Colin Powell on Civil Rights
Secretary of State (Pres. Bush Cabinet)
POWELL: I think it would show that enormous progress has been made. African-Americans and other minorities have moved to the top of every institution in American society, whether it's politics in the form of the president; or in the military; or in finance, or in corporate America, in media America. And we should be so proud of our accomplishments. But at the same time, that mirror should show us that there are still problems in this country, that there is still racial bias that exists in certain parts of our country. So I would say--and if Dr. King was here, I'm quite sure he would say--congratulations on all the progress that has been made, but let's keep going, the dream is not fully achieved yet.
Powell implored Republicans to “follow Governor Bush’s lead and reach out to minority communities.” Although the conservative disagreed vigorously with Gen. Powell’s words, they realized that his comments were aimed not at the true believers in the hall but at the “swing” voters whose support Bush needs.
A: I wasn’t arguing affirmative action. I was arguing inclusion. I used affirmative action as an example of the mistrust that exists in the black community. It leaves a taste in the black community that says, are you serious about me or are you using me as a punching bag? Bush says he wants to be an inclusive president. I was saying, you’ve got to get behind him.
Q: You said this commitment, this openness to minorities, needs to be a sustained effort every day for real, you said.
A: By “for real,” I meant we have to get rid of the old Southern strategy of 25 years ago of pandering to certain constituencies at the expense of minorities. We have to make sure that is a consistent piece of our strategy and that we are working on it all the time, not just once every four years have an event. I don’t want just the image of inclusiveness but policies that go to inclusiveness.
He knows that that mantle will not simply be handed over, that it will have to be earned. The party must follow the governor’s lead in reaching out to minority communities and particularly the African-American community. And not just during an election year campaign. My friends, if we’re serious about this it has to be a sustained effort, it must be every day, and it must be for real. The party must listen to and speak with all leaders of the black community, regardless of political affiliation or philosophy. Overcoming the cynicism and mistrust that exists in the black community, and raising up that mantle of Lincoln, is about more than just winning votes, it is about giving all minorities a competitive choice.
Overcoming the cynicism and mistrust that exists, and raising up that mantle of Lincoln, is about more -- it’s much more about than just winning votes, it is about giving all minorities a competitive choice. They deserve that choice. And if we give them that choice, it will be good for our party. But above all, it will be good for America, and we need to work to give them that choice. Good for America -- that must be the measure for all that we do -- whether it’s economic policy or military strategy or seeing what we can do to make our American family more inclusive.
I understand the powerful sentiment in state legislatures for such an amendment. I feel the same sense of outrage. But I step back from amending the Constitution to relieve that outrage. The First Amendment exists to insure that freedom of speech and expression applies not just to that with which we agree or disagree, but also that which we find outrageous. I would not amend that great shield of democracy to hammer a few miscreants.
Finally, I shudder to think of the legal morass we will create trying to implement the body of law that will emerge from such an amendment. I would not vote for the proposed amendment.
Powell said he was tempted to join the march because he liked the idea behind it and was enticed by the size of the crowd, but decided against it because Farrakhan was the organizer. But now, he said, ”We should try to find out what is positive in this rather than just grind on the controversy as to who started it, who didn’t.“ He asserted that ”there’s not going to be one single leader for all African Americans.“
I was asked to look over Pres. Bush’s speech scheduled for that evening. I read it with dismay. I thought the tone was all wrong. Yes, the rioting was criminal, and law & order had to be restored. But the violence had not incubated in isolation; it had deep social roots. The speech, as it stood, recognized only the former and ignored the latter. I saw the fingerprints of the far right all over the draft.
[I urged Bush’s staff] to “do the law-and-order bit. But there’s language here that’s only going to fan the flames.” Even Rodney King, I pointed out, was preaching racial reconciliation: “Can we all get along?” Bush’s speech reflected that; I felt I had earned my pay that afternoon.
She had her logic wrong. I responded, “Skin color is a benign, nonbehavioral characteristic. Sexual orientation is perhaps the most profound of human behavioral characteristics. Comparison of the two is a convenient but invalid argument.
The linking of gay rights and the civil rights movement got a mixed reaction in the African-American community. The Congressional Black Caucus favored removing the ban on homosexuals in the armed services. But other leaders were telling me that they resented having the civil rights crusade hijacked by the gay community for its ends.
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