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Moving Beyond the Past

Guest Column
Alex Hochberger

With the results of recent elections, we have seen a new government that promises to completely change the fabric of this nation. The forces of change tend to have an advantage over defenders of the status quo, because it is easier to find faults than claim perfection. At the same time, extremists are constantly losing out in a country fighting for the center. Just as the GOP ousted its anti-government crowd, the Democrats will need to move away from their liberal core to find real solutions.

The battle over the Confederate flag has shown the power of moderation. In protest over school desegregation, the state of Georgia made its state flag essentially the well-known Confederate battle flag with a few changes to make the flag unique. At the same time, South Carolina began flying the Confederate flag over its state capitol. While the war ended 136 years ago, the feelings left behind didn’t die at Appomattox Court House.

The two states whose use of the “Stars and Bars” was seen as defiance of an integrated world were forced to change their colors. Georgia accomplished this with a sneak-attack, but South Carolina reached the decision with proper deliberation. Mississippi also made the right decision. Mississippi’s flag includes the Confederate symbol, but the flag is clearly a flag acknowledging it. The remembrance of such an important part of a state’s history is something that those living in “Revolutionary War” New England can’t appreciate. The southern states don’t have a Freedom Trail, just a remembrance of a failed war for independence. The state of Florida also adopted a new flag at the end of the nineteenth century, like Mississippi’s.

Florida’s flag is the red bars (symbolizing its role in the Confederacy) with the state seal in the middle. It is a reminder of a past that we shouldn’t forget, even as we strive to move beyond the legacy of slavery.

The past is over. We must not forget the past, but we must also not be slaves to it. The battle over reparations and affirmative action show the fallacy in our current approach.

The reparations battle is trying to claim reparations from the United States government. They draw parallels to the German government, but there are no parallels. The German government took responsibility for its own actions; the German government waged a war of genocide, and took responsibility for it. The United States government did not endorse or create slavery. Until the New Deal, the federal government was clearly weaker than those of the states. States’ rights remained a core part of the U.S. Constitution. The Federal Republic included sovereign states sharing foreign policy through a central government. The federal government was powerless to stop slavery, and also banned the slave trade as soon as allowed under the Constitution. The advocates of reparations need to acknowledge that the U.S. government did nothing to them, and they would need to take up the cause with the former slave states (those that remained loyal and those in rebellion) and the families that owned slaves. The federal government is not their problem.

Likewise, the failure of affirmative action is evident. We wanted to fix past injustices and move towards a color-blind society. While affirmative action did have initial success in creating a black middle class, it didn’t eliminate prejudice in America. Unless you truly believe that we should permanently use set-asides in our country, we need a new system. The current one saw the creation of a black middle class, and affirmative action “set-asides” are helping the children of this black middle class, not those still impoverished. We need a system that helps the poor, regardless of color, obtain a college education and access to the middle class. The creation of a black privileged class to hold up and show as an “improvement” still leaves the families that didn’t cash in earlier where we were 50 years ago, which is no improvement.

This is the time for creative solutions. The current administration would do anything to woo black votes. Rather than waiting for a Democratic return, why not get concessions out of the GOP that will help the less fortunate? With the division between the parties being a few votes in the House, any group could choose to become the swing.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas could choose that course. As head of the Congressional Black Caucus, and as a member of the Texas delegation, Ms. Johnson could get real reforms that would help black America. Instead of behavior like walking out of Bush’s election certification, she should find actions that would work with the GOP’s pro-business, anti-tax system that would improve the lives of black Americans.

It is time to move beyond the past. We must remember the past, but plan a future. If President Bush wants to look like a “uniter” with bipartisan support, he would clearly meet more than half-way. Empowerment zones, earned-income tax credits, etc., all provide ways to help black America while matching the GOP’s anti-tax, pro-business platform. It’s time to cut a deal, and as the swing group that gets the White House the best press coverage, we have a chance to get better legislation than we could under a Democratic White House where we were the liberal core, not the desired swing votes.

Alex Hochberger is a member of the Class of 2001.