CAN BLACK Americans find no fault with the now mercifully departed President Bill Clinton?
Clinton spent his last days in office determined to see how much he could purloin (the ex-president would, as the saying goes, steal the eyes out of your head and then tell you you could see better without them) and how much damage he could do. After making off with White House furniture and pardoning accused tax evader and fugitive Marc Rich, Clinton tried to get taxpayers to foot the bill for an $850,000-a-year office in Manhattan. When the stench of his corruption started to rise around him and with the press and politicians screaming foul, Clinton thought of a ploy: I'll seek refuge among my Negro friends. Harlem, here I come!
It worked - at least among blacks. Within days, newspaper readers across the country could see Clinton in Harlem, surrounded by a bunch of cheesing colored guys. It smacked of a scene straight out of those Hollywood movies of the 1930s and 1940s, in which grinning, obsequious Negroes play comic relief to whites.
With such devotion from African-Americans, you'd think Clinton had actually done something for us. But one African-American fellow mentioned to me the other day that more blacks went to prison under Clinton's administration than under any other president. Black leaders - the Jesse Jacksons, the Al Sharptons and the others who always urge African-Americans to vote Democratic - know this. Yet they cynically lamented the number of blacks in prison as they urged us to vote for Clinton in '92 and '96 and for Gore in 2000. Then these mis-leaders went back to moaning about the number of blacks in prison.
Jackson and Sharpton haven't weighed in yet on Clinton's latest troubles. Jackson has his own problems to deal with. Sharpton, ever ready to howl about this injustice to blacks or that one, has kept mum on why Clinton pardoned a rich white guy who had fled the country rather than face prosecution.
But at least one liberal black Democrat has found his backbone on this issue. He lives right here in Baltimore. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland's 7th District was one of Clinton's strongest supporters in Congress. He wanted to make it clear that he is not a Clinton-basher. But his criticism of Clinton for the Rich pardon has been loud and strong.
"I was critical of him, no doubt about it," said Cummings. "I think it was a poor decision and one that was inappropriate. I think most Americans believe in the pardon process. This, at best, is a tremendously premature case for a pardon."
It's premature because Rich has never been found guilty of anything to be pardoned for.
"I was a lawyer from 1976 to 1996," Cummings said. "I would see people who did things they should be punished for. They showed up for trial, were found guilty, sentenced and paid their debt to society."
Let's compare those folks to Rich. He's a billionaire who was charged with evading $48 million in taxes. Rather than face trial, he bolted from the country and headed for Switzerland. His ex-wife made several large donations to the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton's victorious carpetbag campaign for a New York Senate seat. With a swoop of the presidential pen, Clinton pardoned a man who not only had never been sentenced but had never even been to trial.
One of Cummings' clients was charged with tax evasion that amounted to $2,000 to $3,000. No pardon for him. He was found guilty and given probation. He had to pay court costs.
"I've seen many people who spent their life savings going through the system," Cummings said. Rich, probably the most appropriately named American outside the country, had no such worries. He never went through the system.
"He claims he had a good defense," Cummings said of Rich, "then we see him on the mountains in Switzerland skiing. I still live in the city, on Madison Avenue near North Avenue. There were a group of guys standing on the corner the other day. These guys watch the news. They came up to me and said, `Mr. Cummings, what's up with that?' They can't understand how they can be standing on the corner and get arrested in a second, and this rich guy gets a pardon."
Cummings fears the men he spoke to may lose faith in the system. The congressman finds it a troubling trend, what with all the talk going on in Baltimore these past few weeks about jury nullification and a lack of faith in the criminal justice system.
"When you have an erosion of people's confidence in a system," Cummings said, "you're going down a path of law and order falling apart. It leads to jury nullification and people not cooperating with police."
But nothing, it seems, is capable of eroding the faith of gullible African-Americans in their continued idolization of Clinton. Going to Harlem in the midst of his troubles is not a compliment to blacks but an insult.
"Look," Clinton's saying: "Here are folks who have no moral standards, no good judgment, who will accept me no matter how slimy I am."
It behooves the people of Harlem to prove him wrong and boot this moral pariah back to Arkansas, where he belongs.