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125Black Electorate Story on Akin's Strauss

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  • Al Giordano
    Dec 17, 2000
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      April 14, 2000

      Robert Strauss or Minister Farrakhan: Who Will Reverend Jackson

      This weekend's Democratic Party "rebuke" of Minister Farrakhan is
      just the latest chapter in a 16-year saga that has seen the
      Democratic Party successful in its attempt to isolate Black political
      leadership from any form of partnership with the leader of the Nation
      of Islam. Central to this drama has been the role played by the
      Reverend Jesse Jackson, who the media and Democratic Party will now
      attempt to pit against the Minister in an effort to silence any
      critique, legitimate or not, coming from the Minister in particular,
      or the Black community in general, against the Gore-Lieberman ticket.
      Rev. Jackson, if the Democratic Party gets its way, is now supposed
      to "repudiate" Minister Farrakhan, defend Sen. Lieberman from any
      legitimate criticism or questions that Min. Farrakhan may have for a
      Gore-Lieberman ticket and slow down any momentum that Min. Farrakhan
      may be generating in his efforts to get the Black electorate
      to "hold" its vote until all four major presidential candidates
      address a "people's agenda" that Minister Farrakhan is prepared to
      The Reverend is now in the valley of decision not unlike the position
      in which he found himself in 1984. In 1984, right before the
      Democratic Convention, Minister Farrakhan was being interviewed by a
      woman who was the host of a television program. During the show she
      asked Minister Farrakhan who he felt had placed pressure on Rev.
      Jackson to distance himself from Min. Farrakhan. The Minister
      replied, " Well, as I read in the newspapers and of course I have to
      be very careful of what I read in the newspapers, there was a
      conversation with Mr. Strauss after the debate in, I think it was
      Dallas, Texas. And Mr. Strauss was overheard telling Rev. Jackson
      that 'he had to repudiate Farrakhan'. And Mr. Jackson was overheard
      saying that he had a moral obligation. And Mr. Strauss was heard to
      say, ' That's B.S.'. So I would imagine that Mr. Strauss, Mr. Manatt.
      Mr. Mondale and Mr. Hart , the leaders in the Democratic Party, otherÂ…
      even Black leaders have urged him to pull away from Louis Farrakhan".
      The "Mr. Strauss" that Minister Farrakhan was referring to was Robert
      Strauss, a Democratic insider who in 1973 had become the chairman of
      the Democratic Party. He would move on from that position to become a
      major Washington lobbyist and so-called Democratic Party "wiseman"
      whose counsel would be sought by Democratic Party leaders and
      candidates. Indeed, Min. Farrakhan was correct, Robert Strauss had
      indeed put great pressure on Rev. Jackson to repudiate Minister
      Farrakhan and remove him from any role in the Jackson campaign. And
      in fact Strauss would later say that there was no place in the
      Democratic Party for Louis Farrakhan. The "Mr. Manatt" in question
      was Charles Manatt who was appointed chairman of the DNC by President
      Carter. And of course "Mr. Mondale" is Walter Mondale - the eventual
      presidential nominee of the Democratic Party and "Mr. Hart" is Gary
      Hart - the runner up.
      Though Bob Strauss left the party chairmanship over 2 decades ago, he
      has never left the unofficial power center of the Democratic Party.
      In the 1984 campaign it was Strauss who was the most vociferous of
      those who felt that Rev. Jackson's campaign threatened the Party
      establishment. He also was very adamant in making the case that Rev.
      Jackson's campaign and the influence that Rev. Jackson gained within
      the party would adversely affect the Democrat's chances of winning
      back the White House from Republicans. Strauss, since the early
      1970s, felt that the Democrats was leaning to heavily in favor of the
      civil rights movement. In the 1980s, though he was no longer head of
      the Party, he continued to raise his concerns over the direction of
      the Democratic Party. Rev. Jackson's impact on the Party was a chief
      concern of Strauss.
      Strauss was very alarmed that even though the Democrats had been
      thoroughly defeated by Reagan-Bush in the 1984 election, little was
      being done inside of the party to discredit the notion that Democrats
      were becoming too identified with Black and minority issues. In 1986,
      Strauss could still be heard complaining, " The defeat will mean
      nothing to them. The hunger of these groups will be even greater.
      Women, blacks, teachers, Hispanics. They have more power, more money
      than ever before. Do you think these groups are going to turn the
      party loose? Do you think that labor is going to turn the party
      loose? Jesse Jackson? The others? Forget it." Strauss said.
      By the time the Democratic convention rolled around in 1984, Minister
      Farrakhan was no longer active in Rev. Jackson's campaign which no
      doubt pleased Strauss, but the grip that Rev. Jackson and other
      groups had and were gaining in Party affairs had not been broken. In
      fact, much of the 1984 convention featured wheeling and dealing, and
      the exchange of compromise and concession between Mondale, Hart and
      Jackson. All of which was too much for Strauss and those with him to
      According to Kenneth S. Baer in Reinventing Democrats, Strauss and an
      elite group of Democratic Party members met to redirect the party's
      direction. Baer describes a November 28, 1994 meeting between Strauss
      and other Democrats including Stuart Eizenstat (now a Deputy Treasury
      Secretary in the Clinton administration) where Al From, a Democratic
      Party adviser mentored by Strauss, presented a paper and discussed
      with Party leaders how the Democratic Party could change its message
      to appeal to a broader audience and bypass the coalition of Blacks,
      women and gays that the Party had become dependent upon.
      Eventually, out of such meetings with Strauss, From and others,
      including a Tennessee Congressman named Al Gore, an organization, the
      Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), would be formed dedicated to the
      task of moving the Democratic Party beyond its current base of
      support. While a goal of these planning sessions and organizing
      efforts was to make the Democratic Party more electable, a parallel
      goal of men like Strauss, who had become lobbyists, was to
      increasingly make the Democratic Party receptive to the interests of
