The Gong, Loud and Long

GARLAND L. THOMPSON

February 29, 1992|By GARLAND L. THOMPSON

AHEM. With a presidential primary on, a slew of white pollsters, analysts, reporters and commentators have decided to speak for me and other black voters. They've told me I lack faith in my own civil-rights leaders. They've told me I must elect a president to recapture ground lost over 12 years of right-wing suzerainty. And they've listed all the reasons I should be more manageable for the candidates plugging for the Democratic nomination, who now are more ''realistic'' about the electoral mood since Jesse Jackson is not stealing my loyalties.

Ahem, I say. I'm actually quite capable of speaking for myself. It's time I laid out a few things about what I'd like to see in a president.

The big buzz-word, applied before I even opened my mouth, is ''special interests.'' After more than a decade, I'd expect the would-be speakers for me to grow tired of it. I certainly am. Let's deal with it first.

''Special interest'' makes it seem I want something denied to everyone else. Gong No. 1 is going off. When I say I want solid, effective public education in the cities, that benefits everyone. Education, funded to allow teachers and institutions to turn out well-equipped high-school graduates, community-college alumni and public university degree-holders, is the key to the ''competitiveness'' buzz-word.

Lest we forget, newly enfranchised black voters in the South were key to establishing universal public education back in the last century, and it still benefits everyone. If mine becomes ''special interest'' pleading when I say a leader who wants my vote should also value education, I'll take the label. But listen up for my gong.

Ditto for universal health care. Ditto for job-retraining for those adults the education system has already failed.

Let's do another buzz-word while we're at it: ''tax and spend.'' Republicans have chanted that like a mantra since 1980. ''Tax and spend'' Democrats invented runaway inflation, market losses to Pacific Rim competition in autos and consumer electronics and an overblown, wasteful government.

We've had 12 years of right-wing assaults on the edifice Roosevelt's New Deal built. Republicans and many commentators gleefully point out that the White House sets the agenda and marks the targets, not the Congress, whenever I object to yet another round of refusals to support human needs. Yet they manage with straight faces to tell me the record deficits our government now is running are the fault of the Congress -- read Democrats we couldn't defeat -- not Presidents Reagan and Bush.

Put that under the category of tired rhetoric. This country badly needs billion-dollar repairs to its water and sewer piping, with new money sunk in treatment, not only to clean an environment fouled by decades of industrial disregard, but also to accommodate vastly expanded modern settlement patterns. We cannot progress with ''just-in-time'' manufacturing to keep up with the Japanese without major upgrades to our rail service, highways and electronic communications networks.

''Don't tax and don't spend'' equals disaster. Franklin Roosevelt understood that 60 years ago, which is why his New Deal concentrated on fixing the infrastructure. Not only did it put people back to work, it built resources American business badly needed to compete with the Europeans. It set conditions under which Americans could flourish for the next five decades.

It's accepted dogma that the New Deal didn't really end the Great Depression, but 12 years of anti-New Deal mischief have not done better for the common man and woman. A good case could be made that the 1980s equaled the 1920s: real-estate speculation, stock-market raiding, leveraged buyouts, the selling-off of corporate assets, set off by the Laffer Curve to great cheers by the Reagan White House. We all know what came after the 1920s.

Hear my gong going off again? I'm not better off than before, and neither are many of the people who voted for that silly sloganeering.

Last, let's get to minority rights. Alexis de Tocqueville noted the dangers of ''tyranny of the majority'' in American democracy more than 100 years ago, and what he said is still true. But I keep hearing that there never was a workable multi-racial society. So blacks like me should learn to accept that.

Gong! Gong! Gong! You're out, any candidate who buys that line. Out, too, any candidate foolish enough to think sending surrogates to meet with my supposed leaders in a few Baltimore political clubs will make me want to vote for him while demonstrating to whites with a racial bias that he's not leaning too far in my direction. Refusing to meet me on my own grounds went out with the tail fins of the 1950s.

What I want is a Democrat who is not afraid to push the arguments that can get the country moving forward again, or a Republican who doesn't think compassion for the less-than-nouveau-riche equals societal lack of manhood.

Got that? Else, the gong, loud and long.

Garland L. Thompson writes editorials for The Sun.

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