Armstrong Williams' Big Move.
Black Personnel Director for GOP Inc





The week began in high anticipation and, for most politically conscious African Americans, great anxiety. George Bush was once again wallowing in Mississippi mud, his U.S. Court of Appeals nomination of Charles Pickering up for a second time before the Senate Judiciary Committee. History seemed about to march backwards on affirmative action, as Bush prepared to throw the weight of his Justice Department behind opponents of diversity at the University of Michigan law school.

Where do Black Republicans stand on these burning issues of day? What counsel will they offer their President? Is there an alternative approach, a more nuanced message, a middle way, some unique contribution that African American Republicans can make to the larger political conversation? The people and the press cried out for the voices of Black Republicanism to make themselves heard.

Spotlights played reflections on Armstrong Williams' bald and shiny head. The Trent Lott affair had been a hustler's godsend, a once in a lifetime opportunity for Williams to appear to play the game of Mau-Mau with his paymasters and clients in the GOP. There was gonna be a showdown, he seemed to promise as he grumbled ominously through the holidays. Vexed and scowling, the gruesome TV talking head demanded that his party "adequately address issues of importance to African-Americans, namely racism and violence," and warned, "Without a forum with which to discuss these concerns, the Republicans will have trouble remaining a long-term, stable governing body."

Williams anointed himself the man of the hour who would pull this forum together whether the white folks in the party wanted it, or not - at least, his tone suggested as much. On Monday, the media assembled.

Among the press was Terry Neal, a conservative-friendly Black columnist for the Washington Post. Neal's job is to interpret the inner workings of Black goings-on, so he asked, What's going on? What about the Pickering nomination? Affirmative action? Where do Black Republicans stand? In his column, Neal wrote:

Williams said neither the Pickering nomination nor the University of Michigan case came up. Asked why such an important topic was not discussed, Williams replied: "You think that's important?"

There you have it. The Armstrong Williams-choreographed Black Republican confabulation more resembled a middle-aged job fair than a serious political gathering. And that's what it was - no more, no less. Not, mind you, a job fair for 40 million Black Americas but, rather, a kind of seminar for a tiny rump of ambitious functionaries and hustlers in the GOP political orbit. About a dozen of them.

They came with no political demands, because they have none of their own. They presented no innovative programs or policy statements; nothing so grand has ever crossed their minds. It did not occur to them to invoke the yearnings of the masses, because they speak solely for themselves.

They brought with them their only assets: their Black faces. "It starts with the faces," Williams said. Apparently, it ends there, as well.

By mutual assent of the face-men and Republican leadership, Armstrong Williams is to be Personnel Director for this exercise in bacon and appointment politics. The rest of Black America are simply consumers of the images that Williams has been contracted to assemble and display.

"What I want to see come out of these meetings, more than anything else, is a Republican Party unified behind a push - unlike anything yet attempted - to recruit conservative black candidates for office from all over our country," said Williams, after clearing the arrangement with Republican National Committee Chairman Mark Racicot, the man with the deep pockets.

There is a giant money pot in this deal for Williams, whose public relations firm, the Graham Williams Group, co-founded with Oprah boyfriend Stedman Graham, specializes in crafting benign racial images for the institutional Right. Plus, as a one-man propaganda network operating through print, radio and television, Williams can service the same Black candidates and appointees that he - as the GOP's Black headhunter - selects as worthy of high visibility. (For more, see Commentary of Dec 12, 2002)

Strom Thurmond's protégé has staged a coup. Representing no one, spouting views that few Black Republicans even share, and having never run for office or led any organization indigenous to the Black community, Williams has talked himself into the center of the ruling party's money stream.

With only 50 Republicans among the nation's 9,040 Black elected officials, Williams can make a mint grooming candidates for decades to come. However, the message of Williams-style Black Republicanism will differ not a hair from the GOP's standard, Hard Right dogma. "We must go forward with our agenda," Williams told National Public Radio. He criticized Trent Lott for "backtracking" on Republican principles on BET, especially regarding opposition to affirmative action. "We can't back down," said Williams.

The Armstrong Williams package is almost elegant in its simplicity: more Black faces, the same racist message. And the desultory dozen that he brought to the table will all get paid.

Some of them don't want much - just bigger props. Presidential appointee Harold Doley talked about guys like himself. "In the corporate nomenclature, deputy secretaries are the chief operating officers of their departments," he said. "They preside over more than half the U.S. budget. In the Bush administration, many of them are black guys, and no one knows their names. The new invisible men are African American Republicans."

No problem. The Armstrong Williams consulting machine can schedule enough press releases and photo opportunities to fill a year's worth of Black Enterprise magazines with Black Republican faces, if need be. Ebony, too.

"Only time will tell" what will ultimately result from the meeting with Racicot and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, said Williams, coyly. "The good news is that Senator Frist has asked us to go out and find people for him."

A doable plan for a man who can sell snake oil back to the snakes.

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Issue Number 25
January 16, 2003



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Other commentaries in this issue:

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr
Riverside Church, New York City - 4 April 1967

The Issues
Death takes a (brief) holiday... Mississippi justice goes national... Black Voices for Peace

Draft immunity fuels war machine... BC labeled "right wing"... Mediocre whites cry bias

Guest Commentary
A Chicano Looks at the Trent Lott Affair by Jorge Mariscal

Commentaries in Issue 24 January 9, 2003:

No Draft, No Peace - Rangel and Conyers are right

The buying of Rev. Dr. Greedygut... More Confederates in GOP closet... It’s a bitch being rich

GOP says Democrats fund loafers... Democrats charge game is rigged... Pacifica station looking for a GM

High Stakes: Black and Latino parents are demanding better schools and fewer tests - By Eric C. Wat

You can read any past issue of The Black Commentator in its entirety by going to the Past Issues page.