Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby(Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute of Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.
Fifty years after the leaders of the civil rights movement raised the bar of opportunity for all races, too many black Americans are in crisis-having babies out of wedlock, dropping out of school and caught in a denigrating hip-hop culture.
In 2006, just after the January holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an animated Dr. King came to life on the Cartoon Network's new show "The Boondocks." Animator Aaron McGruder had created an older version of King who stood at the pulpit of a black church, looking out at gangster rappers in a fistfight, high school drop-outs calling each other "the N-word," and unmarried black teenage mothers dressed like prostitutes. "Is this it? It this what I got all those ass-whippings for? I had a dream once," he said, referring to the sacrifices he made during the civil rights struggles of the '50s and '60s. King's face twisted with disappointment. His voice dripped with disdain for what had become of his dream.
The words in this cartoon were rooted in a speech that actor and comedian Bill Cosby had given in 2004 on the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. "Ladies and gentlemen, these people-they opened doors, they gave us the rights," he said, praising the lawyers and educators present.
But today, ladies and gentlemen, in our cities we have a 50 percent drop out rate (rates among young black men) in our neighborhoods. We have (the highest percentage of any American racial group with) men in prison. No longer is a person embarrassed because (she is) pregnant without a husband. No longer is a boy considered an embarrassment if he tries to run away from being the father . . . . Ladies and gentlemen, the lower and lower-middle class people are not holding up their end in this deal.
The problem weighing down black America 50 years after Brown had nothing to do with white people or the racism that clamped chains on slaves. "We can't blame white people," he said. Then he added, "Brown v. Board is no longer the white person's problem." He noted that:
. . . according to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2004, 69.2 percent of black children were born to unwed mothers. That contrasts with 24.5 percent for white children and approximately 45 percent for Hispanic children.
He proclaimed, "Thank God that people who spent their lives breaking down segregation so that black people could have a chance for success don't know what is going on today."
In an important new book, Enough (Subtitled: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America-and What We Can Do About It), Juan Williams, a senior correspondent for National Public Radio, a political analyst for the Fox News Channel, and author of, among other books, Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary, inspired by Bill Cosby's speech, makes the case that while there is still racism, it is past time for black Americans to open their eyes to the "culture of failure" that exists within their community. He points to proud traditional black values-self-help, strong families, and belief in God-that sustained black people through generations of oppression, and takes aim at prominent black leaders-from Al Sharpton to Jesse Jackson to Marion Barry.
The negative behavior Cosby was railing against, writes Williams,
. . . was behavior that the NAACP, the black church, the Jesse Jackson activists, and the black intellectuals had long ago decided not to address. Not one civil rights group took up Cosby's call for marches and protests against drug dealers, pregnant teens, deadbeat dads, and hate-filled rap music that celebrates violence.
In March 2006, The New York Times reported on its front page that
. . . a huge pool of poorly educated black men is becoming ever more disconnected from mainstream society and to a far greater degree than comparable white or Hispanic men.
Williams laments that:
Since the days of Dr. King, no prominent black American had dared to stand apart from the civil rights groupthink and ask, "Where do we go from here?" (this was the title of King's last book). That self-imposed censorship shows in the stagnant pool of ideas from which we black people draw when looking for solutions. It shows in the tired arguments rehearsed from the same predictable ideological positions . . . . Hard-won victories seem in danger for being squandered.
Those who proclaim themselves leaders in the black community, in Williams' view, refuse to articulate established truths about what it takes to get ahead: strong families, education and hard work. He declares:
Every American has reason to ask about the seeming absence of strong black leadership. Where is strong black leadership to speak hard truth to those looking for direction. . . . Who will tell you that if you want to get a job you have to stay in school and spend more money on education than on disposable consumer goods? Where are the black leaders who are willing to stand tall and say that any black man who wants to be a success has to speak proper English? . . . The Jesse Jacksons and Julian Bonds, people who made a name for themselves in the 1960s . . . are still fighting the battles of the 1960s. Then there are the latecomers, such as Al Sharpton, whose contribution is to mimic the aging leaders. Neither the old timers nor their pale imitators recognize that national politics has changed and black people have changed.
Historically, Williams points out,
A streak of self-determination rises at every turn in the history of black American leadership. But since the stunning success of the modern civil-rights movement . . . the strong focus on self-determination has faded, at the moment when its impact could have been the most powerful. In its place is a tired rant by civil rights leaders about the power of white people-what white people have done wrong, what white people didn't do, and what white people should do. This rant puts black people in the role of hapless victims waiting for only one thing-white guilt to bail them out. The roots of this blacks-as-beggars approach from black leaders are planted in an old debate that is now too often distorted.
The most prominent voice for black liberation before the Civil War, Williams points out, belonged to Frederick Douglass, a former slave who secretly taught himself to read, then became a skilled worker in Baltimore's shipyards before escaping to freedom in the North:
It was Douglass who first called on black people to do for themselves when he wrote an editorial titled "Learn Trades or Starve." By the end of the 19th century, as the government's many promises to help former slaves turned out to be mostly empty words, a new black leader emerged. Booker T. Washington picked up on Douglass' legacy by proposing defiant black self-determination as the best strategy for black advancement. . . . The basis of Washington's strategy at Tuskegee had direct links to Douglass' theory of black self-reliance. His idea was that black people should capitalize on the skills and knowledge they had gained as slaves. People who had worked the land for others now had the chance to own that land and take the profits of their work for themselves.
Some Black leaders, Williams believes, misunderstood the later disagreement between W. E. B. Du Bois, who called for a "talented tenth" of black Americans to pursue higher education and the professions rather than the skilled labor advanced by Washington. He writes,
It is Du Bois' respectful criticism of Washington that misled some black leaders to this day to lose sight of the mainstream of agreement in the foundational black leadership tradition. That devotion of self-determination was established by Douglass, Washington, and Du Bois. . . . Du Bois in later writing about Washington, gave him credit by accurately describing him as "the greatest Negro leader since Frederick Douglass and the most distinguished man, white or black, who has come out of the South since the Civil War.
