125Black Electorate Story on Akin's Strauss
- Dec 17, 2000http://www.blackelectorate.com/archives/081400.asp
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, other
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
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 but 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
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
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