- The Washington Times - Friday, July 20, 2007


The times they are a’changin’ and the answers are blowin’ in the wind. Inner city blues makes me wanna holler and the Cisco Kid is still a friend of mine.

Don’t for a minute think I’ve jumped ship. I’m still firmly planted onboard.

It’s just that having listened to the presidential wannabes in recent weeks and seeing the wickedly hilarious “Talk To Me” starring Don Cheadle, I feel like I’ve been warped back to the 1960s — and believe me, you don’t want me to relive the 1960s.

It’s all John Edwards‘ fault. You’ve heard of him, right? He’s on the campaign trail, chatting up the poor. John Edwards is the one-term senator from North Carolina (or is it South Carolina?) who hurled himself onto the national stage and then locked arms with another Democrat who can be perceived as stinking rich, John Kerry. Hair’s their thing, but here’s the deal: John Edwards wants America’s poor to think that the millions upon millions he made over the years haven’t dulled his poverty pain. Sniff, sniff.

That’s right. The man who pays $400 for his haircuts actually wants you to believe that, hey, you shall overcome. “Vote for me and I’ll set you free.” Yeah, right. Rap on, brother, rap on.

There I go again with ‘60s conservative-style cynicism (courtesy of the Temptations) viewing through the lens cynically. But know what? John Edwards isn’t the only Democrat wading in 40-year-old water.

The Democrat trying desperately to create a dynasty and break historic ground — as JFK did as a Roman Catholic — is the spouse-of-you-know-who, which is a dubious honor. Yes, Sister Clinton — who alternates her personas of New Yawker, Meat-and-Potatoes Midwesterner and Jane Crow Southerner — is on a special mission. She wants to be the “first” major-party female candidate to sustain a presidential run, “first” first lady to become president and “first” president to have a “First Gentleman” (though using such a respectable term to describe you-know-who is dubious, too. She’s the best candidate, they say, to speak for women and families. Her husband was the first “black president,” so why not a Clinton dynasty?

But with so many masks (and maybe there are more to come) Hillary Clinton can easily be perceived as a ball of confusion. (Another nod to the Temps.)

As for her war on poverty, will Mrs. Clinton draw on her taut and lengthy ties to the Children’s Defense Fund to paint herself as feeling the pain of the poor? Well, she can paint that picture all she wants. But the truth is that neither Hillary Rodham nor Hillary Clinton has ever been poor. (Poor in judgment, for sure.) Hillary’s primary colors are, perhaps, whiter shades of pale and most definitely various shades green.

Of course none of this means that anti-poverty solutions are the sole province of Republican candidates. Republican candidates have serious problems on class issues, too. Just ask John open-wide-the-borders McCain and Rudy put-the-melting-pot-on-the-stove-and-stir Giuliani.

One of the questions blowing around the Beltway is, is this a vastly different America than the one in which a hugely popular Democrat and Catholic named John F. Kennedy spoke to in his 1961 Inaugural Address when he said that “man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life?”

Of course it is. While discrimination in practically every imaginable form has been struck down in law, perception says otherwise.

That’s why Barack Obama — who is so incredibly comfortable with being Barack Obama — can talk about “we” and “our” and not come off as offending people of any race or ethnicity (though people and pundits want to paint him as “that black guy” or “that Muslim guy” and, worse, lasso the senator as the “Black Candidate.”

In D.C. the other day, Barack Obama told a packed mixed-race, mixed-class audience at a community center that he has a $6 billion plan to combat poverty head on. That figure alone had me dizzy, my head was spinning.

I remember the ‘60s. The war. LBJ’s “War on Poverty.” Barbie burning bras while Ken burned draft cards. Civil rights. Women’s rights. Homosexual rights. The assassinations of John, Malcolm, Martin and Bobby. The riots. The National Guard. The putrid racial rhetoric. I had to laugh to keep from crying during “Talk to Me,” which relives — in stark living colors by the masterful performance of Mr. Cheadle — all that was good and bad during those topsy-turbulent times.

But all is not lost by taking anti-poverty on head-first. Keep hope alive (oops, Jesse Jackson). The key as we concede the issue that yes, class matters, is what will be guiding the “mortal hands” of which Kennedy spoke? Will it be race, greed or sexual preference? Hatred and eugenics? War? All of which are so, well, so ‘60s?

The America that Barack Obama spoke to this week is very different from the one that Kennedy addressed in 1961. The question is, will moral clarity lead the way this time around?

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