The largest political movements of black people, before the Brown decision sparked the civil rights movement of the1950s and 1960s, Williams declares,
. . . had self-determination as their hallmarks. Marcus Garvey's Negro Improvement Association, with its call for black economic power, worship of a black God, and even a return to Africa to be free of oppression, was an effort to move away from white domination and allow black people to take control of their lives. The Niagara Movement, which led to the creation of the NAACP, focused on strategies for defeating white political control of black people so that blacks could be free to determine their own future. . . . The Brown decision itself is an example of black American leadership focused on self-determination, in this case the right to get an equal share of tax dollars to educate their children. . . . The Montgomery Bus Boycott, featuring Rosa Parks' famous refusal to move to the back of the bus, is another example of black people organizing for self-determination. . . . It was a classic case of self-determination and it ended with a Supreme Court victory over racial discrimination in local public transit that increased the rights of all black Americans. Black pride in taking control of their own fate was defiant rejection of the image of blacks as victims, ignorant and lazy. It was driven by a raw faith in the power of black people to compete and thrive in a democratic, capitalist nation if given the chance to be equals.
The areas where men such as Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois agreed are crucial to black Americans today:
They both stood, in the end, for black self-help and dignity-and ultimately for full citizenship rights. . . . Black leaders of all ideological stripes agree that the key to racial progress was black people helping themselves. King, for example, said he wanted above all else to get black people to shed the idea that they did not control their destiny, an idea he attributed to the power of racists to infect black people with self-defeating doubts about inferiority and create a psychological need to rely on whites for their well-being.
Rather than confronting the genuine problems facing the black community today, Williams charges, such self-appointed leaders as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have seen fit to help themselves:
So far, the "blood of martyrs" strategy has had tragic results for the progress of poor black people, but it has worked magnificently for a few national black politicians. Prominent leaders like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, neither of whom has ever won an election or held political office, have-through the force of their personalities and rhetoric, and the limitations of their ideas and strategies-slowed the emergence of any new model of national black leadership. Jackson did enrich his family. He got the country's top beer company, Budweiser, which he had boycotted in the 1980s with the slogan "Bud's a Dud," to sell a multimillion dollar beer distribution center to two of his sons. . . . Sharpton did take the Jackson model of black politics to a new low, however. . . . Sharpton took money from a company called LoanMax, in exchange for appearing in ads designed to lure poor black people into their financial web. . . . Sharpton took money from one white-owned company that wanted to force another white-owned firm, a cable television company called Charter Communications, to carry their programming. Having failed to negotiate a deal with Charter, the Detroit firm Adell Broadcasting Corp. hired Sharpton to stage a phony civil rights protest march in front of Charter Communications' offices. Sharpton got out of a limousine in March 2002 . . . to lead three busloads of protest marchers in chants of "No Justice, No Peace. . . . One of the protest organizers working with Sharpton said he got people to join the protest by pulling them out of homeless shelters, giving them a meal and $50. He told the Wall Street Journal that "I like to refer to it as a "rent a demonstration." His usual fee . . . was at least $10,000.
One of the current crusades launched by some civil rights groups, calling for "reparations" for slavery, is, Williams states, "a divisive, dead-end idea." It is particularly erroneous, he points out, to attach:
. . . the impact of slavery to the years beyond 1954 and the Brown decision. In the half-century since Brown, the levels of black education, income, and political power have all grown, evidence that most black people are taking advantage of newly opened doors. Today, half of all black families are middle-class, earning at least twice as much as the poverty line. Only one percent of African-American families made that claim in 1940. . . . To make the argument that slavery is responsible for today's social and economic problems facing poor black people is to take away all of their personal will, diminish their independence, and dismiss their intellect. And how can he (Randall Robinson, author of The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks) explain the fact that at the start of the 20th century black people had higher marriage rates than whites? In 1940 the out-of-wedlock birth rate for blacks was 19 percent. Today it is close to 70 percent. If slavery is the cause of today's social problems in the black community, why did black people in closer historical proximity to it do better than today's black community with regard to keeping families together?
When it comes to crime, Williams reports, black people make up 13 per cent of the nation's population, but in 2003 the nation's prison population was 44 percent black, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. One of every ten black men between the ages of 25 and 29 is in prison. In fact, more black men were in jail or prison than in college. Where, he asks, is the black leadership?
Instead of speaking out against gangs, drug-dealers, and pimps-and the clothes and hip-hop music that celebrated these outlaws as black heroes-left-wing intellectuals preached against the sins of the white racist American establishment. . . . Never a word was spoken about the need for black Americans to take up their own war on drugs and on crime as a matter of personal responsibility. . . . By 2004 federal data showed that black Americans-13 percent of the population-accounted for 37 percent of the violent crimes, 54 percent of arrests for robbery, and 51 percent of murders. Most of the victims of these violent criminals were their fellow black people.
It was because of all these negative trends that Bill Cosby felt the need to apologize to the early civil rights leaders. Williams notes that:
A generation dropping out of school and celebrating the gangster life is a shocking turn of events, a repudiation of hundreds of years of civil rights struggle. It is a rejection of the gift of opportunity. It is a collective act of contempt for the true black American identity-a strong, creative, loving people with deep faith in God, seeking a better life for the next generation.
Black success in the future, Williams writes, depends upon young people finishing high school and college, taking a job and holding it, marrying after finishing school and while holding a job. And the final step is to have children only after you are 21 and married.
In 2005, the Institute for American Values issued a study showing that over the last 50 years, basically the period after the Brown decision, "the percentage of black families headed by married couples declined from 78 percent to 34 percent." In the 30 years from 1950 to 1980, households headed by black women who never married jumped from 3.8 per thousand to 69.7 per thousand. In 1940, 75 percent of black children lived with both parents. By 1990 only 33 percent of black children lived with a mom and dad.
Despite this reality, Williams charges,
There is no trusted source with a pulpit or a microphone telling people in need about the path to a better life. There is no one calling this situation a crisis. . . . The nation's leading civil rights groups are missing in action.
This book is a cry for a new generation of black leadership to fill the vacuum left by those who have rejected the tradition of pride and self-determination. Juan Williams has performed a notable service with this volume, which deserves as wide an audience as possible. *
"People unfit for freedom-who cannot do much with it-are hungry for power." -Eric Hoffer
Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute of Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.
[Editor's note: This was written before the latest war begun by Hizballah, but as the article points to historical realities, hope remains that present-day hatreds need not be perpetual.]
Throughout the U.S., dialogue between American Jews and Muslims is increasing. According to The Jerusalem Report,
Both 9/11 and four years of intifada chilled relations between American Jews and Muslims, which had warmed notably during the Oslo period. Now dialogue is showing new signs of life. "And as the situation in the Middle East improves-which I think it will do now, please God," says Rabbi David Rosen, director of Inter-religious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, "there will be greater willingness on the part of the Jewish community to take more risks."
