Friday, September 28, 2007

Jackie Robinson and the four empty lecterns

We can say one thing for certain about the four top contenders for the '08 Republican presidential nomination: They are all men of conviction. They decided many weeks ago to boycott the nationally-televised GOP debate on African-American and Hispanic issues...and they hewed to that pledge. Which is why, when Travis Smiley's forum was aired last night, there were four conspicuously empty lecterns.

It's probably worth nothing that some of the participating candidates did acknowledge that the absence of Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, and John McCain (supposedly due to scheduling conflicts) was a "disgrace" and an embarrassment to the Republican party, not to mention an insult to minority voters everywhere. But somehow the whole episode, and what it says about the contemporary GOP, made me think of Jackie Robinson.

Robinson, who had broken baseball's racial barrier in 1947, was an active Republican during his early retirement years. He voted for Richard Nixon in 1960, and, soon thereafter, he told author Roger Kahn that he had joined the GOP because he wanted the party to be a home for African-Americans. Using the nomenclature of his era, he said: "It would be a terrible thing if every Negro voted Democratic. Then we'd be on the way to having a white party and a black party in America. That would be a disaster for me - my whole career has been about integration - and, more important, it would be a disaster for the country."

Then he went to the 1964 Republican convention as an honorary delegate - and discovered that he was virtually the only black face in a sea of white. He listened as a succession of speakers denounced the newly-enacted and historic Civil Rights Act (because it mandated that all public accomodations had to be integrated). And he nearly had an altercation with a white Alabama delegate who tried to lunge at him, only to be restrained by his wife.

Robinson was so concerned about his party that he wrote an article that year for The Saturday Evening Post magazine. The title asked the question, "The GOP - For White Men Only?"

Robinson was wrong, of course. Four decades later, the party is for white women as well.


The plot thickens. Howard Kurtz has more today on the Clintons' muzzling of a negative magazine story (which I mentioned here on Wednesday). The Gentlemen's Quarterly writer whose work was spiked is now on the record for the first time: "GQ told me the Clintons were unhappy..."


Assuming that I have any other thoughts today, regarding the '08 presidential race, they will be communicated orally, between 10:05 and 11 a.m., on Philadelphia's NPR station, 90.9 FM. If you have a slacker Friday, listen here.