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“Politics, Not Policy, Trumps Police”: Nothing Gets Done On The Policy End Unless There Are Serious Changes In The Political Climate

As a 10-member delegation of Congressional Black Caucus members head to Ferguson on Sunday for a moment of Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday observance with its citizens, there’s been an emerging argument that now is the time for this second coming of the Civil Rights Movement to transition from its current protest phase to a much more mature public policy phase. As we speak, black elected officials on the state, federal and local level are engaged in a mad dash to draft bills addressing a number of issues related to police violence and misconduct.

There’s a big snag, though: nothing gets done on the policy end unless there are serious changes in the political climate. Without any dramatic alterations on the political landscape, don’t expect any radical implementation of public policy, much less full passage of it. Many observers, and even caucus members themselves, describe the flurry of police brutality, law enforcement data and criminal justice reform bills as “dead on arrival” in the very conservative House Judiciary Committee chaired by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).

Republicans have shown no real public interest in addressing these issues, although CBC members claim that they will be getting hearings – at least – on the various bills introduced. But an emboldened Republican majority is running things in Congress and a very red political map of Republican governors and supermajorities in state capitols will keep that going.

The problem is that protesters are failing to make a very important distinction between Politics and Policy. These are two separate functions. They’re like cousins: they are definitely related, and yes, they support or, sometimes, fight each other. But the long-held perception that they’re identical twins is flat out wrong.

Ultimately, cousin policy can’t be implemented unless cousin politics is in the mix as bodyguard and hit man. Even when legislation becomes law, there’s no incentive for folks to follow it without political leverage in place to enforce it. President Obama may have signed the Death in Custody Reporting Act as an important nod to protesters, but it’s not like they’re whipping out the Grey Goose – many movement organizers don’t even know that happened.

And once it’s in place, there’s the question of funding and making sure there’s adequate political influence in cities and states to ensure police departments will be compliant.

Jim Crow didn’t suddenly crumble the day the Civil Rights Act was signed. Acceptance, albeit still slow, didn’t happen until black voters were mobilized into a solid political force to be reckoned with. Soon, we were electing black mayors, black city council members, and black state and federal legislators at a frantic pace. Eventually we got a black president. Since 1970, the number of black elected officials combined on the state, federal and local level has risen by about 650 percent (sadly, the folks who faithfully tallied that number over the past 44 years just went out of business last year – and no one seems to care).

We can quibble later over whether that’s translated into full equality for African Americans. But, you can’t argue with one clear fact: we have way greater flexibility to engage fully in society than we’ve ever had before.

Don’t get me wrong: this new discussion about transitioning from protest to policy is a very, very encouraging development. All movements, at some point, have to mature and grasp the legislative process. Recent criticism showed patience wearing thin from both prominent figures watching the movement and those within it as #BlackLivesMatter activists suddenly found themselves losing public sentiment. A recent YouGov poll shows 44 percent of Americans believe protesters should shoulder some responsibility for the murder of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenijian Liu – along with 40 percent saying police should have more say over law enforcement than the elected officials who pass their budgets and oversee their activities.
Such polling data reveal the uncomfortable reality that protesters are losing the public narrative, which is usually the direct result of a failed political game.

It’s been nearly six months since Michael Brown was killed, police unleashed blue fury on Ferguson, Missouri and Officer Darren Wilson got a pass. To date, the same mayor and city council are in place, with no plans for a recall election in the foreseeable future. That is downright unacceptable.

No heads have rolled and no public firings of ranking officials or police chiefs have taken place in any of those cities where there are large black populations that can be groomed, prepped and mobilized into ferocious take-no-prisoners political machines. Police officers are turning their back on the Mayor of New York City and actively engaging in “work stoppages” – yet, where’s the black political counter-act to that? Progressives and others are always clowning or bashing the Tea Party and other conservative political groups. But current civil rights protesters could actually learn something from them: Tea Party influence may have declined a bit in the past year, but Republican politicians are still forced to shape policy to their liking or face the prospect of job loss in a primary. Stand Your Ground and voter suppression laws would not have passed if powerful interests like the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council hadn’t applied pressure on Republican state lawmakers.

Right now, that’s a missing piece in the movement. People want immediate change they can see, hear and touch. Passing bills through a complex legislative process few average citizens understand won’t make a bit of difference if political blood isn’t spilled first. Bills don’t give you control. Winning elections and running things do.


