Remembering Adam Clayton Powell Jr.

Adam Powell
Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV at a ceremony honoring his father, Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr., who was born in 1908. (Photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council)

Published: November 28, 2008
A number of events will be held to observe the centenary of the birth of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the first African-American elected to Congress from New York.

This has been a week of a wide range of activities recalling the history of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the legendary Harlem congressman who would have turned 100 years old on Saturday.

A number of politicians, journalists and scholars will gather at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on Saturday to discuss the legacy of Powell, the first African-American elected to Congress from New York. Powell, who died in 1972, served in Congress from 1945 until 1971 and was the major black legislator of his era.

At several points over the weekend, the film “Keep the Faith, Baby,” a drama based on the life of Powell that was broadcast on Showtime in 2002, will be shown at the Schomburg.

“I think that people are still fascinated by him because he was a person who was a leader in the black community not just in New York, but all across the country,” said the congressman’s son, Adam Clayton Powell IV, an assemblyman representing East Harlem.

“He had the ability to look at the nation’s white power structure in the eye and tell him exactly what he thought,” the younger Mr. Powell said. (His half-brother, Adam Clayton Powell III, is a vice provost at the University of Southern California.)

“He was the blueprint for what all black elected officials should be: he was bold and passionate.”

Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was best known in his role as chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor. He was a leading figure in passage of the backbone of the much of the social legislation of the Kennedy and Johnson presidencies.

He helped steer the passage of the minimum wage bill, the Manpower Development and Training Act, the antipoverty bill, and bills providing federal money for student loans and for public libraries.

Of course, the congressman had his troubles, and they made headlines throughout the country. He was criticized with increasing frequency for mismanagement of his committee’s finances and traveling at public expense. He spent a good deal of time outside the district and faced a series of troubles for his refusal to pay a judgment that resulted from a slander suit.

In 1970, he was defeated in the Democratic primary by an assemblyman named Charles B. Rangel, who has represented northern Manhattan in Congress ever since. (Mr. Rangel, too, has had his own ethical problems in recent months.)

But Mr. Rangel attended a celebration honoring his predecessor’s 100th birthday last weekend at the Waldorf-Astoria. “Mr. Rangel has been very gracious, and he’s going to come by the events at the Schomberg on Saturday,” Assemblyman Powell said. (In fact, the younger Mr. Powell challenged Mr. Rangel for his father’s old Congressional seat in 1994.)

Saturday’s discussion follows a week of other activities honoring Powell, including an event at City Hall sponsored by the City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus and another at which Gov. David A. Paterson presented a proclamation in his memory.

Assemblyman Powell said that he considered his father to have been a trailblazer. “When I look at the election of David Dinkins as mayor, with I see David Paterson as governor and when I see Barack Obama as president-elect,” Mr. Powell said, “I think that in some way my father set the stage for them.”

He added: “And with Obama about to be president, I know my father is dancing in heaven.”

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Review of 'A Mercy', by Toni Morrison

November 30, 2008

Original Sins

In this novel of the 17th century, Morrison performs her deepest excavation yet into America’s history and exhumes our twin original sins: the enslavement of Africans and the near extermination of Native Americans.

The Greeks might have invented the pastoral, the genre in which the rustic life is idealized by writers who don’t have to live it, but it’s found its truest home in America. To Europeans of the so-called Age of Discovery, the whole North American continent seemed a sort of Edenic rod and gun club, and their descendants here still haven’t gotten over their obsession with the pure primal landscapes they despoil with their own presence. A straight line — if only spiritually — runs from Fenimore Cooper’s wild Adirondacks and Hawthorne’s sinister Massachusetts forests to Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River” to Cheever’s domesticated locus amoenus of Shady Hill to the theme park in George Saunders’s pointedly titled “Pastoralia” — where slaughtered goats are delivered to employees in Neolithic costume through a slot in the wall of their cave, much as Big Macs appear at a drive-through window. The line even leads to “Naked Lunch,” which pronounces America “old and dirty and evil before the settlers, before the Indians” — simply a calculated blasphemy. Apply enough ironic backspin, and almost any American novel this side of “Bright Lights, Big City” could be called “American Pastoral.” Or for that matter, “Paradise Lost.”

