- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007

Tavis (the very smart) Smiley is selling books and getting lots of folk talking. The Congressional Black Caucus is making rounds — and at the White House, to boot — but doesn’t have lots of folk talking. (The caucus promised an agenda by late last month.) Like a carpetbagger, Hillary Clinton tethers a black man to a $10,000-a-month leash and garners his endorsement. Thank the heavens that is an inaccurate picture of the state of black America.

It’s not even close, ignoring, as it does, too important details: the term “minority” and the refusal of the legion of senior black leaders to pass the torch.

Sometimes it takes more than a village to persuade the old guard to yield to new voices. The biggest of the biggest names are comfortably perched on worn thrones to which the mainstream media pays considerable homage.

Mr. Smiley of NPR, for example, drew thousands of whistlers to historic Hampton, Va., for his annual State of the Black Union confab. Like most such political gatherings, big-namers huddle, speak their minds into a microphone, and afterward return to their respective hometowns and professions. (No-namers are reduced to listening or applauding.)

While there was the appearance of a broad mix of opinions about what’s important to blacks and what’s not, the Smiley meeting left many blacks “Grasping to remain relevant,” as analysts Peter Groff and Charles Ellison with the University of Denver’s Center for African American Policy put it. The old guard becomes reluctant or simply refuses to hand the reins of leadership over to the next generation. Presidential hopeful Barack Obama “took a verbal beating from older leaders and those who feel the need to cozy up to the old guard while seeking their leadership strips. The senior crew questioned the senator’s lack of dues paid, his skimpy congressional legislative record and blackness quotient… Part of the reaction by the last generation to the ascendancy of Mr. Obama is about shifting strategies on how to confront the African American political journey. For the exiting generation it has been about traditional civil rights — voting rights, equal rights and justice — but for the Obama generation (or that generation he appears to represent) it is more about equity — closing the educational achievement gap, combating health disparities and economic stability and empowerment. This generational difference is based solely on experience and ironically is an outgrowth of the success of the previous generation, who, strangely enough, refuses to open the door.

“But,” Messrs. Groff and Ellison said, “the overwhelming reason for the reluctance to embrace the first African American to have a legitimate chance to win the presidency is timing — their timing rather than his. The older generation is, obviously, not ready to exit the stage.”

Whether the old guard exits stage left or stage right is irrelevant, because the older generation — the Jesse Jackson Generation — doesn’t take well to directions from younger folk. What is important, though, is that they pass the torch before they leave the stage.

Mr. Obama is no mere presidential aspirant. His family history is as rooted in America’s breadbasket (on his mother’s side) as it is in East Africa (on his father’s). And while Mr. Obama preaches as if he had been born in a pulpit, with an obvious gift for rhetoric, unlike Al Shaprton and many other members of the old guard, “Rev.” is not one of his honorifics. Mr. Obama is a minority of one.

But Mrs. Clinton, the only big girl in the 2008 race, enjoys being a minority, too, creating, we are to believe, a division of loyalties for blacks and women. Support Mr. Obama and you’re turning your back on women. Support Mrs. Clinton and you’re turning you’re back on two races. The media keeps posing the Is-America-Ready? question as if it has never been answered. The Republican old guard, for one, answered with Margaret Chase Smtih’s candidacy in 1964 and the Democratic Party answered with Shirley Chisholm’s in 1972. All others are relegated to the also-ran footnotes of history.

Mrs. Clinton is showing her pre-primary colors. Her Southern strategy calls for hiring a PR firm run by a black man who also happens to be a black minister of a megachurch (with a congregation of 9,000 ) who also happens to be a black state lawmaker. The contract is reportedly for $10,000 a month. That isn’t much money for a PR campaign: It’s not enough to buy TV, newspaper or radio ads of consequence; it’s not enough to cover airfare to travel around South Carolina; it isn’t enough to get folk to reject the fact that Barack Obama stands among what W.E.B. DuBois labeled the “Talented Tenth.”

The governor of Virginia is reportedly prepared to endorse Mr. Obama, who hails from the land of Lincoln. The Clintons soiled the White House (and the sheets in the Lincoln bedroom). Now, Mrs. Wannabe has cheapened the black vote in purplish South Carolina.

There seemingly was no man in Hillary’s room. If he had been he would have deemed her la-la move precisely what it is: more pissant politics.

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