Letters to the Editors
Affinity for Clinton is rooted in respect
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001
Gailey's column goes right to the heart of the issue of race relations. He raises the question but leaves the exploration of the issue to the reader.
I agree with observations that President Clinton did little institutionally to improve the lives of African-Americans, and that President Bush may ultimately have as diverse an administration. So how do we explain the love affair?
I believe that what President Clinton did was to truly accept everyone in the African-American community as they are, not as they might be. In a single word, he gave respect. The fact that his policies or executive orders did not materially improve this community's prospects took a back seat to the fact that he gave unconditional respect.
Conservatives respect African-Americans who have "made it," such as Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, and we are disheartened when the African-American community does not embrace their success as we do. The problem is that this view is judgmental in itself.
Even Martin Luther King's message can be interpreted more than one way when he dreamed of America as a place where his children "... will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Is that enough?
There has not been much in the Clinton administration for me to admire, but his approach toward race is worth examining, or else we will stay "baffled" about this important societal issue.
Clinton is "real'
Gailey's commentary outlines all the logical reasons African-Americans should desert Clinton, as if to suggest that logic has something to do with love and loyalty. It does not.
In African-American culture, it's more than just a little important to be "real." Whatever Clinton did or didn't do, his connection to the black community was not hypocritical. It was real. And the community knew it. When Clinton went to a black church on Sunday, the folks knew he was there because he wanted to be, not because it was politically convenient. When Republicans objected to the rent in uptown New York, Clinton moved to Harlem. Can Gailey imagine any other ex-president who would locate his office in a black community? Certainly no one can accuse Clinton of having political objectives in his move. That's real.
When Clinton nominated African-Americans to work in his administration, it was not done for photo-ops but as an expression of his beliefs in minority representation. He nominated black Americans who were committed to helping their community. George W. Bush nominated black Americans who long ago turned their backs on their roots.
Contrary to Gailey's statements, Clinton did not yank "the welfare safety net out from under poor Americans.... " In fact, he read the writing on the wall when the Republicans took congressional power. Knowing he could not stop the Republicans from reforming welfare and affirmative action, he played a fall-back, wait, revise, veto and compromise game that softened the inevitable.
As for "posturing on the crime issue," show us one politician in the last 25 years who hasn't done the same.
African-Americans understand that Clinton genuinely likes them and their culture. It's very difficult for any of us to dislike someone who likes us.
Surely there must be at least one person in Phil Gailey's life who doesn't quite live up to his moral or ethical expectations and strongly disagrees with his political views and yet for whom Gailey still feels a real affection. If not, understanding what really matters in this short life has passed him by.
Assuming that Phil Gailey's tenet is statistically correct, I can imagine a black, with a smirk, saying that perhaps blacks have a greater tolerance and sympathy for human failings (a la Monica Lewinsky) than whites. Also, perhaps, blacks measured their president by what he did for the country and not the harm he did to himself.
How is the recent to-do about the alleged quid pro quo for the infamous pardons different from the conduct of Congress, annually selling its soul for corporate contributions to help get re-elected?
I hold no brief for President Clinton's conduct, but I'm puzzled that movers and shakers -- and columnists -- demand a higher ethical standard for Clinton than that of their own.
I agree wholeheartedly with Philip Gailey's thoughts on Bill Clinton, although I, in turn, am baffled by the election recommendations given Clinton by the St. Petersburg Times. As governor of a state not known for the high standards of its politics, he did not easily acquire the nickname "Slick Willie."
In a society that supposedly admires admission of error, it would be refreshing to see the Times acknowledge something besides an incorrect picture caption.
Growth and weather
Thanks for a very thought-provoking piece. I offer some additional opinions and questions.
Growth management seems to avoid facing the fact that Florida is in hurricane country. As population grows and roads become increasingly inadequate, the potential for prompt and safe evacuation diminishes. If we can't evacuate, we must go to shelters. But how many shelters are there in Pinellas County? If shelter space is inadequate -- and I think it is -- should not growth management take this into consideration? New commercial structures, for example, could be built with hurricane shelters in mind.
Recent experience shows that hurricane related flooding can be a greater threat than wind damage. Should growth management assess the likelihood of flooding in a particular development area?
After Hurricane Andrew, a newspaper article suggested that had Andrew hit 50 miles further North, the entire U.S. insurance industry would have been bankrupted. Does growth management consider such financial realities? Or do we assume that the federal government will bail us out?
Natural disasters kill thousands of people in Third World countries because growth was allowed in unsafe areas. How quick we are to condemn the governments of those countries for their shortsighted thinking and planning. But are we that much different here?
How generous of Tampa Bay Presbyterians to teach us that, no matter what Christ taught to the contrary, it's perfectly all right for us to sit in judgment on persons created in God's image, provided that some Bible verse or other can be lifted out of context to support our position.
It's certainly a relief to know that although Christians are taught they are supposed to love and forgive, self-righteous judgment and condemnation are what is truly pleasing to God.
Good dog story
With all the negative news we are constantly bombarded with, it was especially gratifying to read an article in the St. Petersburg Times that left me in such good spirits. I'm referring to the guide dog training program at the Coleman federal correctional complex.
Kudos to Mac Cauley, his supporters and U.S. Attorney Donna Bucella for their efforts to achieve this worthwhile project. The rewards and benefits are enormous. This has to have a positive effect on the inmates selected to become dog handlers/trainers.
It's unfortunate there aren't more similar, constructive programs available for those who truly want to be rehabilitated and hope for a better life once they are released. With nothing but time on their hands, why not put these idle hands to good use? Build their self-esteem by giving them a chance to help others.
To Julie Aichroth and her "chosen women," I'm impressed!
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