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POLITICS OCTOBER 10, 2005

Notebook

BULL CONNOR BULL
Last Thursday, at a New York town-hall meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus, Representative Charles Rangel took the stage vacated minutes earlier by Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and declared, “George Bush is our Bull Connor.” This comment is preposterous enough on its own—Bull Connor, the Birmingham police chief who turned hoses and dogs on civil rights marchers in 1963 and became a symbol of Southern racism, would never have had a black secretary of state. To equate Bush’s faltering attitude toward blacks during Katrina with Connor’s brazen, unrelenting bigotry is an insult to those activists who endured Connor’s persecutions. But, incredibly, instead of repudiating Rangel, various black leaders have opined that his comparison is insulting—to Bull Connor. “I think that’s an insult to Connor,” New York City Councilman Charles Barron told The New York Sun. “What [Bush] did in New Orleans [is] worse than what Bull Connor did in his entire career as a racist in the South.” Others agreed, dragging the conversation down to breathtaking lows: Al Sharpton remarked, “We’ve gone from fire hoses to levees,” and Representative Major Owens pointed out that “Bull Connor didn’t even pretend that he cared about African Americans. You have to give it to George Bush for being even more diabolical.”

There is a rich and horrible irony here: Martin Luther King Jr. once said of Bull Connor that he “didn’t know history.” But today it is Rangel and his defenders—who lay claim to the mantle of the civil rights movement—who don’t know history. Or, rather, they believe bad history makes for good politics. It doesn’t. It makes for demagoguery. King would have known the difference.

 

MASSACHUSETTS IN LAW
Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney always had a good sense of humor. He had to, of course, as the socially conservative, Mormon governor of a state with a reputation for being the most liberal in the country. In fact, Romney once seemed to revel in telling jokes at his own expense. During a speech to a heavily Democratic audience, he once jested, “As a Mormon, I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman and a woman and a woman.”

Such self-deprecation helped win over Massachusetts voters. So, too, did his effusive expressions of state pride. He said that “Massachusetts is such a great state and has so much opportunity.” He even stood up for Boston when Rick Santorum blamed its “liberalism” for the sex-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

But, suddenly, something has changed. In front of a Republican audience in South Carolina, he said, “Being a conservative Republican in Massachusetts is a bit like being a cattle rancher at a vegetarian convention.” The Washington Post reported that Romney treated his home state “like a vaudeville comic would use his mother-in-law: as a laugh line.”

What gives? Consider a statement from one of his spokespeople: “He’s testing the waters. It’s not a full-time testing of the waters.” That’s right, Romney is gearing up for a possible 2008 presidential run. But he shouldn’t get ahead of himself. People in Massachusetts are starting to resent his not-full-time “testing of the waters.” And Romney should consider the possibility of his mother-in-law haunting him during next year’s gubernatorial election.

 

PRESCRIPTION UNFILLED
It was fitting that Lester Crawford’s resignation as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should prove, like most decisions of his short tenure, baffling. In an e-mail to FDA staff, Crawford declined to state a reason for quitting, writing simply, “It is time, at the age of 67, to step aside.” That explanation, as The New York Times put it, “sounds preposterous.” More likely, many thought, Crawford had been asked to step down after becoming— as chronicled in these pages—a lightning rod for criticism of the FDA in the wake of controversies involving its approval of dangerous arthritis medications and faulty heart monitors and its inaction regarding the over-the-counter sale of emergency contraception. Alternatively, at least one government official suggested to the Times that his resignation might be tied to a failure to disclose financial information during his Senate confirmation. (Crawford’s wife denied both suggestions.)

Interest groups and congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle welcomed Crawford’s departure as an opportunity for reform. But Crawford’s replacement, National Cancer Institute (NCI) Director Andrew von Eschenbach, has already raised questions, since the NCI supports the development of drugs that the FDA must review. And any hopes that the new commissioner would at least put an end to Crawford’s habit of sending mixed signals have been similarly dashed. Von Eschenbach announced that he had a “100 percent commitment” to both jobs, but also reportedly suggested that he might stay only as an “interim” commissioner, until a permanent replacement is found. Maybe they should call Mike Brown. We hear he’s looking for work.

 

HOME NEWS: ADIEU
In 1983, this magazine was transformed. No, not by the debates about the Sandinistas or the Pershings. In that year, Laura Obolensky came to work here and enlivened the place for generations of writers, editors, and interns. Eventually she came to bear the esoteric and somewhat intimidating title of “editorial-corporate coordinator,” a sign of the extent to which she made herself essential to all dimensions of our enterprise. But her professionalism and her inexhaustible humaneness are not all that have endeared her to her colleagues. Laura was our in-house prosecutor against parochialism of all sorts. A woman of uncommon cultivation, a citizen of the world, she vivaciously expanded the horizons of all who worked with her. We will miss her sorely—her restless and amusing intelligence, her rancid cigarette fumes, her talent for friendship, her pathetic agitprop attempts to deny and to disguise the utter bankruptcy of all things French. We thank her from the bottom of our hearts. And we want her to know this: Ici, tu seras toujours chez toi.

 

DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
Still Wondering (September 5) incorrectly stated that Stranger Than Paradise was Jim Jarmusch’s first feature film. Actually, it was Permanent Vacation. We regret the error.

This article originally ran in the October 10, 2005 issue of the magazine.

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posted in: politics, birmingham, new orleans, new york, new york city, al sharpton, barack obama, charles barron, charles rangel, connor bull, george bush, hillary clinton, laura obolensky, lester crawford, martin luther king jr., mitt romney, food and drug administration, massachusetts

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