Martin Kilson, Guest Commentator
When Cory Booker emerged as a real
contender for Mayor of majority Black Newark, New Jersey, some African
American intellectuals sounded the alarm. Among them was Harvard's Dr.
Martin Kilson, a research professor of political science who was the
first African American to be granted full tenure at the college, in
1968. Dr. Kilson wrote a letter to his friend, Lee Daniels, publications
director of the National Urban League, in New York, warning of Booker's
close ties to the Hard Right:
National Urban League
My Dear Lee:
I think I sent you a
copy of George F. Will’s column that appeared two weeks ago in which
he informs his nationwide conservative rightwing network about Cory
Booker’s campaign for the mayoralty of Newark, NJ. As soon as I read
Will’s column celebrating Booker’s run against four-term Mayor Sharpe
James it was clear to me that—Sharpe James’ limitations to the contrary
notwithstanding—Booker was a “Black Trojan Horse” so to speak, Lee.
As you know, George Will represents the most reactionary intellectual
and public policy elements among Republican conservatism in today’s
America. I mean even the conservatism of Pres. George Bush has recognized
the need to ethnically and racially diversify executive offices in today’s
Republican administration, something George Will and his rightwing circle—Heritage
Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Richardson Scaife Foundation,
etc.—have yet to publicly endorse. The fact of the matter is that George
Will and his particular circle of American conservatives (which includes
my Harvard Dept. of Government rightwing colleague Professor Harvey
Mansfield) would turn-back-the-clock on civil rights for African-Americans
to the Plessy v. Ferguson era if they could get away with it, Lee Daniels…
Thus any celebration
of Cory Booker’s campaign in Newark by George Will and his ilk must
be viewed automatically as bad news for Black people of Newark.
This was my immediate reaction to the celebratory column on Cory Booker’s
campaign by George Will—my sort of knee-jerk progressive Black intellectual
reaction, Lee. Then earlier this week I received from my old friend
Gregory King, who’s an administrator in the Newark Public School Administration
and a very talented fellow…a copy of a recent talk Cory Booker delivered
to one of George Will’s favorite Republican research centers—the Manhattan
Institute. It’s where White conservatives like Nathan Glazer, Abigail
Thernstrom, William Bennett, and other conservative opponents of the
mainstream Black American leadership’s civil rights agenda hang their
hats, Lee. When you put together the appearance of George Will’s celebratory
column on Cory Booker and Booker’s address at the Manhattan Institute,
the only conclusion to make Lee is that Booker is a “Black Trojan
Horse” for the Republican rightwing.
For the first time,
the Republican rightwing network—not the liberal Republican network
that gave us civil rights activist oriented Black Republicans up
until the Reagan Administration—now has a bear hug around a potential
Black Mayor of a major city with a Black and Latino majority population.
Mind you, Lee, we on the liberal and progressive side of Black leadership
have no generic bias against a Republican mayor governing our Black/Latino
majority cities. After all, we’re pluralistic and pragmatic in our
approach to American politics, not ideological or xenophobic….
But a Black Mayor
aligned with and indeed controlled by the kind of conservative Republican
circles that now control President Bush’s White House and represented
by the Manhattan Institute, and Republican circles celebrated by Negro-phobic
and feminist-phobic pundits like George Will is a very different matter
altogether, Lee. Without doubt, these kinds of Republicans aim to reverse
the equalitarian-advancement and opportunity-expanding uses of modern
governance to what it was before the rise of the New Deal under FDR.
Of course, Cory Booker
is perhaps the shrewdest of those we might call the New Wave Black Conservatives,
Lee, for unlike the Old Guard Black Conservatives who first surfaced
in the middle-‘70s and got institutionalized during Reagan/Bush Republican
Administrations (e.g., Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, Glenn Loury, Robert
Woodson, Clarence Thomas, etc.), Booker knows the necessity of packaging
his critique of the mainline Black civil rights and city leadership
through his own version of liberal civil rights discourse. Booker knows
that the nasty hardline anti-civil rights conservative discourse practiced
by Old Guard Black Conservatives like Shelby Steele wouldn’t let
him get-off-first-base among Black voters in Newark, Lee.
I gained some insight
into Booker’s success in masking his essentially rightist Republican
conservatism in populist-leaning liberal civil rights language (e.g.,
attacking inefficient city bureaucrats, attacking wasteful expenditures,
critiquing corrupt usage of patronage practices, critiquing failures
that still exist in education regimes for working-class Black kids,
etc.) through a telephone call I received this week from a former Harvard
graduate student…. She’s now working in New York City but keeps ties
with her professional childhood buddies who live in Newark, and along
with them she’s been involved in Booker’s campaign. He’s a “new face,”
so to speak, and has been skillful at appealing to the new generation
of Black professionals in the Newark area in terms of his populist-tilted
critique of the old guard in Newark….
Now, there is no doubt
that important limitations are associated with the Sharpe James Mayoralty,
Lee, and one of those limitations relate to the fact that the new generation
of professionals…have not been cultivated by Newark’s political class
old guard represented by Mayor James. As a result there’s a leadership
vacuum because Black community minded activist professionals feel that
they have no-place-to-go.
Cory Booker, as a shrewd,
well-educated Black professional newcomer to Newark politics (Yale Law
degree), recognized this leadership vacuum…. He’s functioning as
an errand boy Black politician for conservative Republican power-class
penetration of governing control of Black Newark, Lee. From where
I sit, this is ominous and as many key middle-class and professional-class
African-American citizens in Newark as we can reach must be alerted
to what Cory Booker and his campaign stands for.
Feel free to circulate
the materials as you wish.
Dr. Kilson retired from Harvard’s
Department of Government three years ago. He is completing 22 years
of work on the two-volume study, The Making of Black Intellectuals,
to be published next year.
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