Posted by olvlzl
Barbara Jordan was a great legislator, her brilliance at doing the most she could with what she had at hand is well summed up in her obituary by Molly Ivins (1). She wasn’t just that great voice and commanding presence, those were only the tools wielded by a master politician. She was more than a show. She never lost an opportunity “ to make government work”. Superficial people will remember the voice, less superficial ones what she said, serious people also remember what she accomplished when she took those opportunities.
Another point from the obituary hands us one of the keys to political success. Barbara Jordan never wasted a minute on a hopeless cause. To look at the situation from the viewpoint of the possible, to leave aside the impossible and to never, ever lose sight of the goals that are achievable. No matter what transient personal satisfaction, no matter what issue of lesser importance, no matter what goal dearly wished for or even worthy but not achievable, never waste time or resources on the futile. Certainly don’t waste them on pointless, self-destructive, self-indulgence.
Barbara Jordan’s serious and absolute dedication to the goal of progress led her in at least one instance to make an attack on people allegedly within the movement. She warned against people using “kamikaze” tactics(2). You don’t forget the word “kamikaze” as pronounced by Barbara Jordan. She warned about words and actions that looked flashy, gained their user abundant attention but which would damage the movement for progress. Listening to her in the context of the times, as soon as I heard those words I had little doubt who they might apply to. I thought “ K.”*
K. was at the crest of her own personal wave back then. A 60 Minutes spot, all over TV, her act was the predominant picture of a black, lesbian, feminist as the corporate media were targeting all three movements for irrelevance. Someone who could be counted on to declare her love for dictator and mass murderer, Idi Amin, because he was a powerful black man who was “bad”(3). I used to watch her amazed that she couldn’t see the indulgent smirk on the faces of the media hit men who were egging her on to say the next outrageous thing.
I must have wondered what happened to K. in the past twenty-five years but not enough to go look her up. Maybe she had done what she so melodramatically said she was going to do back then and commit suicide as soon as life had stopped being “a ball”(4). She largely disappeared from the TV screen, at any rate. Perhaps she had served her purpose and needing her no more, the corporate media dumped her on the same scrap pile as other media figures of the left fallen into desuetude.
K. did do some important work in her earlier career as a lawyer which it would be unfair to not point out. She said some memorable things too. As late as the early seventies she was associated with serious people such as Shirley Chisholm and Gloria Steinem but by the late seventies her primary function was to become a set character in the cartoon of the left that the media was producing. She loved that character (5). Like a number of other camera hogs of the left, she had become a tool to damage it. If Barbara Jordan didn’t mean K., she certainly filled the role.
The left doesn’t have resources to waste on indulging the attention seeking, superficial and self-promoting characters for whom the lime light becomes more seductive than actually achieving power and working to change laws. If they want to get attention, make them earn it by producing something. If they want to keep it they should keep producing. We can’t indulge those who did something decades ago but who, by their own actions, become destructive to progressive change. It doesn’t matter who has fond memories of them or enjoys their company. You can keep them as friends, just keep them off camera.
The media will chose people to call leaders for the left, they will chose those people who they can use as tools against us. We should be suspicious of anyone who is regularly featured in the corporate media, they don’t ask people back unless they say what they want to hear.
Anyone who the media asks to appear should be suspicious of their motives and keep their eyes open for being used. Insist on seeing the final edit before it goes on air or into print.
The left needs to insist on better leaders and public faces for the movement for progress. From the Weather Underground, people like Eldridge Cleaver, Ti-Grace Atkinson, and countless others, there are always people in any movement who will get attention by out-radicalizing the next most radical and jump in front of the podium. They waste our time, splinter our movement and produce nothing lasting. Whether they are more of a waste of time than the religious police of leftist verbal conformity and doctrinal leftist purity is hard to say but they are as dangerous to real progress. And if real progress in real life isn’t the whole point of the left, we are all wasting our time.
The left doesn’t have time or resources to waste on the superficial. You can be funny, Barbara Jordan certainly could be. And there are few people who are funnier than Molly Ivins. But for the left only funny isn’t nearly enough anymore, being only outrageous is less. The merely funny might waste time, merely outrageous is a gun in the hands of irresponsible children and that gun is always pointed left. We don’t have time or resources to spend on flash in the pan junk, we need to have the best. The left fully deserves it and should accept no other.
1. You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You ISBN: 0679754873
2. Does anyone know of a transcript online? See Author’s Query below.
3. If this doesn’t suffice as self-immolation of someone’s seriousness what would? Idi Amin had already murdered thousands of Ugandans but that apparently was less important than making a splash on TV. Which bunch of thousands of murder victims would you use as a joke?
4. According to Wikipedia K. died in 2000. The account of her activities stops abruptly in the period I’m talking about here.
5. They had tried to fill a similar slot with Bella Abzug ( I so well remember that rotten Time cover story) who certainly had a disposition and a way of her own, but, a serious person more resistant to the lure of the camera, she would have none of it.
* Author’s Query: I can’t find online citations for either the Jordan quote, which I heard or the quote by “K.” which I heard on TV and which I made a note of. Though an impressive amount is, not everything is googleable. Anyone who knows and can provide me with them, I’ll be grateful. I will then reveal who “K” is, to those who didn’t know she said this and will give the full quotes of both when I have a verbatim confirmation.