On race issues, Kerry needs more thought, less liberalism

April 10, 2004|By GREGORY KANE

IF FOLKS have the notion that likely Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry will take the black vote for granted, they had better think again.

Kerry met Wednesday with five black journalists at his campaign headquarters in the McPherson Building in northwest Washington. Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page was there, as was syndicated columnist Deborah Mathis. Richard Prince, who writes the column "Richard Prince's Journal-isms" for the Maynard Institute for Journalism Studies Web site, attended, as did George Curry, a syndicated columnist and editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service and BlackPressUSA. com.

I rounded out the group as the token black conservative.

Kerry seemed genuinely surprised when I told him what several black folks in Columbia, S.C., had told me just before their state's primary: that a Kerry/John Edwards ticket could beat Bush/Cheney or Bush/Whoever in November.

"Is that what they're saying?" Kerry asked. Then he told the group why there will be a Kerry victory in November.

"Kerry is the guy who can beat Bush because Kerry has the experience and the message, and I'm presenting a series of proposals for this country that make sense. I'm talking common sense to the American people and I have the experience to win," he said.

Kerry didn't mention it - we'll never know if it was because of modesty or whether he just overlooked it - but he also has history on his side. The members of the only other father-son presidential tandem in American history were both one-termers. Kerry also refused to say who his running mate will be at this point.

"Much of what I've read on this issue has been fiction," Kerry said. Asked to elaborate, he ended discussion on the matter with "Let's just say I've read a lot of revelations."

What probably isn't a revelation is the senator's platform, which comes straight from the liberal Democrat agenda. He'll finance a universal health care system and education by giving middle-class families a tax cut, while "rolling back" the tax break Bush gave to those with incomes over $200,000 a year. And, as you would expect from a Democratic presidential candidate talking to African-Americans, there was the almost obligatory genuflection to affirmative action.

"I completely support it," Kerry said when Page brought up the topic. "I've always supported affirmative action. I practice affirmative action. I think it is a necessary remedy to continuing patterns of discrimination."

A not-so-minor correction is in order here. Conservatives support affirmative action, the kind that President Johnson's Executive Order 11246 said should be done without regard to race, color, creed or ethnic origin. What liberals support - and have been misnaming affirmative action for years - are blatantly discriminatory racial preferences.

Thus it should be no surprise that Kerry chose, at this point, to criticize Bush for "attacking affirmative action on Martin Luther King's birthday and appointing [Mississippi U.S. District Judge Charles] Pickering near King's birthday."

I hate to be the one to rain on Kerry's campaign, but just a few more facts are needed to put that last statement in perspective. Bush's "attack" on affirmative action was actually the president's statement in early 2003 taking exception to the University of Michigan's admissions point system that gave 20 points to black, Hispanic and Native American applicants and none to whites or Asians. The Supreme Court ruled last summer that the point system didn't pass constitutional muster.

And somebody in Kerry's campaign - do it now while it's early - should warn the senator to lay off the Pickering matter. For two years, liberal Democrats blocked Pickering's nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, claiming he was, among other things, anti-civil rights. Bush finally appointed Pickering in January when Congress was in recess.

The straight of the matter is that Charles Evers, older brother of slain NAACP Mississippi field secretary Medgar Evers, heartily endorsed the nomination of Pickering, who in 1967 testified against Ku Klux Klansman Sam Bowers in a murder trial. That took some guts. What, exactly, was Kerry's contribution to the civil rights movement of that era? Curry asked the senator precisely that.

"I took part in New Haven activities to raise money for the Freedom Rides," Kerry said, speaking of his days at Yale University. On the spring break of either 1963 or 1964 - the senator wasn't sure which - he took a trip to South Carolina and Georgia.

"It was the first time I had seen signs saying `White only' and `No colored,'" Kerry recalled. "It was very shocking."

It looks like, between Kerry and Pickering, we'll have to give the champion-of-the-civil rights-era award to the good judge at this point. And now that the senator has talked to African-American journalists, perhaps he can get on with trying to woo those white male middle-of-the-road voters he'll need in case the election is close.

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