Dialogue has resumed, often sparked by individuals or groups not in leadership positions in either community, according to the Report:
After Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was killed by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002, his father, Judea Pearl, began a series of unscripted public dialogues with Akbar Ahmed, a professor of Islamic studies at American University in Washington, DC. Since an initial dialogue in Pittsburgh in October 2003, the two have appeared at gatherings around the U.S. and the United Kingdom, with Canada and several U.S. cities on the schedule for this year. Audiences are typically one-third Muslim and most of the rest Jewish, according to Pearl, an Israel-born professor of computer science at UCLA.
My main reason is to convince Muslims that we are not their enemies. We try to stress the commonalities, though we don't shy away from friction.
Another example of dialogue is the Children of Abraham organization, co-founded by a Jewish man and a Muslim woman in 2004 in New York and London to offer "internships" to Jewish and Muslim young people around the world. The interns' task is to photograph Jewish and Muslim life in their communities and then dialogue with each other via the Internet. The first group of 60 interns from 27 countries took about 2,000 photographs last summer and posted 3,000 messages on the organization's web site in discussions that continued after the internships ended.
Other groups include the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, started by Zhudi Jasser, a Phoenix-area physician, which believes in the compatibility of Islamic and American values. In the Boston area, Judith Obermayer, a retired mathematician, hosted the first meeting of a Jewish-Muslim dialogue group about two years ago. From a handful of organizers brought together by the head of the local branch of the American Jewish Committee, the group that includes academics, doctors, businesspeople and ordinary Muslims and Jews-has grown to the point where 75 people attended a recent dinner.
The American Jewish Committee's Rabbi Rosen declares:
The Talmud asks, "Who is a hero?" and answers: "He who makes his enemy into a friend."
Last September Jordan's King Abdullah told a gathering of American rabbis in Washington, DC, that Jews and Muslims are irrevocably "tied together by culture and history" and that he is willing to take radical measures to combat Muslim extremists. He declared:
We face a common threat: extremist distortions of religion and the wanton acts of violence that derive therefrom. Such abominations have already divided us from without for far too long.
Rabbi Marc Gopin of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University presented the king with a copy of the Hebrew Bible in both English and Hebrew. Secular leaders, he said, "need to learn from your [the king's] example, learn from true heroism of one who confronts his adversaries."
While some have argued that Muslim-Jewish enmity is a long-standing phenomenon, the historic record tells a far different story. Indeed, when Jews were being harshly persecuted in Christian Europe, they often found a Golden Age in Muslim lands.
In her book The Ornament of the World, Prof. Maria Rosa Menocal of Yale University explores the history of Jews under Muslim rule in Spain:
Throughout most of the invigorated peninsula, Arabic was adopted as the ultimate in classiness and distinction by the communities of the other two faiths. The new Islamic polity not only allowed Jews and Christians to survive but, following Qur'anic mandate, by and large protected them, and both the Jewish and Christian communities in al-Andalus became thoroughly Arabized within relatively few years of Abd al-Rahman's arrival in Cordoba. . . . In principle, all Islamic polities were (and are) required by Qur'anic injunction . . . to tolerate Christians and Jews living in their midst. But beyond that fundamental prescribed posture, al-Andalus was, from these beginnings, the site of memorable and distinctive interfaith relations. Here the Jewish community rose from the ashes of an abysmal existence under the Visigoths to the point that the emir who proclaimed himself caliph in the 10th century had a Jew as his foreign minister.
Living in the heart of the Arab world, Jews first served their apprenticeship in the sciences of Islamic intellectual masters and in time became their collaborators in developing the general culture of the region. A striking example of this breadth of interest was Maimonides (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, 1135-1204), a native of Cordoba. What chiefly characterized Jewish thought in this period was its search for unity-the attempt to reconcile faith with reason, theology, and philosophy, the acceptance of authority with freedom of inquiry. In Arab countries in the Near East and North Africa, where there existed this free intermingling of cultures, there blossomed a rich and unique Jewish intellectuality in Arabic. Beginning with the 10th century, especially in the kingdom of Cordoba under the enlightened Omayyad caliphs Abd al-Rahman and his son, Al-Hakin, there appeared a galaxy of Jewish scholars, historians, philologists, grammarians, religious philosophers, mathematicians, astronomers, doctors, and poets. During the 11th century Ubn Usaibia, a Muslim scholar, listed 50 Jewish authors writing in Arabic on medical subjects alone.
As Karen Armstrong notes in A History of God:
The destruction of Muslim Spain was fatal for the Jews. In March 1492, a few weeks after the conquest of Granada, the Christian monarchs gave Spanish Jews the choice of baptism or expulsion. Many of the Spanish Jews were so attached to their home that they became Christians, though some continued to practice their faith in secret. . . . Some 150,000 Jews refused baptism, however, and were forcibly deported from Spain; they took refuge in Turkey, the Balkans, and North Africa. The Muslims of Spain had given Jews the best home they ever had in the diaspora, so the annihilation of Spanish Jewry was mourned by Jews throughout the world as the greatest disaster to have befallen their people since the destruction of the Temple in CE 70.
Jane S. Gerber, in her book The Jews of Spain, points out that:
In the 15th and 16th centuries . . . it was the Ottoman Empire, then at the zenith of her power, that alone afforded exiles a place where "their weary feet could find rest.". . . Her sultans-Bayezid II, Mehmet II, Suleiman the Magnificent-were dynamic, farsighted rulers who were delighted to receive the talented, skilled Jewish outcasts of Europe. . . . Bayezid II, responding to the expulsion from Spain, reportedly exclaimed, "You call Ferdinand a wise king, who impoverishes his country and enriches our own." He not only welcomed Sephardic exiles but ordered his provincial government to assist the wanderers by opening the borders. Indeed, the refugees would find the Ottoman state to be powerful, generous and tolerant.
On a recent visit to Andalusia--Cordoba, Seville and Granada, among other places-this writer observed the many remaining reminders of this Golden Age of Muslim-Jewish cooperation and amity. They serve to illustrate the lack of historic understanding of those who present the current impasse over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the latest in a long history of strife and conflict. The real story is far different-and far more hopeful. It may provide us with a genuine road map for the future.
More and more, the very term "Congressional ethics" appears to be an oxymoron. Recent examples of corruption are mounting in number and excess. Both Republicans and Democrats are involved.
In May a former aide to Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who later went to work with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, pleaded to guilty to conspiring to illegally influence Ney. A corporate executive pleaded guilty to bribing Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA). Federal prosecutors say they found a $90,000 payoff in Jefferson's freezer. Late last year Rep. Randy ''Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) resigned after confessing to taking $2.4 million in bribes, including a Rolls-Royce. In March Cunningham was sentenced to more than eight years in prison.
