Thursday, November 17, 2005

In the exclusive club called the U.S. Senate, white men have a very comfortable majority. Sure, “minorities” have held — are holding — seats in that upper chamber. Just consider the number of women senators. But if Marylanders do the right thing — if they cast aside their racist attitudes and political bigotries, the Free State could again make history.

Maryland voters have the opportunity to double the number of black U.S. senators. Barack Obama’s 2004 victory in Illinois was significant, but he stands alone. There is no other black senator, and there never has been two serving simultaneously.

Democrats and other liberals would characterize plotting such a political move as “affirmative action.” Conservatives would see it as bolstering their ranks. (As one Beltway outsider quipped to me the other day, “Let’s just say Michael Steele is no Alan Keyes.”)

The candidates, as things stand at this early date in the race, are Mr. Steele, who is Maryland’s Republican lieutenant governor and former Maryland Republican Party chairman, and Democrat Kweisi Mfume, he the former head of the NAACP and a five-term congressman. Mr. Steele is a native of PrinceGeorge’s County, Md., who grew up in the nation’s capital. Mr. Mfume is a Baltimore native. Mr. Barack’s politics are situated to the left of Mr. Steele’s conservatism but to the right Mr. Mfume’s divisive liberalism. Were either candidate to win next year’s general election, it would be interesting to see whose company Mr. Barack would keep.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I forgot I’m supposed to be playing the race card, name-calling, since that what’s Maryland Democrats have been doing since the candidates aligned themselves.

Accordingly, I have to mention two very important people in Maryland politics. One is a man named Thomas Miller. He is the president of the Maryland Senate and everybody calls him Mike. The other man is Ben Cardin. He is a congressman from Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District (think Baltimore and its environs). His family actually changed their name from Kardonsky to Cardin.

Names, understand, are really important to Free Staters. They don’t just live and die for crabs; they live and die for blue crabs. They don’t just eat fried chicken; they prefer Southern Maryland Fried Chicken. They have their own beer (Natty Bo) and, like other states, their own bird. But it’s not just an Oriole, it’s a Baltimore Oriole.

In the same vein are the names Cardin and Miller — men who have spent nearly their entire adult lives as elected officials. Mr. Cardin and the Kardonskys have essentially passed on their seats in the Maryland General Assembly from one generation to the next. Ben got his seat from an uncle, and now “Uncle Ben” plans to do the same for his nephew, who presently is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. Some Maryland traditions have lasted too long.

One would think that Republicans, conservatives and black voters would have a little more say in who gets what and when. But they just move in lock step with the Kardonsky Clan. Maryland and Massachusetts have a lot in common, including the Kennedy Clan, er, name. Are those among us who live in Maryland trying to establish a Kardonsky Dynasty? Doesn’t even sound right, does it?

But let me not forget Ol’ Mike Miller. Mr. Miller is from Southern Maryland. Unlike Baltimore, which, like Pittsburgh and other blue-collar towns is rich with ethnic neighborhoods, Southern Maryland is rich with, uh, well… Let’s just say it’s a far more hospitable place now than it was when this city-country-city girl was growing up.

My generation was warned not to go into Southern Maryland. They spot blacks or D.C. tags, and you’d never make it back to the city alive, the grown folks would say.

I hadn’t thought about such admonishments until recently, when Michael Steele’s official entrance into the Maryland Senate race stirred up long-forgotten memories about Upper Mayberry (Upper Marlboro, the seat of the Prince George’s County government) and “Red Neck Haven” (Clinton, Mr. Miller’s hometown).

Mr. Miller, you see, thinks Mr. Steele is an Uncle Tom. Mr. Miller, a Democrat, said as much in 2001: “He is the personification of an Uncle Tom.”

How many white men, public official or not, do you know who could say such an inflammatory thing and get away with it?

What’s clearly going on in Maryland, a former “slave state” if ever there were one, is emblematic of the relationship between blacks and the Republican Party and blacks and the Democratic Party. While Republicans have come a long way from shedding their George Wallace image, Democrats, have come to think they can feely speak “black” and then tally votes as they go along to get along.

Are such politics the new “Black Codes”? Are Democrats as loyal to blacks as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom was to his master?

Politics is dirty business. But blacks need to stop being grateful to the Democratic Party because it occasionally tosses a few crumbs, including those from Oreos, at their feet.

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