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Thursday, October 10, 2002

Singer Harry Belafonte has criticized Secretary of State Colin Powell for his toeing the Bush line:

"There's an old saying," Belafonte said. "In the days of slavery, there were those slaves who lived on the plantation and [there] were those slaves that lived in the house. You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master ... exactly the way the master intended to have you serve him. Colin Powell's committed to come into the house of the master. When Colin Powell dares to suggest something other than what the master wants to hear, he will be turned back out to pasture."

Earlier in the day, a senior State Department official had a piece of advice for Belafonte, similar to a suggestion made to Powell after he sang in a musical skit with fellow foreign ministers during the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Brunei this past July.
"As people said when the secretary sang at ASEAN [that] he should keep his day job, you could say the same about singers who get into politics," the official said.

The "official" is dead wrong, and demonstrates one of the things that is fundamentally wrong with the Bushies: politics is everyone's business. Singers should get into politics, as should everyone. I won't pretend to tell Jamaican-Americans like Belafonte and Powell what characterizations of each other are politically correct. But Powell was highly respected for his moderate, even dovish views two years ago, and he was paraded by Bush as his Secretary of State nominee well before the Florida election controversy had ended. While probably no one directly involved in that would admit to having changed his or her mind because of Powell's premature nomination, it certainly took some of the wind out of the sails of those fighting for Gore, and particularly for the millions of Americans who weren't pulling strongly for either candidate. They probably thought that even though Bush was clearly clueless on foreign policy, he was going to select a knowledgeable, intelligent and cautious man to make the decisions. I'll admit my concerns about W as president were reduced from shear terror to mild panic when Powell was announced as Secretary of State. If, for example, W had announced in the middle of the Florida muddle that John Ashcroft was going to be attorney general, there might well have been enough outrage to force accurate recounts, no matter how long it took. But W brought out Powell, the steadying influence to calm our fears (Ashcroft wasn't nominated until January, well after the Supreme Court had given Bush the presidency). So to see Powell supporting every bellicose, insane policy of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Perle is very disillusioning and disheartening. Characterizing him as a house slave may have unfortunate racial overtones, but none of the alternatives seem particularly flattering, either: a dog who is loyal even though kicked repeatedly, a sycophant, a Waylan Smithers. And I think Belafonte's analogy fits, racial overtones or no. It could well have been applied to Al Gore selling out his supposed environmentalist credentials to support NAFTA and other Clinton-sponsored free-trade crap. So I guess my advice to Mr. Powell is this: don't tell Belafonte, or anyone, to stay out of politics. And if you don't want to be characterized as a house slave, stop acting like one.