Toni Morrison has already used the title “Paradise” for the 1998 novel that I think is her weakest. But it would have been a good fit for her new book, “A Mercy,” which reveals her, once more, as a conscious inheritor of America’s pastoral tradition, even as she implicitly criticizes it. Her two greatest novels, “Song of Solomon” and “Beloved,” render the rural countryside so evocatively that you can smell the earth; even in the urban novel “Jazz,” the most memorable images are of the South its characters have left behind. But Morrison, of course, is African-American, and hers is a distinctly postcolonial pastoral: a career-long refutation of Robert Frost’s embarrassing line “The land was ours before we were the land’s.” The plantation called Sweet Home, in “Beloved,” is neither sweet to its slaves nor home to anyone, except the native Miamis, of whom nothing is left but their burial mounds. In “A Mercy,” a 17th-­century American farmer — who lives near a town wink-and-nudgingly called Milton — enriches himself by dabbling in the rum trade and builds an ostentatious, oversize new house, for which he orders up a fancy wrought-iron gate, ornamented with twin copper serpents: when the gate is closed, their heads meet to form a blossom. The farmer, Jacob Vaark, thinks he’s creating an earthly paradise, but Lina, his Native American slave, whose forced exposure to Presbyterianism has conveniently provided her with a Judeo-­Christian metaphor, feels as if she’s “entering the world of the damned.”

In this American Eden, you get two original sins for the price of one — the near extermination of the native population and the importation of slaves from Africa — and it’s not hard to spot the real serpents: those creatures Lina calls “Europes,” men whose “whitened” skins make them appear on first sight to be “ill or dead,” and whose great gifts to the heathens seem to be smallpox and a harsh version of Christianity with “a dull, unimaginative god.” Jacob is as close as we get to a benevolent European. Although three bondswomen (one Native American, one African and one “a bit mongrelized”) help run his farm, he refuses to traffic in slaves; the mother of the African girl, in fact, has forced her daughter on him because the girl is in danger of falling into worse hands and he seems “human.” Yet Jacob’s money is no less tainted than if he’d wielded a whip himself: it simply comes from slaves he doesn’t have to see in person, working sugar plantations in the Caribbean. And the preposterous house he builds with this money comes to no good. It costs the lives of 50 trees (cut down, as Lina notes, “without asking their permission”), his own daughter dies in an accident during the construction, and he never lives to finish it.

True, some of the white settlers are escapees from hell: Jacob’s wife, Rebekka, whom he imported sight unseen from London, retains too-vivid memories of public hangings and drawings-and-quarterings. “The pile of frisky, still living entrails held before the felon’s eyes then thrown into a bucket and tossed into the Thames; fingers trembling for a lost torso; the hair of a woman guilty of mayhem bright with flame.” America, she figures, can hardly be worse. But even the relatively kindly Rebekka (kindly, that is, until she nearly dies of smallpox herself and gets religion) and the relatively human Jacob have that European brimstone clinging to them, and it’s stinking up the place. One native sachem diagnoses their unique pathology: “Cut loose from the earth’s soul, they insisted on purchase of its soil, and like all orphans they were insatiable. It was their destiny to chew up the world and spit out a horribleness that would destroy all primary peoples.” This sounds like P.C. cant, and even Lina doubts that all Europes are Eurotrash. But the sachem’s got a point. Does anybody own the earth we all inhabit as brothers and sisters? From that perspective, property really is theft, and if you don’t think Europeans did the thieving, I’ve got $24 worth of beads I’d like to sell you.