The F.BI. is now investigating the possibility that members of Congress were "steering," (influencing) contractors to hire a member's friends, family, or staff, or soliciting campaign contributions from them, in exchange for placing special benefits, or "earmarks," in legislation. "The potential for earmarks being abused is great," says a federal law enforcement official. Sources report that one of the members being examined is House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA). Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WY) stepped down as the ranking Democrat on the House Ethics Committee after it was revealed he directed millions in federal grants to groups set up by him and staffed by his friends. Those friends, in turn, contributed to his campaigns.
A study released in June by the Center for Public Integrity, American Public Media, and Northwestern University journalism students found that private sponsors paid nearly $50 million over five and a half years to send members of Congress and their staffs on at least 23,000 trips. The study is the first time that researchers have pinpointed the full cost of privately funded Congressional travel.
The researchers kept tabs on which offices filed incomplete, incorrect or late reports disclosing details of their travels. They singled out two lawmakers, Reps. Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), for failing to disclose until six weeks before the report was issued that the Cuban government and a New York grocery mogul paid for their April 2002 trip to Havana to meet President Fidel Castro. Earlier disclosure reports had specified only a Minneapolis-based conservation group as the sponsor.
Golf trips to Scotland are at the center of an expansive federal investigation of Congressional corruption that has resulted in plea agreements from lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon. Scanlon was once a senior aide to former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Texas). During the five and a half years ending in 2005, Delay's office spent about $500,000 of other people's money on travel, topping the report's list. That total is nearly three times the annual salary of a party leader in the House.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) made a $2 million profit last year on the sale of land five and a half miles from a highway project that he helped to finance with targeted federal funds. A House member from California received nearly double what he paid for a four-acre parcel near an Air Force base after securing $8 million for a planned freeway interchange 16 miles away. Another California Congressman obtained funding in last year's highway bill for street improvements near a planned residential and commercial development that he co-owns.
In all three cases, Hastert and Reps. Ken Calvert (R-CA) and Gary Miller (R-CA) say that they were securing funds their home districts wanted badly, and that in no way did the earmarks have any impact on the land values of their investments. But for watchdog groups, the cases---which involve home-district projects funded through narrowly written legislative language--represent a growing problem. Keith Ashdown, Vice President of the group Taxpayers for Common Sense, said:
The sound bites from politicians have always been that they're doing what's best for their districts, but we're starting to see a pattern that looks like they might be doing what's best for their pocketbooks.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), the ranking member on the defense appropriations subcommittee, has a brother, Robert Murtha, whose lobbying firm represents ten companies that received more than $20 million from last year's defense spending bill. The L.A. Times reported:
Clients of the lobbying firm KSA Consulting--whose top officials also include former Congressional aide Carmen V. Scialabba, who worked for Rep. Murtha as a Congressional aide for 27 years--received a total of $20.8 million from the bill.
In early 2004, according to Roll Call, Mr. Murtha "reportedly leaned on U.S. Navy officials to sign a contract to transfer the Hunters Point shipyard to the city of San Francisco." Laurence Pelosi, nephew of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, at the time was an executive of the company that owned the rights to the land. The same article also reported how Murtha has been behind millions of dollars worth of earmarks in defense appropriations bills that went to companies owned by the children of fellow Pennsylvania Democrat Rep. Paul Kanjorski.
Lobbyists have given more than $103 million to members of Congress since 1998, according to a new report released by Public Citizen, a public interest group. The $103 million total is "nearly double" the previous estimates. Influence peddling, more and more, dominates Washington. The Economist notes that,
Individual lawmakers have immense power to take money out of the public purse for the narrowest of purposes. Any one of them can slip an extra paragraph into a bill to secure funding for a project that may have nothing to do with the bill's stated purpose. Such "earmarks" are often inserted at the last moment and pass without scrutiny. . . . Earmarks are an open invitation to corruption, since you only have to incentivise one Congressman to win a fat slice of federal cash, and there are lots of legal ways to do it. So long as the contribution conforms with campaign-finance laws and no legislative favor is explicitly traded, you are probably in the clear.
What is increasingly clear is that as government grows larger, corruption increases accordingly. In The Economist's view,
Lobbyists are not the disease, merely the symptom. Their numbers have doubled in the past five years, to 35,000, because federal spending has grown larger and more wasteful. Earmarks have proliferated . . . from 1,439 in 1995 to 13,997 last year. Politicians of both parties love them, because they allow an individual lawmaker to take credit for delivering a specific goody to his constituents.
If government did not have the power to bestow a variety of benefits and subsidies to particular interest groups, there would be little incentive to purchase influence in Washington. As government has grown larger and larger, the incentive to curry favor with politicians has grown along with it. Editorially, The Washington Examiner points out that:
The federal budget consumes a fifth or more of the nation's annual economic activity, with the bulk of that spending directly influenced by members of Congress and indirectly by their top aides. So why is anybody surprised that the beneficiaries of federal largesse spend millions of dollars skating right up to and sometimes past the letter of the law in order to influence the decision-makers who hold the purse strings?
In the Examiner's view:
The solution is not more regulations and rules that require teams of lawyers to understand and which crafty lobbyists, Congressional aides and other Washington insiders eventually will find new ways to evade. The solution is to reduce the size and scale of government. Only then will there be significantly fewer special interests buying plane and hotel tickets for members of Congress and their staffs.
Traditionally, conservatives have been wary and suspicious of government power. In his book Conservatism in America, Clinton Rossiter declared that:
Government, in the conservative view, is something like fire. Under control, it is the most useful of servants; out of control, it is ravaging tyrant.
In Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman wrote that:
Government is necessary to preserve our freedom, it is an instrument through which we can exercise our freedom; yet by concentrating power in political hands, it is also a threat to freedom . . .
The Bush administration, rather than cutting back government power and spending, has expanded both, to the dismay of many traditional conservatives. David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, laments that under this administration we have seen "a 48 percent increase in spending in just six years," a "federalization of public schools" and "the biggest entitlement since LBJ." In fact, federal spending is outstripping economic growth at a rate unseen in more than half a century. The federal government is currently spending 20.8 cents of every $1 the economy generates, up from 18.5 cents in 2001. That is the most rapid growth during one administration since Franklin Roosevelt, who served 1933-45, during the Depression and World War II.
Economist Milton Friedman says that the past four years of spending increases are "disgraceful" and a betrayal of Republican Party principles. "I'm disgusted by it," the winner of the 1976 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences told the Washington Times:
For the first time in many years, the Republicans have control of Congress. But once in power, the spending limits were off and it's disgraceful because it went against their principles.