      corporate America.
      In 1992, journalist William Greider wrote of this paradigm shift
      inside of the Democratic Party as well as Robert Strauss' dominant
      role under the new regime:
      The Democrats might more accurately be described now as "the party of
      Washington lawyers" - lawyers who serve as the connective tissue
      within the party's upper reaches. They are the party establishment,
      to the extent anyone is, that has replaced the old networks of state
      and local political bosses. But these lawyers have no constituencies
      of their own and, indeed, must answer to no one, other than their
      clients. Democratic lawyers who have reached this plateau are mostly
      veterans of past administrations or old presidential campaigns,
      though some served as aides to key congressional leaders. They move
      easily in and out of the various power centers in the Democratic
      Congress, dispensing political advice on the direction of the party
      and specific issues and also distributing that important commodity -
      campaign money. Many major law firms have formed their own political
      action committees, so that the various strands - party strategy,
      issues, money - conveniently come together in one location. These
      lawyers speak, naturally enough, with a mixture of motives - for the
      good of the party, presumably, but also for the benefit of the
      clients who are paying them.
      Has the party of Jefferson and Jackson been reduced to the political
      machinations of six Washington law firms? Not quite butÂ…when I asked
      other hands in Washington to take a stab at naming "the six law
      firms" who form the establishment of the Democratic Party, none of
      them hesitated or argued with the premise. They had only marginal
      disagreements about which firms ought to be included.
      The ubiquitous Robert Strauss of Akin, Gump, a Texan who was party
      chairman in the mid-1970s and U.S. trade representative in the Carter
      administration, was on everyone's list. The news media dubbed him "
      Mr. Democrat" and often seek his thoughts on party affairs, though
      Strauss is closer to the Republicans in the White House and to
      Republican corporate interests than to any bread-and-butter
      Democratic constituencies. His firm represents everything from Drexel
      Burnham Lambert to the Motion Picture Association of America, from
      McDonnell Douglas to AT&T. When George Bush appointed him ambassador
      to Moscow in 1991, it was widely understood that Strauss would be
      busy arranging deals for American business to develop markets and
      resources inside the newly liberated republics.
      Greider's line. "These lawyers speak, naturally enough, with a
      mixture of motives - for the good of the party, presumably, but also
      for the benefit of the clients who are paying them." deserves careful
      attention today - 16 years after he opposed the union between
      Minister Farrakhan and Rev. Jackson. What clients pay Akin, Gump
      today where Strauss still works? According to the Center For
      Responsive Politics, Akin Gump is the lobbying firm for a virtual
      who's who of special interests. In 1998 the firm pulled in over
      $11,800, 000 in income from every corporation that you could
      imagine .
      And in 1999-2000 Akin, Gump gave over $190,000 to House and Senate
      candidates in both parties.
      And Robert Strauss has already contributed to Al Gore's campaign -
      personally giving him a $1000 contribution - the maximum for one
      The Democratic party of 2000 has moved a long way from the party of
      1984. The DLC and Bob Strauss not only diminished the influence of
      Rev. Jackson inside of the Democratic Party, but they also were
      successful in their efforts to cater to the interests of the business
      and financial community. In 16 years, the Democratic Party has gone
      from the appearance of "the party of the people" to the reality that
      it is the party of corporate and banking interests.
      But Rev. Jackson too has adapted with the times and with the creation
      of his Wall St. Project, he has an access to corporate America that
      rivals that of the DLC. Many have been disappointed with Rev.
      Jackson's recent interactions with Corporate America but few question
      the sagacity that he has demonstrated in making such connections. And
      many will admit that his efforts have certainly benefited a
      significant portion of the Black upper class.
      And while the Reverend is not running for office this year and is not
      on the ticket his presence is still important. The question remains
      will he be willing to speak to the legitimate interests of the poor
      and middle-class of his people as well as the coalition that he has
      historically represented or will the Reverend's first priority be to
      further and maintain the access that he has obtained with the
      corporate and financial community over the last 10 years. Will he
      provide an honest critique of the pros and cons of a Gore-Lieberman
      ticket or will he fail to offer any legitimate criticism of the
      policies that Gore and Lieberman have championed? And will Rev.
      Jackson agree with any legitimate criticism of the Democratic ticket
      offered by Minister Farrakhan, especially if that criticism is
      directed at Sen. Lieberman? Or will the Reverend do or say anything
      to avoid being branded an "anti-Semite" even if that label is
      unfairly applied?

      By an act of God, Minister Farrakhan, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Robert
      Strauss are all alive and active in this year's election season. 16
      years ago Robert Strauss was successful in his effort to separate the
      Reverend from the Minister. And in the process Strauss was able to
      simultaneously move the Democratic Party firmly into the grip of
      multinational corporations as well as set the grassroots Black
      political movement back by nearly two decades.
      It is hard to argue that the Black electorate still has not recovered
      from the blow to the unity of Minister Farrakhan and Rev. Jackson
      leveled by Robert Strauss and the Democratic Party Establishment. But
      election 2000 may represent the long-awaited rematch. And all have
      lived to fight another day.
      Will Rev. Jackson be able to withstand the enormous pressure that
      the "New Democratic" party will place on him to "denounce" Minister
      Farrakhan and maybe more important, will Rev. Jackson finally accept
      the Minister's outstretch hand in an effort to represent "a people's
      We shall see.
      Read yesterday's L.A. Times profile of Robert Strauss