From Lord William Rees-Mogg
Wednesday, October 25th
In Europe we are still in a much earlier phase of the learning curve about race than the United States. Of course, the historic background is quite different. African slavery was important to the European economy because of the slave trade and the capital created by the plantations of the Caribbean, or, earlier, in the American states before independence. But the number of slaves was always small in the European continent itself. In Britain there were a few black slaves, but they were mainly engaged in service in fashionable families. Dr. Johnson’s celebrated black servant, Francis Barber, whom he made his executor, was a free man.
In the last twenty years, a small number of American black leaders have emerged who are not seen only as leaders of their people, but as highly acceptable leaders of the United States. I am not conscious of any comparable figures in Europe. The first to emerge was Colin Powell, who rose by the military route. He is a soldier with fighting experience in Vietnam. He was the Chairman of the joint Chiefs of Staff in the first Gulf War. George W. Bush chose him as his Secretary of State, but never really backed him.
When it came to the reconstruction of Iraq in 2003, the responsibility was given to the Department of Defence under Donald Rumsfeld. That was a serious mistake. Some people think that Colin Powell should share the blame because he was not aggressive enough in the turf war between the State Department and the Pentagon. Colin Powell was always the loyal soldier, and loyal soldiers are traditionally outmanoeuvred by ruthless bureaucrats.However, Colin Powell came very close to being the first black President. He could almost certainly have had the Republican nomination in 1996 against Bill Clinton. He is said to have been dissuaded by his wife, who feared that he would be assassinated, like Martin Luther King. Men who can be dissuaded by their wives never win the Presidency.
The second figure, who emerged in 2001, is Condoleezza Rice. She rose by the academic route, as a foreign relations adviser to George Bush when he was running for the Presidency. She became Secretary of State in his second term of office. She is quicker and tougher than Colin Powell, though not necessarily wiser. It is still conceivable that she will, at some point, have her own campaign for the Presidency, but it is unlikely. The Americans will some day elect their first black President. Some day they will elect their first woman president. But it took over 160 years to elect John F. Kennedy as the first Roman Catholic. It is not likely that the first black President will also be the first woman.
Now, there is a third black leader, Senator Barack Obama, who is being taken increasingly seriously as a possible Democratic candidate for the Presidency in 2008. Senator Obama is a moderate, yet he was against the Iraq invasion from the beginning. This gives him an edge against Hillary Clinton, who is also a moderate, but was, and largely still is, pro-war. The Democrats have now swung towards the “troops out” position, as they did in the later years of the Vietnam War.
Senator Obama has been campaigning in the mid-term election. It looks as though the Democrats are going to win the 15 seats they need to take the House of Representatives. They may get the six they need for the Senate. If Senator Obama’s campaign produces victory he will be strongly placed to run for the Presidency in 2008.
He is a Harvard man, the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. Best of all, these three black leaders represent the American tradition of moderation. Colin Powell is so moderate a Republican that he is virtually an independent; Condoleezza Rice is more partisan, but still a moderate; Senator Obama is a moderate Democrat, not a liberal extremist. These new black leaders are not tub thumpers, preachers or mob orators. They belong to a much better balanced American tradition of politics. They speak well for the future of race relations in the U.S.
All the best,