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One of the first things I noticed when George W. Bush campaigned for the presidency was his obvious love of putting black people in photo opportunities. How better to prove the compatibility of conservatism and compassion than with a healthy dose of contented black faces. I always imagined his advance team screaming into their cell phones anxiously awaiting reconnaissance for campaign events. “No black people? Find another place!” My suspicions were proven correct on Thanksgiving when our President pulled off yet another propaganda coup by flying to Iraq for Thanksgiving dinner with the troops.

Those of us who believe this President is dangerous are at a disadvantage in part because of his mastery of imagery. It makes the Reagan days look amateurish by comparison. For example, the average person, regardless of race, would be thrilled to meet a sitting president. It doesn’t help matters any that he is at ease and seems to genuinely enjoy meeting people. In Iraq he really stuck it to us by getting misty eyed. The photo op almost always works and leaves us looking like nit-picking sore losers who hate poor Dubya. The pain seemed never to end because the supposedly liberal media were still head over heels the day after the Thanksgiving flight to Baghdad. On the CBS news coverage of the President dishing out turkey, the three G.I.-on-the-street interviews were all with black troops. They said they were amazed to be with the President, that his presence was a morale boost, that it may not matter to others - a message to yours truly and friends - but that the visit mattered to the soldiers.

The Republican love of diversity and inclusion for political expediency is not restricted to the President. Congress loves to get in on the act. In order to gain passage of the disastrous Medicare Bill black faces were needed to express support. The new legislation will privatize an entitlement program, make a fortune for drug companies, and do nothing to lower the cost of prescription drugs for the elderly poor. The Republicans know it stinks because they made sure that the provisions will go into effect after the next election. The obvious shortcomings made it all the more important to have people of color expressing support at a press conference. The Republicans left no stone unturned. Representatives of Native American and Latino communities along with the National Medical Association and National Black Chamber of Commerce fit the bill quite nicely. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and phony Democrat John Breaux extolled the virtues of the bill to the “underserved and minorities.”

Once again the right wing were allowed to bemoan the existence of disparities without addressing the role their policies play in causing them. The National Medical Association, a one hundred year old organization representing black physicians and other health professionals, bills itself as the “conscience of American medicine.” I don’t know how the “conscience” allows itself to sleep at night, but the group does acknowledge, “the benefit currently proposed must be further expanded.” One wonders why they support the bill at all. Was it worthwhile to ruin the reputation of a respected organization? I hope the NMA got more out of it than the thrill of a news conference spotlight.

Harry Alford, CEO of the Black Chamber of Commerce, proclaimed that he had never had a physical until he joined the military and that he suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. He never explained how the bill would help seniors with similar health problems. More than likely he neglected to do so because he couldn’t substantiate such a claim. Nevertheless the Chamber supports the legislation “100%.”

I am hesitant to criticize a soldier far from home who has a chance to pose for a photo with the President of the United States. However, I am more than a little disappointed with prominent physicians and business leaders who are co-opted by the most retrograde elements of our political leadership. It is particularly annoying when some of those providing window dressing have already had their photo op day in the sun.

The Republicans express the worst kind of cynicism by using black faces as a cover for their policies. They know that black people, even those who want to meet a President, are not going to vote for them. Colin, Condi and turkey on Thanksgiving won’t change minds in voting booths. The Democratic nominee, whoever that is, will get at least 90% of the black vote and Republicans know it.

The photo op of color is for the benefit of white, fence sitting, wanna be moderate voters. America acknowledges its guilt in the treatment of blacks but in the most bizarre fashion. The logic, such as it is, goes like this. Black people are treated badly, which is a bad thing. Therefore, anyone in the presence of a critical mass of black people can’t be one of the bad people. Bush has to be a moderate. After all, he likes being around black people.

I always wonder how the mistreatment of black people is explained in this twisted logic. Who is doing the mistreating? Perhaps the culprits are aliens from space. It certainly isn’t any of the millions of Americans who allay their concerns by accepting claims of compassion from the obviously uncompassionate. If it all seems insane you are correct. Racism makes Americans crazy and prone to be deceived over and over again. The President went to dinner in Iraq. How nice. So the war must be good. Never mind that Iraqis are killing Americans. If Bush cried over the stuffing and gravy it all must be OK.

What do we have to look forward to in the future? The announcement that Congress will fund a National Museum of African-American History and Culture should have made me happy. Instead all I saw was an election year ribbon cutting with grateful black people. When I hear Republicans expressing a desire for “racial healing” I get nervous.

What will happen next year at the Republican convention? Will every speaker be black instead of every other speaker as at the 2000 convention? If I turn on my television and see Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan I don’t know what I will do. Maybe that will finally push me over the edge and send me to a nation that doesn’t rely on imagery to make me feel good.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in .  Ms. Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City.  She can be reached via e-Mail at [email protected]. You can read more of Ms. Kimberley's writings at



December4, 2003
Issue 67

is published every Thursday.

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