As government continues to grow, ethical lapses in Congress are likely to increase, And there is little inclination in the Congress to reform its own lax ethical rules, on the part of either party. Ten Ethics Committee members and their aides have enjoyed 400 privately financed trips worth $1 million in a recent five-year period, according to a study of the Center for Public Integrity. Leading the beneficiaries was Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), now the ranking Democrat on the committee. The "ethics reform" which has thus far been approved by Congress leaves, in place the current system of permissive gift and travel rules, inadequate disclosure, and lax enforcement.
Several members of Congress have offered proposals that would represent genuine reform. Reps. Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Martin Meehan (D-MA) have introduced legislation that would stop lawmakers from borrowing corporate jets at cut-rate prices. It would bar corporations and other private interests that lobby Congress from footing the bill for Congressional travel. It would slow the revolving door by increasing the waiting period for lobbying former colleagues from one year to two. It would create an independent Office of Public Integrity to put some teeth into the enforcement of all these rules. Sadly, there is almost no prospect for the passage of this legislation.
While Congress seems incapable of policing its own ethical standards, it is unlikely to permit anyone else to do so. In March, a Senate committee rejected a bipartisan proposal to establish an independent office to oversee the enforcement of Congressional ethics and lobbying laws, signaling a reluctance to do anything to beef up the enforcement of its rules.
The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs voted 11 to 5 in March to defeat a proposal by its chairman, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and its ranking Democrat, Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) that would have created an office of public integrity to toughen enforcement and combat the loss of reputation Congress has suffered after the guilty plea in January of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Democrats joined Republicans in killing the measure. The vote was described by government watchdog groups as the latest example of Congress's disinterest in real reform.
Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, states that:
Congress's lenders have shown they really don't care if their colleagues were taking bribes or using hookers, much less that the oversight-deprived contracting process is broken. They are happy that there's no ethics process to hold people accountable. If that's not a culture of corruption, I'd like a better definition.
Satirist Mark Russell once said that in Washington we do not really have a conservative party or a liberal party but only "a fund-raising party." As government grows larger, and the benefits to be had by purchasing influence increases, the ethical decline we now observe is likely to continue, probably to escalate. Thus far, voters have not held members of Congress accountable for these excesses. Until they do, little is likely to change. *
"The laws of man may bind him in chains or may put him to death, but they never can make him wise, virtuous, or happy." --John Quincy Adams
Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute of Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.
Starting in May, the 400th anniversary of the first British settlement in America at Jamestown, Virginia got under way.
The Godspeed, a $2.6 million replica of one of the three ships that carried the first settlers to Jamestown in 1607, sailed to six East Coast ports to generate interest in the "America's 400th Anniversary" commemoration. Its first stop was along the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia, only several blocks from this writer's home. In fact, it has special meaning for me because I was a freshman at the College of William and Mary--located only several miles from Jamestown--in 1957 when Jamestown's 350th anniversary was celebrated. It marked the first visit as queen to the U.S. by Queen Elizabeth II.
Governor Timothy Kaine of Virginia said, as the Godspeed set sail, that:
Today is the beginning of 18 months of commemoration of a moment not just critical to the history of Jamestown or Virginia or even America, but we begin to mark a moment that altered the path of the entire world and of human history.
He noted that American traditions of free enterprise, representative democracy and cultural diversity began at Jamestown.
Thirteen years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, a group of 104 English men and boys made the four-and-a-half month voyage to the banks of the James River to form a settlement in Virginia. Their goal of making a profit from the resources of the New World for the Virginia company's shareholders in London quickly took a back seat to pure survival as they confronted the harsh realities of their life in their new home.
The new Godspeed is 88 feet long with a 7-foot draft and a 71-foot mainmast. The ship has three masts with six square-shaped sails made of Oceanus cloth. The mainmast flies the historic British flag from the era, which combined the English Cross of St. George with the Scottish cross of St. Andrew. The hull has been decorated in a red and white diamond pattern, with a red and white half-diamond pattern on the beakhead. Erich Septh, master of the Godspeed, says, "The hull shape requires a greater sail area and the sails can be operated together or individually. It very closely recreates the Godspeed."
The original Godspeed set sail from London on December 20, 1606, for a four-month journey across the Atlantic Ocean. The operation was financed by the Virginia Company of London, a start-up venture with a business model based on extracting profits from the New World. With an initial stock offering of 10 pounds and 12 shillings, investors knew that the company was a high-risk proposition. The memory of Sir Walter Raleigh's disastrous "lost Colony" was still a fresh memory, and England's record of failure served to bolster its image as a third-rate colonial power. Yet the promise of gold and silver--instant wealth--proved to be an almost irresistible force.
The Susan Constant was the flagship of the Virginia Company's expedition, carrying 71 people. It was armed with cannons for protection against pirates, leading the way for the other two ships, the Godspeed, which carried 52, and the Discovery, which carried a mere 21. Unlike Raleigh's expedition, this voyage would include no women. About half of the passengers were gentlemen, members of the upper class who were seeking adventure and riches.
"The men had come to the enterprise with a range of motives, and their hopes and fantasies would have run likewise," writes historian David Price. "Most of the travelers were on board because they--like the Virginia Company itself--expected quick treasure."
Historian Samuel Eliot Morison writes that,
The colonists owned no property; they were working for stockholders overseas. Twice a day the men were marched to the fields or woods by beat of drum, twice marched back and into church. They led an almost hopeless existence, for there seemed to be no future. . . . No empire could have developed from a colony of this sort. . . . The first factor in the transition was tobacco. Its value for export was discovered in 1613 when John Rolfe, who married the Indian princess Pocohontas, imported seed from the West Indies, crossed it with the local Indian grown tobacco, and produced a smooth smoke which captured the English market. Virginia then went tobacco-mad; it was even grown in the streets of Jamestown.
Beyond this, reports Morison,
. . . the institution of private property was the second factor that saved Virginia. When, after seven years, the terms of the Company's hired men expired, those who chose to stay became tenant farmers and later were given their land outright. This made a tremendous difference. As Captain John Smith put it, "When our people were fed out of the common store, and laboured jointly together, glad was he who could slip from his labour, or slumber over his taske, he cared not how; nay, the most honest among them would hardly take so much true paines in a week, as now for themselves they will doe in a day." By 1617, a majority of the hardy, acclimated survivors were tenants. Within ten years tenant plantations extended 20 miles along the James River, and total European population of Virginia was about a thousand.
A third factor that ensured the success of Virginia was political, in the broadest sense. Captain John Smith put it, one sentence: "No man will go from hence to have lesse freedome there than here." In the English conception of freedom the first and most important was "a government of laws, not men." The Company ordered Governor Sir George Yeardley to abolish arbitrary rule, introduce English common law and due process, encourage private property, and summon a representative assembly. This assembly would have power with the appointed council, to pass local laws, subject to the Company's veto.
