A Break from COVID-19: Ronald Reagan, Jesse Jackson, and Judge Robert Bork
This is an attempt to take a short break from thinking about, talking about, writing about, being about the Covid/Coronavirus plague which has so drastically changed our lives.
It is also a chance to take a look back, reminisce and recall just exactly what we were thinking about, talking about, writing about “back in the day.”
In 1987, I was writing for something called Syndicated Writers & Artists of America, Inc. out of Indianapolis. That now-defunct company was rather unique in that it was one of a very few black-owned and operated creative arts syndicators in the country. Indeed, it provided me with my first national exposure. This piece, however, first appeared as an editorial in the still extant black-owned/operated Indianapolis Recorder daily newspaper, another rarity.
There was no Internet back then, of course. In fact, the Internet was still just a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye.
At the time, St. Ronald Reagan was president, and Jesse Jackson was gearing up for yet another run for the presidency. Reagan’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Robert Bork, went down in flames in a series of fiery and contentious Senate Judiciary Committee hearings (on which sat Senator Joe Biden, by the way)…and black people were celebrating.
For the young people:
Judge Robert Bork’s failure to win confirmation by the U.S. Senate may be traced directly to Jesse Jackson’s 1984 run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. With each passing day, more Senators, particularly from the South, declare their opposition to Bork. Although southern Democratic Senators are hammering home the final nails in Bork’s political coffin, it was Jackson who gathered the wood for its construction. Their votes were considered crucial by the Reagan regime and they were expected to fall in line for Bork. Many come from states where large black voting blocks provided their own slim margins of victory. They have studied the polls and understand clearly that Blacks are virtually uniformly opposed to Bork’s nomination.
These southern Senators (formerly known as “boll weevils” and before that, “Dixiecrats”), also understand that Jackson’s 1984 run for the nomination forever reshaped America’s political landscape. In 1984, Blacks throughout the nation lined up to register to vote for the first “serious” black presidential candidate. Jackson’s extraordinary totals in the primaries, particularly among blacks, kept him in the race to its end in San Francisco, while all but two white contenders dropped out one by one.
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Since 1981, these same southern Democratic Senators voted with Reagan on almost every issue as they hitched a ride on his wide popularity among whites. The Republicans took control of the Senate and ramrodded Reagan’s programs through Congress with only token opposition. These programs, as far as blacks were concerned, were more akin to pogroms in that they sought to disembowel all socio-economic advances Blacks had made over the past 30 years. Blacks were not registered to vote in any significant numbers and were therefore not a factor in white politicians’ decisions, particularly in the South. Estimates vary, but Jackson’s ’84 campaign is credited with registering from two million to four million new Black voters, mostly in the South. Although Jackson did not win the party’s nomination, his payoff came in the 1986 Congressional mid-term elections when southern “boll weevils” were replaced by “moderate” if not “liberal” whites in the Senate.
With the Iran-Contra fiasco as a backdrop, in 1987 Reagan sought to extend his political and personal influence on the body politic far beyond his tenure in office by nominating U.S. District Court of Appeals Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. Bork is a true ideologue, his recantations at the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings notwithstanding. Throughout his long public career, he has made it plain through pronouncements from the bench and extralegal writings that he is against almost every civil rights measure adopted since the post-Civil War Amendments to the Constitution. He deigns to interpret the Constitution within the framework of a judicial philosophy which holds that the “original intent” of the drafters of the Constitution is the only guidepost necessary in formulating judicial doctrine. Put another way, if “civil rights” are not explicitly referred to within the four corners of the Constitution, then they simply do not exist.
As a jurist, Judge Bork has never employed a black law clerk. As a lawyer, he has never done pro bono publico work (“for the good of the public” — free). His testimony before the Senate Committee, however, revealed a curious chameleon-like characteristic in that he appeared to say what he thought the Senators (and the public) wanted to hear.
Blacks mounted a massive, organized, and persistent campaign to discredit Bork before the Committee. Former Mayor of Gary, Indiana (and Jackson’s ’84 campaign manager), Richard G. Hatcher, called Bork’s nomination to the high court “the final outrage” of the Reagan regime. It was the consciousness-raising effects of Jackson’s first campaign that afforded Blacks throughout the country as registered voters the political muscle and moxy in 1987 to confront and finally defeat a Supreme Court nominee with whom they vehemently disagreed.
If Jackson’s run in ’84 accomplished nothing else, it put white politicians on notice that the Black vote is never again to be ignored or taken for granted. His ’88 campaign will move Blacks even further along the road to political maturity and power. Jackson now is making deliberate efforts to broaden his support to include all disaffected groups. Who knows? Given his rhetorical skills and charismatic presence, he might pull it off. No? Ask Judge Bork.
From the Indianapolis Recorder:
This editorial was written by Herbert Dyer Jr., a Chicago freelance writer, for Syndicated Writers & Artists of America, Inc., October 15, 1987.