Or if Europeans aren’t the only serpents in the garden — after all, “A Mercy” also implicates Africans in the slave trade — this theory, advanced by an African woman captured by rival tribesmen and shipped to Barbados, gets to the heart of the problem: “I think men thrive on insults over cattle, women, water, crops. Everything heats up and finally the men of their families burn we houses and collect those they cannot kill or find for trade.” Men! You can’t live with ’em and (since women “did not fell 60-foot trees, build pens, repair saddles, slaughter or butcher beef, shoe a horse or hunt”) you can’t live without ’em. Not to mention that old-as-Eden matter of sexual attraction. Florens, the black girl whose mother entrusted her to Jacob, and whose feeling of abandonment rules the rest of her life, falls uncontrollably in lust with a free black man, the smith who builds Jacob’s gate. “The shine of water runs down your spine and I have shock at myself for wanting to lick there. I run away into the cowshed to stop this thing from happening inside me. Nothing stops it.” In their last scene together, the blacksmith rejects her for being a slave — not to Jacob, but to her own desire. “You alone own me,” she tells him. “Own yourself, woman,” he answers. “You are nothing but wilderness. No constraint. No mind.” If you’ve ever read a Toni Morrison novel, you can already predict that Florens does end up owning herself and that it’s a bitter blessing. Her only compensation for the loss of her mother and her lover is that she comes to write her own story, carving the letters with a nail into the walls of her dead master’s unfinished and abandoned house.

“A Mercy” has neither the terrible passion of “Beloved” — how many times can we ask a writer to go to such a place? — nor the spirited ingenuity of “Love,” the most satisfying of Morrison’s subsequent novels. But it’s her deepest excavation into America’s history, to a time when the South had just passed laws that “separated and protected all whites from all others forever,” and the North had begun persecuting people accused of witchcraft. (The book’s most anxious moment comes when a little white girl goes hysterical at the sight of Florens and hides behind her witch-hunting elders.) Post­colonialists and feminists, perhaps even Greens and Marxists, may latch onto “A Mercy,” but they should latch with care, lest Morrison prove too many-minded for them. This novel isn’t a polemic — does anybody really need to be persuaded that exploitation is evil? — but a tragedy in which “to be given dominion over another is a hard thing; to wrest dominion over another is a wrong thing; to give dominion of yourself to another is a wicked thing.”

Except for a slimy Portuguese slave trader, no character in the novel is wholly evil, and even he’s more weak and contemptible than mustache-twirlingly villainous. Nor are the characters we root for particularly saintly. While Lina laments the nonconsensual deaths of trees, she deftly drowns a newborn baby, not, as in “Beloved,” to save it from a life of slavery, but simply because she thinks the child’s mother (the “mongrelized” girl who goes by the Morrisonian name of Sorrow) has already brought enough bum luck to Jacob’s farmstead. Everyone in “A Mercy” is damaged; a few, once in a while, find strength to act out of love, or at least out of mercy — that is, when those who have the power to do harm decide not to exercise it. A negative virtue, but perhaps more lasting than love.

This oddly assorted household — slaves, indentured servants and a wife shipped to her husband in exchange for payment to her family — exhibits varying degrees of freedom and dominion, and it holds together, for a while, thanks to a range of conflicting motivations. “They once thought they were a kind of family because to­gether they had carved companionship out of isolation. But the family they imagined they had become was false. Whatever each one loved, sought or escaped, their futures were separate and anyone’s guess. One thing was certain, courage alone would not be enough.” The landscape of “A Mercy” is full of both beauties and terrors: snow “sugars” eyelashes, yet icicles hang like “knives”; a stag is a benign and auspicious apparition, yet at night “the glittering eyes of an elk could easily be a demon.” But whatever the glories and the rigors of nature may signify to the civilized, for these characters, living in the midst of it, nature doesn’t signify. It’s simply to be embraced or dreaded — like the people with whom they have to live. In Morrison’s latest version of pastoral, it’s only mercy or the lack of it that makes the American landscape heaven or hell, and the gates of Eden open both ways at once.

David Gates’s most recent book is “The Wonders of the Invisible World,” a collection of stories.