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is serving as honorary chair of the national Jamestown commemoration, declares that,
The system of government that we have today was an outgrowth of those early settlements, and so I thought the anniversary was a worthy reason to try to remind citizens of our history. In the United States today, public schools have pretty much stopped teaching government, civics and American history. It gets tossed in occasionally, but it's no longer a major focus for children. That's a great concern to me because I truly don't know how long we can survive as a strong nation if our younger citizens don't understand the nature of our government, why it was formed that way, and how they can participate and should participate as citizens. That's something you have to learn. It just isn't handed down in the genetic pool.
The present effort to replace the teaching of our traditional culture and literature with "multiculturalism" and the attacks upon the work of "dead white males" that is implicit in this assault upon the so-called traditional "Eurocentric" curriculum overlook one important fact: the United States has a culture of its own, and it is this American culture that has attracted men and women of every race, nationality and religion. They have come to our shores for something we had and they did not. Few have been disappointed.
What is this American culture that has been so appealing? In his thoughtful book America's British Culture, Russell Kirk, one of our foremost men of letters, points out that contemporary America is a product of the long evolution of law, governmental structure, religion, philosophy and literature of the large Western world and, more particularly, Great Britain, through which this Western culture in its British form reached the New World.
Dr. Kirk notes that,
So dominant has the British culture been in America . . . from the 17th century to the present, that if somehow the British elements could be eliminated from all the cultural patterns of the United States, why, Americans would be left with no coherent culture in public or private life.
In four major fashions, Kirk points out, the British experience, for more than a dozen generations, has shaped the United States.
In Kirk's view,
The first of these . . . is the English language and the wealth of great literature in that language. . . . The second . . . is the rule of law, American common law and positive law being derived chiefly from English law. This body of law gives fuller protection to the individual person than does the legal system of any other country. The third of these ways is representative government, patterned upon British institutions that began to develop in medieval times, and patterned especially upon "the mother of Parliaments" at Westminster. The fourth . . . is a body of mores, or moral habits and beliefs and conventions and customs, joined to certain intellectual disciplines. These compose an ethical heritage . . .
The very language of our current discussions about the law--the "rights" of the accused, the "right" to privacy, the presumption of innocence, "equality" under the law--all are derived very specifically from the British experience, and can be found in no other legal tradition.
The English common law, Kirk writes,
. . . gives to those who come within its jurisdiction privileges unknown in civil or Roman law, where generally the interest of the State looms first. Under the common law, for instance, a defendant cannot be compelled to testify if he chooses to remain silent; he is saved from self-incrimination. A complex series of writs, under common law, has made access to justice relatively easy for the individual. No person may be imprisoned without a warrant, and the accused must be tried speedily. . . . In European civil law . . . the accused person was presumed to be guilty as charged by a prosecutor; the judge determined the issue to be settled in a case at law. . . . But under the common law of England, the plaintiff and the defendant, or the prosecutor and the defendant, are regarded as adversaries, on an equal footing . . . the judge remains neutral. A defendant in a criminal case is presumed to be innocent unless the evidence proves him to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The English common law is founded upon the assertion of the supremacy of law. As Bracton and other medieval scholars in the law expressed it, even the king himself was "under law." And when the colonists declared independence, it was not to be free of English law, but, quite to the contrary, because the government in London had denied them their traditional rights as Englishmen.
Thus, the First Continental Congress' Declaration and Resolves (Oct. 14, 1774) declared that
. . . the respective colonies are entitled to the common law of England, and more especially the great and estimable privilege of being tried by their peers of that vicinage, according to the course of that law.
The patriots were asserting their claim to enjoy what Edmund Burke called "the charted rights of Englishmen"--not the abstract claims of perfect liberty that would be asserted 15 years later in France.
The chartered rights went back to the Magna Carta. In his Commentaries on the Laws of England--an American edition of which was published in Philadelphia in 1771-72--William Blackstone found in the Magna Carta the expression of three absolute rights: life, liberty and property. He traced back to the Great Charter the doctrine of due process of law. The ancient right to trial by a jury of one's peers was closely examined by Blackstone. American colonists cited Blackstone for authority that no tax might be imposed upon them, constitutionally, without the act and consent of their own legislature.
The fact that the majority of present-day Americans cannot trace their individual ancestry to England bears little relationship to the British nature of American culture. Russell Kirk argues that:
Two centuries after the first U.S. census was taken, nearly every race and nationality in the world had contributed to the American population, but the culture of America remains British. . . . The many millions of newcomers to the U.S. have accepted integration into the British-descended American culture with little protest, and often with great willingness.
Sadly, our schools have moved away from teaching our history. In 1991, for example, the Social Studies Syllabus Review Committee of the State of New York issued a report embracing the notion of "multicultural education" rejecting "previous ideals of assimilation to an Anglo-American model." Professor Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., a member of the Syllabus Review Committee, strongly dissented. He declared:
The underlying philosophy of that report, as I read it, is that ethnicity is the defining experience for most Americans, that ethnic ties are permanent and indelible, and that the division into ethnic groups establishes the basic structure of American society and that a main objective of public education should be the protection, strengthening, celebration and perpetuation of ethnic origins and identities. Implicit in the report is the classification of all Americans according to ethnic and racial criteria.
Professor Schlesinger points out that America's language and political purposes and institutions are derived from Britain: "To pretend otherwise is to falsify history. To teach otherwise is to mislead our students." He adds that:
. . . The British legacy has been modified, enriched and reconstituted by the absorption of non-Anglo cultures and traditions as well as the distinctive experiences of American life.
Dr. Schlesinger concluded by asking his colleagues:
. . . to consider what kind of nation we will have if we press further down the road of cultural separatism and ethnic fragmentation, if we institutionalize the classification of our citizens by ethnic and racial criteria and if we abandon our historic commitment to an American identity. What will hold our people together then?
Since those days, things have accelerated in this negative direction, as much of our current debate over immigration illustrates. In many schools, bi-lingual education has replaced the teaching of English to newcomers. In most schools, the teaching of our history has been downgraded. If we do not transmit our own history, culture and values to our students--particularly to those who have come from other places with other traditions and values--what future can we foresee for the American society?
The 400th anniversary of America's beginnings at Jamestown should provide us with a much-needed impetus to review our teaching of history and our transmission of American culture and values to the next generation. After all, it all really began at Jamestown in 1607.
