections and crossover appeal that their predecessors lacked, all of which enabled them to get things done which previous generations of black politicians could not or would not.
Some other voices, however, say that the narrative of “re-invention” hides and conceals more than it explains or reveals. “What's happened to black politics,” says Glen Ford, a veteran New Jersey journalist and co-founder of Black Agenda Report “isn't re-invention. It's hijacking. It's colonization.”
In a groundbreaking 2002 article “Fruit of the Poisoned Tree”, and again at a recent speech at New York City's All Souls Unitarian Church, Ford outlines the early career of Corey Booker, and Booker's relation to the constellation of right wing forces orchestrated by the ultraconservative Bradley Foundation, which spent tens of millions of dollars in the 1990s creating astroturf movements for vouchers, school choice, and ultimately for charter schools, at the same that Bradley funded the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and platoons of racist and corporate ideologues like Charles Murray, Robert Bork, Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Antonin Scalia.
Turning the axis of black politics rightward over the last decade was, Ford says, the project of a decade and an immense achievement for the right. For the last third of the 20th century the most left-leaning segment of the North American polity was black America --- not Cambridge MA or Ann Arbor MI or San Francisco or even New York City --- the rock and foundation of the US left was in New Orleans, Detroit, Newark, St. Louis, Washington DC and other black dominated cities. Funding black Republicans and cranky black academics did little to undermine that rock. The right had to incubate and raise its own crop of corporate-oriented black Democrats to turn that trick. Corey Booker was an early asset.
In Ford's 2002 article and in the recent speech, he explains how, on the eve of his first run for mayor, Booker was granted a coming-out party at the right wing Manhattan Institute, a signal for the entire conservative universe that he was one of their own. Conservative deep pockets who never took interest in a Newark election in their lives wrote bags of checks. Every single corporate-media outlet in the tri-state area endorsed Corey Booker over his opponent. Thanks to his powerful conservative allies, newbie Booker greatly outspent the most powerful black politician in the state, losing only narrowly in his first mayoral run.
The second time Booker ran for mayor, feds timed their investigations and indictments of Mayor Sharpe James so that he was forced to resign only 3 weeks before the election, too late for another anti-Booker candidate to put together a coherent campaign. Booker also benefited from publicity that could not have been bought with tens of millions of dollars, a feature-length award winning documentary film that portrayed his opponent as a crook, which he was, and Booker as a kind of urban saint.
As one might expect from a product of the Bradley Foundation in office, Booker has faithfully pursued a right wing agenda devoted to dismantling public education, and turning over government assets such as Newark's water system to favored private contractors. Interestingly, Booker's full scale pursuit of privatization of his city's garbage collection, watershed, parks and recreation and other services and assets are little known and rarely mentioned by media outside his home town. The recent Salon article on the “re-invention” of black politics manages to ignore the actual policy practices of the new black “elite displacers” – an empty description meant to apply to new black elite politicians replacing old ones --- as well. Privatization and the cutting of government workforces are massively unpopular propositions among the people Booker and the rest of the black political class supposedly represent. Telling this part of the story would be a little too much information. If we had it we might actually begin to understand what the “technocratic leadership,” if there really is any such thing, which Booker and his colleagues bring to the table actually is.
We might not know much about Booker's aggressive attempts at privatization, the time he rushed into a burning building has been breathlessly covered everywhere. The mayor of Newark some would have us believe, wears a cape. Corporate media seem to work very hard to make our elections are about feelings of safety, pride, fear or security, about images of youth and “technocratic” competence, whatever that is.
The right has decisively invaded the politics of black America, and owns the Democratic party outright. Barack Obama is effectively a center-right president, pursuing wars, prosecuting whistleblowers, shielding banksters, and using cruise missiles to dispatch suspected terrorists with an impunity the Bush-Cheney gang never enjoyed With black Democrats routinely shilling for imperial wars, austerity, school closings, privatizations, bailouts and kindly treatment for their campaign contributors, there are no outlets in the two parties for the real needs and desires of much of black America. The two party system has become people-proof and democracy-proof.
The new black politicians still do call liberally on the images of struggles past. Kasim Reed, for instance, the black mayor of Atlanta in his campaign lit called himself a “civil rights lawyer”. He forgot to mention he was a defendants's civil rights lawyer, defending corporations that violate the civil rights of actual persons. The new black politicans drape themselves in kente cloth every now and then, and they remember King's birthday and Black History Month. They come together to celebrate and congratulate each other frequently, at occasions like the Congressional Black Caucus's annual legislative conference. But their politics, black politics haven't been re-invented. They've been compromised. Hijacked. Colonized.
Black politics isn't about addressing black unemployment, which is at levels not seen in seventy years. It's not about the catastrophic fall in black family wealth that has resulted from the foreclosure epidemic, also disproportionately concentrated in black neighborhoods. Black politics isn't about addressing the issue of black mass incarceration which has shredded our families and futures. Black politics isn't about stopping the wave of foreign wars which King a generation ago called a demonic suction tube drawing resources away from programs for human needs. There is no room for any of these concerns in today's black politics. All that's left is re-electing the black president, protecting him and the first lady from insults and shoring up the careers of black mayors and congressmen. All that, and getting paid.
Black politics is over, at least until the day when enough of us walk out of the Democratic party to build something new, something that does not yet exist.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a state committee member of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com