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DR Congo lack of action 'racist'

Woman cries in DR Congo refugee camp after being mobbed for her food aid
This woman was mobbed after being given aid in a refugee camp

The world is not sending enough troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo because of discrimination, a former top UN official has told the BBC.

There is "inbuilt discrimination when it comes to Africa", said Jan Egeland, pointing to the world's response to crises in the Middle East and Europe.

He is one of 16 world leaders to sign a letter calling on the European Union to send troops to DR Congo.

Some 250,000 people have fled recent fighting in eastern DR Congo.

The UN this month said it would send an extra 3,000 troops to DR Congo, on top of the 17,000 already there - the world's largest peacekeeping force.

But Mr Egeland said this was not enough for DR Congo, which is almost the size of western Europe.

He referred to diplomatic peace efforts as a "seminar".

"There was not this indecisiveness in the Balkans, Iraq or the wider Middle East," the former UN aid chief told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

'Painful memories'

Some 5,000 people have fled the latest rebel advance into neighbouring Uganda, Amnesty International researcher Andrew Phillip told the BBC.

Some of those who crossed the border told aid workers that their relatives had been killed by the rebels.

CNDP: Gen Nkunda's Tutsi rebels - 6,000 fighters
FDLR: Rwandan Hutus - 6-7,000
Mai Mai: pro-government militia - 3,500
Monuc: UN peacekeepers - 6,000 in North Kivu, including about 1,000 in Goma (17,000 nationwide)
DRC army - 90,000 (nationwide)
Source: UN, military experts

The rebels of General Laurent Nkunda declared a ceasefire last week and withdrew from some of their positions but say this does not apply to operations against foreign militia.

The Tutsi-dominated forces say they are attacking Rwanda Hutu fighters, some of whom are accused of taking part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered.

The UN has accused all sides of mass killings and rape in the latest fighting which resumed in August, with rebels advancing on the regional capital, Goma.

"To those of us who have worked on such issues for some time, current events bring back painful memories of Rwanda and Srebrenica," reads the letter, also signed by the former leaders of the Czech Republic (Vaclav Havel), South Africa (FW de Klerk), Ireland (Mary Robinson) and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and sent to EU heads of state.

"It is increasingly clear that the EU is best placed - through its standing battle groups - to play this role and deploy now," they wrote.

On Wednesday, the Congolese government rejected an offer from India to supply extra peacekeeping troops.

They already account for about a quarter of the UN force in DR Congo, known as Monuc.

A government spokesman refused to give reasons why the Indian offer was declined.

Map of eastern DR Congo


U.S. Muslim leaders denounce al Qaeda's slur toward Obama

One would think that, with all that time spent huddling in caves, Al Q's leadership would have bothered to read The Autobiography of Malcom X from beginning to end!

Story Highlights
  • U.S. Muslim leaders respond to comments reportedly made by al Qaeda official
  • Official said President-elect Barack Obama fit Malcolm X's definition of "house Negro"
  • Official also denigrated Secretaries of State Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Spiritual leaders of New York's African-American Muslim communities lashed out Friday at a purported al Qaeda message attacking President-elect Barack Obama and, using racist language, comparing him unfavorably to the late Malcolm X.

Ayman al-Zawahiri said Obama was the "direct opposite of honorable black Americans" like Malcolm X.

Ayman al-Zawahiri said Obama was the "direct opposite of honorable black Americans" like Malcolm X.

The imams called the recorded comments from al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, "an insult" from people who have "historically been disconnected from the African-American community generally and Muslim African-Americans in particular."

"We find it insulting when anyone speaks for our community instead of giving us the dignity and the honor of speaking for ourselves," they said in a statement read during a news conference at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial, Educational and Cultural Center.

The al Qaeda statement, an 11-minute, 23-second audio message in Arabic with subtitles in English, appeared on the Internet on Wednesday. Its authenticity has not been confirmed.

The message said Obama represents the "direct opposite of honorable black Americans" like Malcolm X. Video Watch al Qaeda official criticize Obama »

The speaker also said Obama, former and current secretaries of state Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice and "your likes," fit Malcolm X's description of "house slaves."

