When people ask me who I believe are the best American fiction writers in their prime, I mention three names: Walter Mosley
, Barbara Kingsolver
and David Liss
. Mosley's novels about Los Angeles in the period of the 1940s through the 1960s (the Easy Rawlins and Fearless Jones/Paris Minton series) are extraordinary in their insight, prose and wisdom. Recent faves of mine are "Bad Boy Brawly Brown"
and "Little Scarlet."
However, when Mosely writes non-fiction, it's like he's Superman standing next to Kryptonite
. Mosley's last non-fiction book, "Workin' on the Chain Gang: Shaking Off the Dead Hand of History"
was incoherent when it wasn't shallow. Now, Mosley has written an article in the Nation entitled "A New Black Power"
that makes him seem like he's been sleeping for the past 15 years. Say Mosley:
"What I'm talking about here is the beginning of an American Evolution, a movement that will create a series of political interest groups that will transform our two-party system into a kind of virtual parliament. We could construct smaller political groups based on specific interests. There could be Black Party
Congress members from Watts, Harlem, the Motor City and a dozen other inner-city bastions. All we have to do is have a fair representation in the House of Representatives to have an extraordinary impact on the wheels of government." (Emphasis added)
In the article's very next paragraph, he proceeds to tell us it's okay to have "white power" groups and other identity group parties, Mosley writes:
"Farmers, women, the aged, angry young white men
and, for that matter, true Republicans might create their own small parties/interest groups. These groups would not only have direct representation in the House of Representatives but would also begin to make deals with those people running for senator and President, police chief and mayor." (Emphasis added)
Does Mosley think there is already a parliamentary system? Does he think the structure of our mass media wouldn't end up creating more Republican Party seats as progressives and other disaffected voters splinter?
Why this proposal sounds like something any rational, well-informed human being would promote at a time when fundamentalist Christians in the US are pushing Americans to say "Merry Christmas" and protect embryos at the expense of live, after-birth children; when fundamentalist Muslims riot over a cartoon depiction of the Prophet Mohammad while screaming with orgasmic lust over cartoons in various Arab nations' newspapers that depict Jews and Judaism in ways that Nazis would approve, etc. is something the editors at the Nation might have asked Mosely before publishing this naive, embarrassing article. And, practically speaking, how does Mosley think his proposal will be any more successful than the Green Party or any other third party has been in this wedge-driven political era?
Sadly, Mosley's article gets even worse. Mosley naively believes an official or even unofficial "Black Party" will promote progressive values, as if the African-Americans who would more likely flock to such a party would somehow not be sympathetic to Louis Farrakhan
"black nationalists" rhetoric that will end up skewing right wing in the sense of "We're going alone and forget whitey and the queers!" Here's a real-world analogy: Look how Pat Buchanan and his nativist followers took over and then destroyed
what remained of Perot's Reform Party. Mosley writes:
"What we need for this group is a short list of demands that define our political aspirations at any given point. These demands might change over time, but at any given moment we should have no more than eight expectations of the candidates or legislation we vote for. I am not positioning myself as the leader or even as a central designer of this group, but let me put forward a list of possible demands that our unit might embrace:
(1) A commitment to revamping the legal system and the penal system to make sure that citizens of color are getting proper treatment and that all inmates are given the utmost chance to rehabilitate and re-establish themselves in society. (This rehabilitation will include suffrage for all ex-convicts who have served their sentences.)
(2) An expectation that there be equal distribution of all public wealth and services among the citizens, no matter their income, race or history.
(3) A demand that a true accounting for the impact of slavery be compiled by all government bodies in authority over records that give this information.
(4) A universal healthcare system.
(5) A retirement system that will assure older Americans the ability to spend their later years in relative comfort and security.
(6) A commitment to assemble a general history of our nation in both its glory and its shame.
I left 7 and 8 blank because I think you should fill these out. This is, after all, a communal effort meant to bring our intelligences together."
I really winced at that last part--he "left 7 and 8 blank..." Was he channeling Shirley MacLaine or some '60s hippie when he wrote this article?
But let's look at his platforms 1-6. The economic platforms are no different than most progressive Dems and Greens would and should support. In fact, many Americans support this in poll after poll over the years. Still, that platform hasn't been implemented because too many Americans won't step out of the two party system ("If I vote for a third party, then the 'other side' will win...") and because the official Democratic Party organizations are still taking too much money from K Street type lobbyists (not Abramoff, thank goodness for little things...). This continues to dilute the message. The web, however, as other Nation articles have stated over the past two years, continues to grow as an organizing and fundraising tool--and this is starting to have an effect, though there is much work to be done in both organizing and fundraising.
What personally galled me were Mosley's remarks in belittling the memory of Robert F. Kennedy, Malcom X and Martin Luther King. Mosley writes:
"I've been told so many times that the problem in this world is that so-and-so died too young. A couple of years ago I heard another public figure say that it was because Robert Kennedy died that American liberalism lost its way. What might Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X have achieved if assassins' bullets had not cut them down in their prime?
"If only we had leaders now like we did back then, so many lament. It's hard for me to write these words without a hint of sarcasm. Nostalgia belongs in the retirement home. Any organization, movement or people who rely solely (or even greatly) on a charismatic leader for their strength and their motivation are in the most precarious position possible.
"'Cut off the head and the body will fall,' their enemies murmur. This is a way to let those enemies dissolve your context. Just put all your belief in one leader, and sooner or later you will be lost."
Excuse me, Walter, those leaders did have promise and made millions and millions of people believe and do things that could have been immensely successful had they lived--RFK particularly as he was the last person who could have held the New Deal coalition together. And when they were killed, particularly RFK, many people lost faith in the system and their ability to change things. The reason I wrote my alternative history about RFK surviving 1968 was to help people see a way to revitalize
our best values and to learn from RFK's, FDR's and Martin Luther King's legacies. Let's put it this way: Those who persuade the majority of Americans as to how our nation should see our past have the best chance of changing the future.
Mosley's article offers nothing but platitudes and empty rhetoric as if African-Americans would primarily be better off if they broke from the Democratic Party. The truth is that blacks and particularly poor blacks won't be better off. What will make most Americans better off is if the bloggers continue to agitate and fundraise, organize mass emails to Congresspeople, and helping Andy Stern revitalize labor unions here and abroad.
Final comment: I support Mosley's call for a historically and economically based analysis as to how slavery made trillions for the white elite in the US in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, "reparations for slavery" are silly as most white folks today in the US can't trace their "American" ancestry before 1890. Instead, we should, as a matter of national pride, support rebuilding our cities and rural areas with a primary emphasis on improving the economic well-being of the people who live there. Spending money to train people to work in higher tech industries, reformig labor laws to help workers help themselves against management, using tariffs to restore our manufacturing base, and investing in research and development along a variety of lines, including biological-medical, environmental, and general health, are real policy solutions. Notice, though, that I am discussing policy proposals through a lens of national pride and strength of community--not color of skin, religion, age, or ethnic heritage. That is the essence and legacy of the New Deal, RFK, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others we have lost including Paul Wellstone...a legacy to help us fight today and for the rest of the 21st century.