Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Kos and Me, Part II

Kos has created quite a stir with his Washington Post article on Hillary Clinton.
Reaction from the centrist slice of the blogosphere is as expected. You can read about the larger issues here, here and here.

Instead of rehashing what has been said elsewhere, I want to focus on a particular detail.

Kos on Clinton and Jesse Jackson:

Clinton's third way failed miserably. It killed off the Jesse Jackson wing of the Democratic Party and, despite its undivided control of the party apparatus,
delivered nothing.

Joe Gandelman disagrees:

Actually, Bill Clinton didn't kill off Jesse Jackson's wing of the Democratic party: Jesse Jackson killed it off due to his hubris ("Hymietown"), lack of overwhelming proven clout at the polls, his running into a buzzsaw of bad publicity due to books and articles about how he operated with his organization,
and his personal life becoming tabloid-fodder. Not Clinton's doing.

Not surprisingly, I agree with Joe but I will admit that for me it is more personal.

As I previously recounted, I was part of the relief effort during the devastating 1994 Albany floods.

Growing up just 35 miles south of the city, I knew Albany. I knew the scars of racial tension had never fully healed. It was a city divided geographically by the Flint River and socio-economically by chasms of poverty and race.

In 1994, the disparity never seemed more evident. Rising waters from the Flint River nearly wiped out entire African American neighborhoods. It is a sad legacy of poverty that many times the poor are relegated to the sections of cities prone to flooding. However, the flooding was so devastating, so far beyond imagination that it reached into every part of the city. In one way or another, everyone was affected.

In the face of catastrophe, for a short time, in a city where race was everything, race no longer mattered. The city of Albany faced extinction. There was real possibility that it would never recover. Black, white, hispanic all united to save their city. It wasn't about race. It was about being a citizen of Albany.

Then Jesse came to town.

The seamier side of natural disasters is they almost always generate folklore and legend. In Albany the whispers soon began. Georgia Power, who controlled the dam just north of the city, had diverted water away from white neighborhoods while sacrificing the black neighborhoods downstream.

Anyone I talked to knew it was nonsense. Everyone knew that Georgia Power had fully opened their flood gates only after the flood water had topped the dam by ten feet. More evidence lay in the flooded streets of mostly white middle class neighborhoods surrounding Kinchafoonee Creek. The Flint River crested at over 43 feet above normal level. Water reached over a mile beyond its banks. To think that anyone could have directed this onslaught was to ponder the absurd.

Then Jesse came to town.

Jackson flew in to hear the concerns of the citizens. After hearing the stories of the dam and the unprecedented destruction on the south side, he promised to expose the truth. He promised investigations. He promised justice.

With one whirlwind stop, he shattered the tenous unity that held together a city on the brink.

Weeks later, when Jackson returned for a second town hall, extra security was required. There had been several death threats. The old ways had returned. Lines had been redrawn. Us against them. All undone in such a short time.

Months later, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division concluded there had been no possibility of saving the south side and there was no evidence that any water had been diverted.

Jesse Jackson had no comment. He was elsewhere.

Bill Clinton didn't lose Jesse Jackson. He was lost every time someone witnessed his vampiric tendency to show up at a tragedy. He was lost every time someone witnessed his need to place pride before principle. For me, he was lost one hot day in Albany, Ga.

I believe Kos wants to inflame the activist wing of the Democratic Party by invoking one of its greatest firebrands. For some of us, that particular flame only generates cold.

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