Marjorie Meyer Arsht, now 91, has led an extraordinary life. Her new memoir, All the Way from Yoakum (Texas A & M Press), tells the story of a remarkable woman who became a leading light in Houston and Texas politics as one of the founders of the modern Republican Party of Texas. In a long life filled with both tragedy and joy, she remained steadfast in her determination to make a contribution.
Former President George H. W. Bush said this of Marjorie Arsht:
As President of the United States, I was privileged to meet kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, and even a few dictators and despots along the way. But I'm not sure any of them compared to Marjorie Arsht, a life force in Texas politics for as long as I can remember. Marjorie was a true pioneer, opening doors for women, and for Republicans-a rare breed in Texas before she came along. However, until I read All the Way from Yoakum, even I did not fully understand what Marjorie was about. In this revealing, funny and poignant memoir, Marjorie shares all the joys and heartaches of her remarkable life, proving what Barbara and I already knew: this girl from Yoakum is truly a Texas legend.
In 1914, Marjorie Meyer was born in the small town of Yoakum, Texas. She writes that:
Yoakum today remains much as it was when my parents arrived, an unpretentious little South Texas town, located 35 miles south of Interstate 10 between Houston and San Antonio. Over the last half-century, the population of approximately 4,000 souls has remained relatively constant. The town reflects that same measured pace of living it enjoyed through its past.
Marjorie's was one of the few Jewish families in Yoakum:
No Jewish house of worship ever existed there, and only two or three Jewish families ever lived in Yoakum at one time. On the holy days of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana, my father took me to Houston or San Antonio. . . . The tradition of both my parents' families . . . was distinctly Reform. . . . Many of the old traditions, such as dietary laws and ritualistic circumcision, were no longer considered mandatory . . .
Growing up in Yoakum, Arsht recalls,
For a couple of reasons, I think it was possible for me to remain largely unaware of prejudice against Jews. One is that our practice of Reform Judaism did not appear markedly different from the variations of religious practice common to Christian denominations. The other is that I often went to church services with my friends. If I were spending the night at someone's house on Saturday night, I would go to church with her and her family on Sunday morning. I frequently accompanied my friend Nina Vance, a Presbyterian, to her Wednesday night prayer meeting. (Later Nina founded and for many years directed Houston's distinguished Alley Theater.) Also, while in high school, I went to the Catholic convent for music and French lessons, often attending a Catholic Mass. The diversity of religious experiences helped me develop the tolerance necessary to understand that the basis for all religions is essentially the same.
A prodigy at school, Marjorie, in a much more flexible educational era, graduated from high school at fourteen and entered Rice Institute, as Rice University as then called. She arrived in Houston, where family members, who owned Foley Brothers department store, welcomed her. "On my first day at Rice," she reports,
I was scared to death. I knew the names of the buildings from a map in the catalogue. Besides Lovett Hall, where I stood, there were only a few structures--the biology building, the chemistry building, a dormitory for boys, and Cohen House, which looked like a home. Uncle George and Aunt Ester Cohen, my father's sister, together with Uncle George's sister, Gladys, had given Cohen House to Rice Institute in honor of their mother and father, Agnes and Robert I. Cohen of Galveston. It still serves as the faculty club.
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Rice at 18, Marjorie was on her way to graduate study at the Sorbonne in Paris. Before leaving Texas, she had been given strict orders to visit her paternal grandfather's relatives in Strasbourg:
When my grandfather, Achille Meyer, was born in Wolfsheim, a suburb of Strasbourg, the province was German. . . . More observant of Jewish ritual than my family, they had prayers and candles and the "breaking of the bread" on Friday night. . . . We visited Wolfsheim as promised and discussed the war clouds looking over Europe. I knew that trouble was brewing because clairvoyant Jews were already seeking refuge in Paris. But, for me, war seemed so remote as to be almost unimaginable.
When Germany marched into Poland on September 1, 1939, a date that was also the first anniversary of Marjorie's marriage to Raymond Arsht, she remembers that,
Our thoughts, of course, were for my relatives, who were in grave danger. . . . Very early in the war, the Germans overran Strasbourg, that charming city of joy and laughter. Poor, sturdy Gustave was shot in the street as a hostage; his wife, Sarah, and two daughters went to concentration camps. Storm troopers invaded Arthur's home and shot him, Francine and their daughter in cold blood. Their son was swimming and escaped, but was later killed in a railway accident. Mathieu Dreyfus, a diabetic, died in the south of France from a lack of insulin. We didn't know then that Andrew and Paulette, with their infant daughter Danielle, had been hidden by a French farm family in their barn. At the time, I felt we would never see them or Strasbourg again.
After returning from Paris, Marjorie entered a master's degree program at Columbia University. She taught school in Yoakum and, after her marriage, moved to Houston. She was active as a member of Temple Beth Israel, the oldest Reform congregation in Texas, and was a firm opponent of Jewish nationalism, arguing that Judaism was a religion of universal values, not a nationality, and that Americans of the Jewish faith were Americans by nationality and Jews by religion, just as their fellow citizens were Presbyterians or Methodists or Catholics. Her views led her to a leadership position in the American council for Judaism, which promoted her classical Reform philosophy.
It was as president of Temple Beth El's Sisterhood that Majorie was led to her role in Texas politics. Each year, one of the programs was reserved for public affairs and featured a speaker. In 1960, two years before her tenure, Majorie
. . . noticed in the temple bulletin that the next program would present a Republican, Bob Overstreet, and a Democrat, Wally Miller, both of whom were candidates for the Texas legislature. At the time, the Republican Party in Texas was so small that a state convention could have been held in almost anyone's living room. I had been voting Republican for many years, ever since President Roosevelt took the U.S. off the gold standard when I was in school in France. I had watched then, with horror, as the value of my money declined by more than a third overnight. Before I went to Europe, I had been too young to vote, but when I returned, my first residential vote was cast for Wendell Willkie. . . . My father had been a Democrat's Democrat. He fed me the Constitution at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Arguments and debate were in my blood, along with my father's philosophy that no opinion is worth having if it can't be defended or promulgated. By the time I became president of the Sisterhood, my father's conservative Democrat philosophy had become the Republican Party platform.
After hearing Republican Overstreet and Democrat Miller, Marjorie made her first political contribution, a check to Overstreet for five dollars. "That one check put me on what few lists existed at the time," she states.
Bob Overstreet lost his election, as did every other GOP candidate at the local level. Texans had become accustomed to voting for Republicans nationally, but they remained Democrats at the state level. They contended that a two-party state wasn't needed because Texas actually had two parties, one liberal and one conservative, all within the Democratic Party, of course. . . . I received call after call to help with one project or another. I became a Republican activist at the local level.