By: Charles Ellison, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 16, 2015

January 17, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Ferguson Missouri, Police Abuse | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Completely Deplorable, Yet, Totally Unsurprising”: Today’s GOP: Still Cool With Racist Pandering?

What Steve Scalise did in appearing before David Duke’s group—and in twice voting against a Martin Luther King holiday, and in reportedly referring to himself in a chat with a journalist as “David Duke without the baggage”—tells us a lot about Steve Scalise. But what the Republican Party is now doing—or not doing—with regard to Scalise tells us a lot about the Republican Party, and that’s a little more important.

I haven’t seen that one Republican of any note, from Reince Priebus on down, has uttered a word of criticism of the man. Plenty of conservative commentators have said he should step down from his leadership position. Even Sarah Palin sees the sense in this. But among elected Republicans and Priebus, it’s been defense, or silence.

It’s pretty clear what this tells us. Most of the time, institutions of all kinds—political, corporate, nonprofit, what have you—try to duck from scandals and hope they’ll blow over. But occasionally they don’t. Every once in a while, they act swiftly and acknowledge the problem. They do that when they know their bottom line is threatened—when the higher-ups are getting freaked out phone calls from key constituents or stakeholders who are making it clear that this one is serious, that it flies in the face of some basic principle they all thought they were working for, and won’t just blow over.

So the fact that Scalise still has his leadership gig tells us that the key stakeholders and constituencies within the GOP aren’t particularly bothered by the fact that he spoke to white supremacists and indeed might be one himself. They’re certainly embarrassed, I should think. Surely they see the problem here. But they see it as a public-relations problem, a matter to be damage-controlled, which is quite different from seeing it as being plainly and substantively wrong.

This is especially striking, though hardly surprising, in the case of Priebus, Mr. Outreach. As Joan Walsh noted, Priebus has been fond of saying that his GOP would “work like dogs” to improve its standing among the black citizenry, and the brown and the young and the gay and so on. He didn’t specify what breed of dog, but obviously it’s less Retriever and more Bassett Hound.

Here is the RNC’s idea of inclusion. Go to right now (I mean after you finish reading me!). If the homepage is unchanged from yesterday, when I was writing these words, here’s what you’ll see. Most of it is taken up by a graphic inviting the visitor to participate in the 2016 online presidential straw poll. There are four photos there of representative presidential candidates. Chris Christie and Scott Walker are two. Okay, fine, they’re probably running and are legit candidates.

Let’s see, who else? Jeb Bush? No. Rand Paul? Nyet. Mike Huckabee? Nope. Try Tim Scott and Nikki Haley. Now, Scott and Haley (the black senator and Sikh governor, respectively, from South Carolina) are likely presidential contenders in about the same sense that I’m on the short list for the Nobel Prize in Literature. But, as the Wizard said to the Scarecrow, they’ve got one thing I—and Bush and Paul and Huckabee—haven’t got: melanin. So, says Reince, throw their names in the poll so we can slap ’em up there on the homepage!

That’s just so very RNC, isn’t it? The people who bring you all the gospel choirs and so on at their conventions, which looking solely at the entertainment you’d think were Stax-Volt reunions. You’d never guess that only 2 percent of the delegates (36 out of 2,000, in 2012) were black.

As for elected Republicans, if any prominent one has called on Scalise to step down, it has escaped my notice and the notice of a lot of people I read; the farthest any have gone is to offer up some quotes on background about how Scalise is damaged goods, like this quote, which “a GOP lawmaker” gave to Politico: “As far as him going up to the Northeast, or going out to Los Angeles or San Francisco or Chicago, he’s damaged. This thing is still smoking. Nobody is really fanning the flames yet. … The thing that concerns me is that there are people who are still out there digging on this right now.”

Note: The thing that concerns this “lawmaker” is not that his or her party is being partially led by a sympathizer to white supremacists. It’s that the rest of us are still making a fuss about it, which in turn will damage Scalise’s ability to go prostitute himself before the party’s millionaires. If that’s not a near-perfect summation of contemporary conservative politics in America, then such doesn’t exist.

The media tend to frame situations like this as aberrations, but in this case, quite the opposite is the truth. This person who once said that David Duke’s biggest problem was not his racial views but the fact that he couldn’t get elected is who Scalise is. And this is what the Republican Party is—an organization that isn’t bothered in any meaningful way by the fact one of its top national leaders should hold these kinds of ideas in his head. And finally, this is who most of our political press is—gullible enough to be surprised by either of the first two.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 7, 2015

January 9, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Steve Scalise, White Supremacists | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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