An English translation of the message used the term "house Negroes," Malcolm X's term for blacks who were subservient to whites. The term refers to slaves who worked in white masters' houses. Malcolm X said those slaves were docile compared to those who labored in the fields. iReport.com: Should Obama react to comments?

Malcolm X, the fiery African-American Muslim activist from the 1950s and 1960s, was an early member and leader of the Nation of Islam. He left that group in 1963 over disillusionment with its then-leader, Elijah Muhammed, but remained a Muslim.

After months of death threats, he was assassinated in 1965 by members of the Nation of Islam who shot him 16 times at close range. The three men who were convicted of the crime have since been paroled.

On Friday, Imam Al-Hajj Talib 'Abdur-Rashid, recalling Malcolm X's legacy, said that he "stood for human rights and the principle of self defense ... international law. He would have rejected, and we who are Muslim African-Americans leaders reject, acts of political extremism."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also condemned Zawahiri's comments in a statement issued on Thursday.

"As Muslims and as Americans, we will never let terrorist groups or terror leaders falsely claim to represent us or our faith," the statement said. "We once again repudiate al Qaeda's actions, rhetoric and world view and re-state our condemnation of all forms of terrorism and religious extremism."

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The US is getting more and more like Brazil every day...except Brazil is nowhere near close to electing its first Black (or half-Black) president

Viewpoint: Is Barack Obama black?
By Kimberly McClain Dacosta

Harvard University

Is Obama black? It depends on who - and when - you ask.

For some of us, the heralding of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States seems a rather uncontroversial claim.

Obama isn't black. 'Black,' in our political and social reality, means those descended from West African slaves
Debra Dickerson

Not so for others. One well-known African American writer, Debra Dickerson, famously objected to calling Obama black arguing that because he is not descended from slaves, he is not of the people properly defined as "black."

Ergo, he is not black - at all.

The bulk of the people protesting against references to Obama as a black man, however, grant that he is "part" black (by way of his father), but assert that because he also has a white mother it is not "accurate" to call him black. He he is "in fact" mixed-race, they say.

Opposing arguments

My first reaction to questions about the "correctness" or "accuracy" of Obama's racial classification is to undermine the premise of the question itself. The search for the "correctness" of racial identity presumes that a definitive answer can be found.

Barack Obama and Stanley Armour Dunham
Barack Obama lived for many years with his white grandparents
It presumes that race is a real entity, something fixed, or natural. It seems to deny what scholars have laboured for decades to demonstrate - that the criteria used to classify people in racial categories, the categories used in a given society, and the uses to which those categories are put - vary by place and time. They are, as academics are fond of saying, "socially constructed".

Yet the predilections of the scholar fail to satisfy those who claim to know what race Obama "is", for these are really statements about what the speaker thinks he ought to be.

When people insist that Obama "is" black, they point to his self-identification as such, and the assertion that when most people look at him, they see a black man.

Kimberly McClain Dacosta
Kimberly McClain DaCosta is Associate Professor of African and African American Studies and Social Studies at Harvard and the author of Making Multiracials: State, Family and Market in the Redrawing of the Color Line

Calling him "black" seems to acknowledge the connection between his rise and the struggles of a people.

When others argue that Obama "is" mixed-race, they point to the fact that he has a white mother, not only a black father, and was raised in an interracial family.

Calling him "mixed-race" seems to acknowledge that family, offering a corrective to centuries of denying our tangled genealogies.


What I find most interesting about the question of what racial label to assign Obama, is that we are asking the question at all.

As recently as 20 years ago, the question of Obama's racial position would be presumed settled before it was even asked.

Mama Sarah Obama
Obama's Kenyan grandmother, Mama Sarah, will attend his inauguration
In keeping with the one-drop rule - the practice of categorising as black anyone with any known African ancestry - Obama's identification as a black person would be expected, accepted and unremarkable.

