Feb 21 2009

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“A Nation of Cowards”

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Eric Holder, have you no sense of decency, sir?

At a moment of national transformation, a moment of genuine triumph for social progress in America, you speak with the authority of your office and the history of your appointment only to offer presumption and hubris that insults all Americans.

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

Those are your words.

Through dogma and false rhetoric you mock and accuse generations, sir.

What do you say of the courage or conviction of 600,000 Americans who perished in the bloodiest war in American history to undo a moral injustice drafted into our Constitution?

What do you say of the courage or conviction of congressmen who passed the nation’s first civil rights bill over the objections and veto of President Andrew Johnson?

What do you say of the courage and conviction of the Congress that by an act of law transformed “property” into citizens through the 13th & 14 Amendments to the Constitution?

What do you say of the courage and conviction of African-Americans who served their country with distinction despite deep imperfections of equality at home? What do you say to President Truman who desegregated the armed forces?

What do you say of the civil rights movement, its’ lonely heroes, joined by citizens around the country in a moral cause.  To those who gave their lives?  To those who kept marching? What do you say of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the 1960s that sought to fulfill the promise of Congressional amendments a century earlier?

What do you say to Colin Powell who became the first African-American Secretary of State, a job first held by slaveholder Thomas Jefferson? A former soldier with vivid memories of a segregated south. Or of Condoleezza Rice, who became the first African-American woman Secretary of State?

What do you say to a country that can have Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court?

What do you say to the bloom of African-American poets, writers, athletes and actors, soldiers, lawyers, titans of business and finance who found opportunity, prosperity, and acclaim in this America?

How do you explain our President, sir? A man of color who lives in a house built in part by slaves? That the transcendental fact of our election last November was not how much race mattered, but how little?  When 90% of voters say that race was not important in casting their ballot are we not living Dr. King’s hope for a nation that judges based on the content of our character?1

How sad that the promise and powerful symbolism of you own confirmation as the nation’s first African-American Attorney General is sullied by your intemperate remarks.

“An though the world in which we now live is fundamentally different than that which existed then, this nation has still not come to grips with its racial past…in the year 2009, [America] does not …differ significantly from the country that existed some fifty years ago.”

No sir, your charges do not stand the test of time and are as misguided as your moral standing is taxed to make such judgments; you, the enabler of pardons for terrorists and convicted, globe-trotting campaign contributors.

With America and the world I watched President Obama take the oath of office. I was transfixed and proud, aware that a uniting watershed of American history was occurring before my eyes. My support for Senator McCain took nothing from that seminal moment.  I was filled with pride for my country and proud for the promise of America that here, anything is possible if you are willing to work for it.

And, as I watched, I recalled the preamble to the Constitution:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…”

“A more perfect Union.”

The Founders did not settle for the perfection of the moment but rather envisioned a timeless perfection. A perfection refined by generations, questioned, debated, interpreted, a perfection over the horizon; a societal perfection that seeks but does not cease.

Seeking a more perfect union acknowledges our own imperfections as people, capable of moral failing but also of redemptive action. To see the history of race in America is to acknowledge continued impatience, vacillation and consideration, but also progress.

Lincoln’s bible was the median for an oath first taken by George Washington that transferred the presidency to Barack Obama. The cultural and political progress symbolized in that defining moment is what your remarks entirely miss. The people who have worked to build that more perfection Union through our history have been people of vision, conviction and courage.

Your bleak platitudes and clichéd pabulum ignore this. The speech was unworthy of you, your office, your President, or of your collective boss, the American people.

1. CNN Exit Poll 11/2008


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