Picking Your Battles

By Mark Paustenbach

Race has once again become an important issue in this year’s presidential election. Given the good standing that many Americans find themselves in, with a booming economy, presidential candidates now find themselves debating over quality of life issues like healthcare and education. As sad as it is to say, dealing with race relations is one of those same issues—in that candidates discuss it only when forced to do so.

While also discussing the issue of race that has been brought to light in the Presidential race, I would also like to place into context the recent movements or causes led by prominent African-American leaders such as Kwiese Mfume, head of the NAACP, and Reverend Jesse Jackson.

With all due respect to those who decide what racial issues are discussed on a national level, it seems that they have picked the wrong battles. The Confederate flag may be a symbol of a time that sickens and angers many. The lack of Supreme Court clerks of color may also be an incredibly large problem, as Kwiese Mfume has pointed out. And, the recent proliferation of zero-tolerance policies in high schools (whereby a student is given no second chance and could be expelled for anything from getting into a fight, to bringing nail clippers to school), as Jesse Jackson made notice of in Illinois when a number of the African American students were expelled for a fight during a football game. The three aforementioned examples may all be indicative of racism. But, are these the battles that should be fought?

Speaking only in political terms, there is a great opportunity to bring to light important issues. I am simply wondering aloud whether the issues I mentioned are the most important.

Shouldn’t we instead be initiating a dialogue on why there are a disproportionate number of African Americans in jail? Shouldn’t we be trying to find solutions to decaying inner city schools? So far, only Bill Bradley has, really discussed some of these issues.

In the two final candidates, Al Gore and George Bush, you have a Democrat who claims to be for change and a Republican who is a "uniter not a divider." It seems to me that national leaders should call for a frank discussion of important issues, and not ask for non-answers to symbolic questions like "Should the Confederate flag be allowed on a state capitol building?"

I am not attempting to discredit what great achievements such leaders as Jesse Jackson have pushed for and won. I simply think we could make better use of our nation’s capitol.


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