The person suggesting that Obama be classified as mixed-race would quite likely have been met with suspicion or a confused look ("What's that?") since for most of US history, in most places, mixed-race identity has not been collectively recognised.

In the last 20 years, however, the collective efforts of mixed-race people in the US to de-stigmatise interracial families and garner public recognition of mixed race identity have been fairly successful (for example, the US government now enumerates mixed race identities).


Even so, the question whether Obama is black or mixed-race reflects a basic misunderstanding of the experience of those of us who have grown up in interracial families, particularly those of us of African descent, born in the post-Civil Rights period.

Many of us forged a black identity, one that was not at odds with being mixed-race, but arose out of our experiences as mixed people
We (I have an African American father and an Irish American mother) were raised on the front lines of racial change, where the new rules about interracial intimacy often clashed with the old - both in public and in our own families.

The affection we were so comfortable showing our white mothers at home drew stares, and worse, from both whites and blacks in public.

It was in our families where we first felt love and protection as well as the first sting of racial prejudice.

And many of us forged a black identity, one that was not at odds with being mixed-race, but arose out of our experiences as mixed people: from an awareness that the racial dilemma we were born into has its deepest roots in anti-black prejudice.

For us, being black and mixed-race are not mutually exclusive. We have learned to live with the contradictions.

Perhaps it's time for everyone else to learn to live with them too.


Obama and the Promise of Education

Henry Giroux, Truthout: "Needless to say, like many Americans, I am both delighted and cautious about Barack Obama's election. Symbolically, this is an unprecedented moment in the fight against the legacy of racism while at the same time offering new possibilities for addressing how racism works in a post-Bush period."


The Moose Stops Here

Published: November 16, 2008
The post-election Republican soul searching has featured a convenient amnesia about the party’s race-based “Southern strategy.”

ELECTION junkies in acute withdrawal need suffer no longer. Though the exciting Obama-McCain race is over, the cockfight among the losers has only just begun. The conservative crackup may be ugly, but as entertainment, it’s two thumbs up!

Over at Fox News, Greta Van Susteren has been trashing the credibility of her own network’s chief political correspondent, Carl Cameron, for his report on Sarah Palin’s inability to identify Africa as a continent, while Bill O’Reilly valiantly defends Cameron’s honor. At Slate, a post-mortem of conservative intellectuals descended into name-calling, with the writer Ross Douthat of The Atlantic labeling the legal scholar Douglas Kmiec a “useful idiot.”

In an exuberant class by himself is Michael Barone, a ubiquitous conservative commentator who last week said that journalists who trash Palin (more than a few of them conservatives) do so because “she did not abort her Down syndrome baby.” He was being “humorous,” he subsequently explained to Politico, though the joke may be on him. Barone writes for U.S. News & World Report, where his 2008 analyses included keepers like “Just Call Her Sarah ‘Delano’ Palin.” Just call it coincidence, but on Election Day, word spread that the once-weekly U.S. News was downsizing to a monthly — a step closer to the fate of Literary Digest, the weekly magazine that vanished two years after its straw poll predicted an Alf Landon landslide over Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936.

Will the 2008 G.O.P. go the way of the 1936 G.O.P., which didn’t reclaim the White House until 1952? Even factoring in the Democrats’ time-honored propensity for self-immolation, it’s not beyond reason. The Republicans are in serious denial. A few heretics excepted, they hope to blame all their woes on their unpopular president, the inept McCain campaign and their party’s latent greed for budget-busting earmarks.

The trouble is far more fundamental than that. The G.O.P. ran out of steam and ideas well before George W. Bush took office and Tom DeLay ran amok, and it is now more representative of 20th-century South Africa during apartheid than 21st-century America. The proof is in the vanilla pudding. When David Letterman said that the 10 G.O.P. presidential candidates at an early debate looked like “guys waiting to tee off at a restricted country club,” he was the first to correctly call the election.