The formation of the John Birch Society in 1958 and the controversy it engendered caused Marjorie to contribute an article to The Houston Press. Her thesis was:
Concern over the Birch Society should force everyone to examine the reasons for its birth. People who support it are reacting to the sharply leftward trend of government policies. . . . Extremism breeds extremism. Such a problem existed after the War Between the States, when Southerners, having no recourse against the abuses of Reconstruction, formed the Ku Klux Klan. All such organizations eventually fall into disrepute because they are extra-judicial. We should address ourselves to reclaiming balance in our institutions and public policies in order to negate the impetus for creating groups such as the John Birch Society.
After her article appeared, Marjorie was called by Bob Overstreet who said that, "John Tower saw the editorial you wrote and asked me to bring you to Austin next week to meet him." Tower, then in the midst of his run for the U.S. Senate, began using Marjorie's arguments in addressing all questions posed to him about the Birch Society. Writes Marjorie:
That association with John Tower was the beginning of a lifelong friendship, and I became an integral part of every one of the Tower campaigns, holding high-level volunteer positions. In 1961, Tower, the little professor from Wichita Falls, defeated the very conservative, crusty West Texan rancher William Blakely, with the help of liberal Democrats who wanted to purge their party of conservatives.
In 1962, Marjorie ran as a Republican for the Texas state legislature. She received the endorsements of all three Houston newspapers, the Press, the Post and the Chronicle, as well as The Informer, then Houston's leading black newspaper. The Informer told its readers that "Mrs. Arsht is a Republican and a conservative, but not a squinty-eyed reactionary. . . . She stands for sound, responsible two party government in Texas."
Of the election results, Marjorie states,
I received 48.9 per cent of the vote countywide, which was amazing. West of Main Street, I ran ahead of the governor. Part of my platform had been a plea for single-member districts. Had such lines been drawn at the time, my life might well have taken an entirely different turn.
Recalling the political atmosphere in Texas at that time, Marjorie points out that Republicans were traditionally less conservative than many Democrats and the party was opposed to segregation, which many Democrats embraced. Slowly, right-wing Democrats began to join the Republican Party, creating conflict between "Old," more moderate and racially inclusive Republicans, and "new," far more conservative members.
In 1963, Jimmy Bertron, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party--who Marjorie calls one of "us"--called:
"Marjorie, I don't want it generally known just now, but I'm moving to Florida. I think I've found a good replacement for us, so we could get a head start in warding off a takeover of the chairmanship in a special election. Would you bring some of our precinct people together to meet him?" Marjorie asked, "Who is it?" "His name is George Bush. His wife's name is Barbara. They're newcomers to Houston, and you're going to love them." An evening reception at the Arsht home represented the beginning of George Bush's campaign for county chairman.
It also was, Marjorie declares,
. . . the beginning of a long and rewarding friendship. Since then I have repeatedly been asked, "Did you have any idea at that time that you were dealing with someone who would eventually become President of the United States." My answer has always been the same: "The Bushes were charming. We were very pleased but the fact is we were merely looking for a county chairman. And we were delighted that we felt we had a winner."
When George Bush ran for the U.S. Senate in 1964 against Ralph Yarborough, Marjorie was asked to host a dinner for black Republicans at her home, something unprecedented in Texas at that time. Her description of that event paints a picture of a society undergoing dramatic change, with Marjorie herself at the forefront:
On the evening of the dinner, Craig Peper said to Raymond Arsht, "I want to tell you who is coming this evening" (a few years later I completely identified with the movie "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner") "George Bush has invited a black lawyer from Washington and some of his professional black friends in Houston for dinner tonight. It should be an interesting evening." Ray looked as though he were speaking a foreign language, and then he turned to me, "Have you lost your mind?" Then he looked toward the front of the house, "Do you realized the front of this house is all glass? "Without waiting for me to answer, he moved to the front to draw the draperies, and then realized that wouldn't really do any good since it was summer and still light outside. I turned to explain to Ray who the other guests were so he would know there were others of our friends also involved. "Do they know who's invited" When I nodded, he said with a pained smile, "So I'm the only one surprised?" I nodded again.
Around that time the doorbell rang, and the Bushes came in with their elegant, tall, handsome guest, Grant Reynolds. Ray's innate good manners prevented our guest from knowing he was in a state of shock. As the others entered, another unforeseen circumstance caused Ray to shed his bewilderment. Although I had decided on a buffet dinner, I had not anticipated the response of Harold Brown, my black chauffeur and bartender, and Annie Turner, my cook. They were totally baffled. They had never served a black person as a special guest in a white family's home before and both suffered a kind of "brain paralysis." One guest asked for a Bloody Mary, and when Ray saw Harold reach for a small wine glass, he knew that he had to help behind the bar, which took his mind off the guests milling around the lanai.
There is, of course, much in the memoir about Marjorie's private life, her happy marriage to Ray, who was active in the oil business, and the tragic loss of her oldest daughter Margot, to a virulent form of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), which also took the lives of two grandchildren. Her two surviving children, Alan and Leslye, have been the joy of her life, along with her grandchildren.
After her husband's sudden and untimely death, Marjorie discovered that a series of business reverses had placed her in a fragile economic situation. She went back to teaching, then into real estate. At the same time, Texas Governor Bill Clements named her to the board of Texas State University, an historically black institution in Houston. She made friends with another member of the board, Maurice Barksdale, a black Republican from Ft. Worth who was an authority on public housing. He was named Deputy Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development by President Reagan and in 1983 Marjorie, then a 69-year-old grandmother, went to Washington as his speechwriter.
In 1988, Marjorie was selected as a delegate from Texas to the Republican National Convention that nominated George Bush for president. Bob Schieffer on CBS interviewed Marjorie as the oldest delegate but, she notes, "I heard later that another woman was really older than I but had not given her correct age on the form."
Writing in The New York Times, (Nov. 10, 1988), Maureen Dowd points out that:
Mrs. Arsht first introduced George and Barbara Bush to local political leaders in her living room twenty-five years ago. . . . Marjorie Arsht talked approvingly of the next Secretary of State . . . "Jimmy Baker grew up here. . . . I knew him when he was in short pants."
This book is a moving account of Marjorie's life. This writer has known Marjorie Arsht for nearly fifty years and much of the material reveals sides of her life previously known to few outside her immediate family. It is, beyond this, a document of historical significance, portraying an era of tremendous change and transformation, particularly in the South. All of us can truly draw inspiration from this story. *
"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters." --Daniel Webster