Tuesday, April 08, 2008
First Day in Boulder
My couple of panels at the University of Colorado's Conference on World Affairs were interesting -- to say the least. The first one was entitled "Bush Legacy: Too Early To Tell or Too Late to Matter." In my opening remarks, I suggested that it was slightly more the former. Despite Bush's low standing in the polls -- and the criticisms of his administration that I could catalogue myself -- the fact remained that much of his legacy hinged on Iraq's ultimate resolution. Furthermore, a president's legacy often can be influenced on the decisions of presidents who follow. For example, George H.W. Bush's legacy has, ironically, been enhanced by his son's decisions in Iraq (that observation drew chuckles from the audience, though I stressed I wasn't saying this as a joke). After my comments, the next three panelists -- Vanity Fair's David Margolick, the Financial Times' Caroline Daniels, and historian Michael Stoff -- lit into a list of everything awful about the Bush administration. Stoff, particularly, went into a list of "Bush, in his own words" statements -- nearly all of which had been made during the 2000 campaign.
Before the moderator opened it up for questions from the audience, I took the microphone again. I prefaced my comments by saying that I'm hardly a Bush apologist, but I had to make the observation that it was rather remarkable that not one panelist had used the words "9/11" or "al Qaeda" in looking at the Bush legacy. Sure, there's lots to criticize about Bush -- including whether invading Iraq was good or bad -- but not mentioning the seminal even that occurred during his first year in office (and how that influenced America's perception of him for the next several years), is missing a major part of the story.
My second panel was entitled "Keep Your Grubby Mitts Off My Constitution." It featured NPR's Margot Adler, the Heritage Foundation's Mike Franc (who encouraged me to come to CWA) -- and erstwhile punk rocker Jello Biafra. While the discussion was far-reaching -- all of us assessing our concerns where either the executive, legislative or judicial branches had overstepped (or abandoned) their constitutional prerogatives -- my exchanges with Jello Biafra were rather intriguing.
I introduced my remarks by saying that I was happy to be on a panel with Biafra given that I once owned one of his albums 20 years ago. I added, "See, you can listen to the Dead Kennedys and still grow up to be a Republican!" Biafra looked horrified and pretended to bang his head against the table. I looked down the panel to him and said, "Jello, you're surprised that a Republican would like a band called 'Dead Kennedys'?" The audience chuckled.
Later though, Jello went into a rant on the Supreme Court where he decided to make a passing reference to "Clarence 'Uncle' Thomas". Just before the moderator opened up the event for audience questions (yeah, a pattern was developing), I went to my mic and turned to Biafra to say that I thought calling the Justice an "Uncle Tom" was out of bounds. I said call him a right-wing fascist all you want -- as he was suggesting the other Justices were -- but throwing out what is a racial slur just seemed out of place.
He responded that he had heard former Clintonite Joycelyn Elders use the word in reference to Thomas -- "and she's African-American." I said, well, many African Americans are comfortable using the N-word. I don't and I didn't think the "Uncle Tom" was appropriate here. Interestingly, there was hesitant mild applause at my statements, as if the very liberal audience wasn't sure what their response should be.
After the panel was over, Biafra and I talked more. He asked whether this is just one of those things where blacks can use a word or phrase, but whites can't. I said, not exactly. The N-word has many connotations, depending on context -- some positive, some negative, some neutral. It's not a word I use because I don't like it. However, "Uncle Tom" has only one connotation -- negative. It's to describe someone the speaker believes is servile and acquiescent to a "white power structure" -- in the lefty/Marxist sense. It's only a slur. Some people may believe that of Thomas, but they had better follow and defend that assertion -- not just throw the phrase out there.
Anyway, he said he would have to "think about that."
An interesting first day.
Labels: Conference on World Affairs