On Nov. 4, that’s roughly the sole constituency that remained loyal to the party — minus its wealthiest slice, a previously solid G.O.P. stronghold that turned blue this year (in a whopping swing of 34 percentage points). The Republicans lost every region of the country by double digits except the South, which they won by less than double digits (9 points). They took the South only because McCain, who ran roughly even with Obama among whites in every other region, won Southern whites by 38 percentage points.

Those occasional counties that tilted more Republican in 2008 tended to be not only the least diverse, but also the most rural, least educated and slowest-growing in population. McCain-Palin did score a landslide among white evangelical Christians, though even in that demographic Obama shaved the G.O.P. margin by seven percentage points from 2004.

The Republicans did this to themselves, yet a convenient amnesia can be found in conservatives’ post-Election Day soul searching. There’s endless hand-wringing about Bush and McCain blunders and Abramoff-Stevens corruption, but there’s barely any mention of the nasty cultural brawls that defined the G.O.P. campaign narrative this year as the party clung bitterly once more to its 40-year-old “Southern strategy.”

There were as many Republican prejudices as candidates. In primary season, the whispered antipathy among some conservative evangelicals toward Mormons grew so loud that Mitt Romney felt compelled to give a speech defending his faith (but was so fearful of inciting further wrath that he said the word Mormon only once). The conservative gatekeeper Michael Medved spotlighted another whisper campaign in May, writing that the popular moderate Florida G.O.P. governor Charlie Crist had been “single since his divorce in 1980 (after a marriage that lasted only a year)” and was the subject of “nasty rumors of possible gay activity.” Crist announced his engagement to a woman weeks later, but by then he was no longer a serious contender for the ticket.

John McCain also might have held Florida had he prevailed with his first choice of a running mate, the pro-abortion-rights Joe Lieberman, but G.O.P. ayatollahs scuttled both him and the abortion moderate Tom Ridge, who might have helped win Pennsylvania. Not that McCain was innocent in these exclusionary escapades. He strenuously sought the endorsement of the Rev. John Hagee, even though Hagee had blamed gays for Hurricane Katrina, referred to the Roman Catholic Church as “the great whore,” and theorized that Hitler came about because God’s “top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.”

The icing on this rancid cake was the race-baiting of Obama and the immigrant bashing by G.O.P. hopefuls who tried to outdo the nativist fringe candidate Tom Tancredo. Yet Republican denial is unabated. In an interview with Palin the weekend before the election, a conservative Wall Street Journal editorialist asked whether “the G.O.P. doesn’t in fact have a perception problem, that it is no longer viewed as a big tent.” A perception problem? Hello — how about a reality problem?

Yet the G.O.P. really does believe that it’s all about perception. That’s why its 2000 convention offered a stage full of break dancers and gospel singers, wildly outnumbering the black delegates in the audience. Bush and Karl Rove regarded diversity as a public-relations issue to be finessed with marketing. Round up some black extras! Sell “compassionate conservatism” by posing Bush incessantly with black schoolchildren! Problem solved!

The 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign Web site even boasted a “Compassion” archive of photos of Bush with black folk, including Colin Powell. McCain used the same playbook this year, when he headed south to emote over Katrina victims and stock his own Web site with pictures depicting his adventures in black America. He had been a no-show in New Orleans during the six months after the hurricane hit, when his presence might have made a difference.

In defeat, the party’s thinking remains unchanged. Its leaders once again believe they can bamboozle the public into thinking they’re the “party of Lincoln” by pushing forward a few minority front men or women. The reason why they are promoting Palin and the recently elected Indian-American governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, as the party’s “future” is not just that they are hard-line social conservatives; they are also the only prominent Republican officeholders under 50 who are not white men. The G.O.P. will have to dip down to a former one-term lieutenant governor of Maryland, Michael Steele, to put a black public face on its national committee.

Such window dressing aside, there remains only one Republican idea for reaching out to minority voters: Richard Land, of the Southern Baptist Convention, recommends pandering to socially conservative blacks and Hispanics with yet more hyperventilation about same-sex marriage. Weird though it may be, gays were the sole minority group that actually voted slightly more Republican this year (though still going Democratic by 70 to 27 percent). Pitting blacks and Latinos against them could open up a whole new bloody front in the G.O.P. civil war.

