Odd setting produces a meeting of the minds

July 08, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

The invitation to the independence day celebration of the "Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela" was addressed to George Kane.

Yeah, that's me. George Kane, columnist.

What the heck. I decided to go anyway. Who knows, I thought: I might meet someone interesting. Turns out I did.

So, cleverly disguised as Sun columnist Gregory Kane, I slipped into the embassy about 7:30 Wednesday night. I was barely inside the door when I looked to my right. Who was standing there but my old pal, Harry Belafonte.

I was reminded on seeing Belafonte that I had written some unkind things about him in the past. The first was when he tried to channel his inner Malcolm X (and failed) by comparing then-Secretary of State Colin Powell to a house slave.

The second came in January of this year, in which I took Belafonte to task for his remarks -- made in Venezuela -- portraying President Bush as a terrorist and a tyrant. In that piece, I wondered if perhaps old Harry had kicked himself too hard in the head for blowing his romance with the gorgeous Dorothy Dandridge back in the 1950s.

Now, near Belafonte in the flesh and within easy reach of his being able to administer a severe beat-down, I pondered whether I had gone too far with the Dandridge remarks. Headlines flashed before my eyes: "Belafonte Gives Sun Columnist Knuckular Rhinoplasty," one might read. (I pictured the subhead: "Bilious blowhard recovers at area hospital.")

My worries were unwarranted. Belafonte at 79 is a far better-looking man than I am at 54. Heck, Belafonte at 79 is better looking than I was at 29. The crowd of gorgeous women hovering near him proved that. I don't think I was on the guy's mind.

Still, I wondered what I was supposed to do in this gaggle of leftists. Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president, is way on the left side of the political spectrum. He's chummy with Cuba's Fidel Castro. His relations with the Bush administration might be charitably described as chilly.

Could there be someone from my side of the political spectrum in this place? As if reading my mind, Leila McDowell -- who told folks at the embassy to invite Gregory Kane, not George -- hustled Christopher Alan Bullock up to meet me.

"He's a Republican," McDowell, whom I know through her work for the Eisenhower Foundation, said of the black man who looked to be in his 40s. Bullock did a double take. It turns out he had told McDowell nothing about his being a Republican.

"How did you know just by looking at me that I was a Republican?" Bullock asked.

It was at this point that Bullock and I seriously pondered whether McDowell might be a witch. Did she really have some psychic power that allowed her to peg Bullock as a Republican?

Or did Bullock simply look too erudite and happy to be a black Democrat?

Whatever the case, in spite of being in the midst of left-wingers, in spite of getting an invitation with my first name wrong, I had found a fellow party member. I explained to Bullock that I had recently re-registered in Maryland as a Republican.

"I got purged from the voting rolls," I told Bullock. "I never got a good reason why, but I took it as a sign from God to re-register as a Republican."

"You've come home!" Bullock said, beaming.

Bullock said he heads what he calls The Underground Republican Network -- TURN -- a group of black Republicans in the tradition of Frederick Douglass. But what was he doing at the Venezuelan independence day celebration?

I knew why I was there: that sneaky McDowell, a former Black Panther, tries to drag me to hotbeds of left-wing iniquity every chance she gets. What was Bullock's reason?

"I went to Caracas to meet President Chavez and thank him for his generous contribution to those who are disenfranchised and impoverished," Bullock said.

That contribution was the discount heating-oil program the Venezuelan-owned Citgo Petroleum Corp. has offered to poor families in several Northeastern states since last December. Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, the city of Philadelphia, and Harlem and the Bronx in New York benefit from the program, which offers heating oil at 40 percent discounts.

Bullock is the pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in Wilmington, Del. He made it clear that he doesn't agree with Chavez politically (we can assume U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican who asked that his state be included in the program, doesn't either) but said this wasn't about politics.

"Whatever Chavez's political motivations," Bullock said, "at the end of the day, he helps people. When Congress didn't step up [a reference to the Senate cutting by half last December a program to help poor families with energy costs], he stepped up. I don't agree with all his policies, but he stepped up."

I pondered the situation: a black Republican who supports Bush praising the president of a country who's been harshly critical of Bush. Only in America. I'll never again even remotely consider turning down a misaddressed invitation.

Even if it's to Georgette Kane.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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