Policy or Racism (Vol. 53, Issue 12)
One week before the New York State primary, something occurred that seemingly had a significant impact on the results of the voting. New York's Mayor Ed Koch gave his endorsement to Tennessee Senator Albert Gore. With his support clearly behind the Gore campaign, Koch came out swinging, aiming both of his barrels at Jesse Jackson. In the following week, Koch declared that Jackson would leave the country “broke in three weeks and defenseless in six” if he were elected, Koch also stated that any supporter of Israel would have to be “crazy to vote for Jackson”. Koch has suffered from his remarks and indeed so might have Albert Gore. Yet, if Mayor Koch's words were a significant cause of Gore's poor showing in the primary, then, in reality, the country will be made to suffer the most.
What Mayor Koch's remarks may have lacked in tact, they made up for their content. Koch did not go on a diatribe seeking to ruin the reputation of Jesse Jackson. He merely sought to ask Jesse Jackson the kinds of questions that all of his opponents in the primaries have been afraid to ask. If so, why has Koch been so maligned for his conduct immediately prior to the primary? There are two possibilities. Firstly, he may not have been very polite or very respectful. It is quite possible that he may have portrayed himself as someone with a vendetta against Jesse Jackson, someone with an ax to grind. More likely, however, the reason that Mayor Koch has received so much criticism from the press, the public, and political leaders is because his target is black.
What therefore is clear is that a dangerous double standard is at work in this election While it is permissible for the Dukakis campaign to criticize Senator Joseph Biden for clearly plagiarizing material from British politician Neil Kinnock, it is prohibited for anyone to criticize Jesse Jackson for his positions on issues of national import. While every political candidate is made to stand up for his beliefs and proposals, Jesse Jackson is permitted to coast through the election free from tough questioning because to do so constitutes racial prejudice. And while every other candidate must prove his ability to serve as President by pointing to some past experience in public office, Jesse Jackson, a man who has never had a publicly elected office in his life, is given the stamp of approval because he was born a black man and has risen to prominence during an age when America is trying to prove that racial discrimination no longer exists within her borders.
Unfortunately, most Americans do not realize the grave dangers involved in such a double standard. By stifling vocal opposition to Jesse Jackson, we are permitting a black candidate to be judged on a different standard than white candidates. By allowing Jesse Jackson to evade the kinds of questions that Mayor Koch has asked, we are saying that a black candidate cannot win on his own but must have the protective issue of race. Indeed, by doing that, we destroy the movement toward racial equality in this country by emphasizing the differences between whites and blacks while at the same time subjugating the electoral process to racial prejudice and preference. Even more importantly, by stifling the fair and just criticisms of men like Mayor Koch, we suppress public debate and do great harm to our precious rights of free speech and free expression.
Martin Luther King spoke of a dream in which he saw a world where every one was given the same opportunity to advance and every person was judged “not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character.” Reverend King envisioned equality for all so that all could be placed on the same plateau. For if Reverend King understood anything it was that prejudice, in any form, whether in opposition or in support of the black man, was morally wrong and devoid of any merit. It is time that America awaken to Reverend King’s dream and start asking the questions that need be asked of all Presidential candidates. No man should be called a racist for asking honest questions of any man, no matter his race or religious preference.