The only other widespread post-election conservative ideas are Bush 2000 retreads (market-based health care and education reform). Jindal offers generic gab about how the party must offer Americans “real solutions” and “substance,” but he has yet to offer a real solution to his own state’s gaping $1 billion budget shortfall. Indeed, the only two “new” ideas that the G.O.P. is pushing in defeat are those they condemn when practiced by Democrats: celebrity and identity politics. Palin’s manic post-election publicity tour, which may yet propel her and “the first dude” to “Dancing With the Stars,” is almost a parody of the McCain ad likening Obama to Paris and Britney. Anyone who says so is promptly called out for sexism by the P.C. police of the newly “feminist” G.O.P.

At the risk of being so reviled, let me point out that in the marathon of Palin interviews last week, the single most revealing exchange had nothing to do with her wardrobe or the “jerks” (as she called them) around McCain. It came instead when Wolf Blitzer of CNN asked for some substance by inviting her to suggest “one or two ideas” that Republicans might have to offer. “Well, a lot of Republican governors have really good ideas for our nation,” she responded, without specifying anything except that “it’s all about free enterprise and respecting equality.” Well, yes, but surely there’s some actual new initiative worth mentioning, Blitzer followed up. “Gah!” replied the G.O.P.’s future. “Nothing specific right now!”

The good news for Democrats is a post-election Gallup poll finding that while only 45 percent of Americans want to see Palin have a national political future (and 52 percent of Americans do not), 76 percent of Republicans say bring her on. The bad news for Democrats is that these are the exact circumstances that can make Obama cocky and Democrats sloppy. The worse news for the country is that at a time of genuine national peril we actually do need an opposition party that is not brain-dead.

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Bidding farewell to "Mama Africa"

Large crowds have flocked to a memorial service in Johannesburg for South African singer Miriam Makeba, who died last weekend after a concert in Italy.

Musicians, poets and politicians paid tribute to the 76-year-old performer.

Arts minister Pallo Jordan described Makeba as "a woman whose name became synonymous with the worldwide struggle for freedom in South Africa".

Her family also attended the service at the Coca Cola Dome concert venue, which followed two days of national mourning.

They are expected to hold a smaller service for her cremation on Sunday.

The singer, who was known as Mama Africa, spent more than 30 years in exile after lending her support to the campaign against apartheid.

Miriam Makeba
Her music reverberated with consciousness about the real conditions of South Africans
President Kgalema Motlanthe

Her memorial service drew hundreds of mourners, both black and white and of all ages.

South African trumpet player Hugh Masekela, once married to Makeba, performed a solo version of her song Welele to the accompaniment of soft clapping from the crowd.

Poet Maishe Maponya spoke of how her "lips touched our hearts with hymns of beauty" and how she had inspired her people with hope for the future.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki and current Deputy President Baleka Mbete were also present.

President Kgalema Motlanthe, in Washington for a G20 economic summit, paid tribute to Makeba in a video message.

"Let us say it loud and clear. Miriam Makeba was not affectionately called Mama Africa for nothing," he said. "Her music reverberated with consciousness about the real conditions of South Africans."

Makeba was the first black singer to win a Grammy award, which she shared with Harry Belafonte in 1965.

She was one of Africa's best known singers, famed for hits such as Pata Pata and The Click Song.

Former president Nelson Mandela said she was the "mother of our struggle" and "South Africa's first lady of song".

Her body was flown home to South Africa on Wednesday; the country began a period of national mourning a day later.

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Reactions around the world

These are really wonderful pictures...

Barack's step-grandmother Sarah Obama in Kogelo, Kenya

At Obama's former school in Jakarta, Indonesia
Manila, Philippines


Athens, Greece

Jakarta, Indonesia

Jerusalem, Israel

Sydney, Australia


Obama, Japan


Paris, France

Dakar, Senegal


The look in this boy's face says it all!