April 22-28, 2004
I’ve known South Philly state Rep. Harold James for four or five years now, and have always thought of him as a rock-solid "man of the people." I’ve quoted him in maybe a dozen different news stories, and when there’s a grassroots campaign for peace and justice somewhere in the neighborhood, you can count on James to be there. The lifelong community activist and former Philly cop is a fierce fighter for his constituents, and the kind of guy you want on your side when the chips are down. He’s always in some political battle or another, and he usually picks his battles wisely.
That’s why I did a double take last Thursday, when I picked up a piece of campaign literature from my front stoop. There on the front cover was James, heartily endorsing the Democratic presidential candidacy of -- wait a second -- are you kidding me? This can’t be right. Say it ain’t so, Harold, I thought, my head spinning.
Yes, that Lyndon LaRouche. He’s the perennial also-ran candidate who has managed to get himself on the ballot in every presidential election since 1976. His positions, filled with rhetoric about vast government conspiracies against him and his followers, have gotten him labeled everything from simple crackpot to fascist anti-Semite, and he’s the only presidential candidate in recent memory to have actually served time in a federal prison. He spent more than five years in lockup after being convicted in federal court in1988 of fraud in connection with his political fundraising. They also threw in a conviction for tax evasion for good measure. Upon his release in 1994, LaRouche blamed his troubles with the justice system on -- wait for it -- yet another vast government conspiracy against him, this one organized personally by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Also among LaRouche’s more colorful viewpoints:
That the world is sliding inexorably toward global breakdown of monetary and financial institutions, the result of which will be a worldwide depression that will make 1929-33 look like the good old days.
That the laws of Moses in the Old Testament are not part of religious tradition, but the product of political counterinsurgency operations in ancient Babylon.
That Attorney General John Ashcroft has gutted the U.S. Constitution by Machiavellian political measures that remind him of Mussolini, Franco and Hitler. Well, OK, that one’s not so nuts, but you get the point.
I called Harold James to ask him about his surprise endorsement of LaRouche. I wanted to know why in the world he would encourage his loyal constituents to vote for this nut job who obviously can’t win, and why he would endanger his own political credibility to do so. As surprised as I was to read his endorsement, I was even more surprised at his explanation. It was reasoned, well thought out and, in typical James style, a thumb in the eye to the powers that be.
"I don’t expect him to win," James said candidly, "and I don’t expect him to even come close to getting the party’s nomination. My thing is not for him to win the election, but to ensure African-Americans a voice after the April 27 primary. Our concerns are not being addressed by the Democratic National Committee or by the Kerry campaign. The issues that impact our community are ignored, and our votes are taken for granted by the Democratic Party nationally. My endorsement of Lyndon LaRouche is a wake-up call to the party leadership that we won’t stand for being ignored any longer."
According to the gospel of James, for every 15 percent of the vote LaRouche gets in any given congressional district on primary election day, one LaRouche delegate will be sent to the Democratic convention. Since the Rev. Al Sharpton is not on the ballot in Pennsylvania, James figures the only way to get African-American issues on the platform is to make sure there are a couple of LaRouche delegates at the convention to carry the message.
I mentioned to James that his endorsement probably won’t be welcome news at party headquarters, and he laughed heartily.
"Good. I hope the DNC isn’t happy," he chortled. "The leadership of the party feels that black voters are in the bag. They figure they don’t have to lift one finger or even look in our direction and still get 90 percent of the black vote. I’m saying that we as a people have to stop being blindly in lockstep with the party. If anyone gets 90 percent of your vote, you have an obligation to make them earn it by addressing your concerns."
James told me that he’s well aware that LaRouche is far outside the mainstream, but that’s just fine. The purpose of a primary election, he said, is for party members to fight among themselves first, then unite and rally behind their candidate to win in November.
I may not agree with James’ methodology, but I respect his willingness to go out on a limb to prove his point. I still think that LaRouche is a crackpot, but after our conversation, at least I don’t think Harold James has gone around the bend with him.
Daryl Gale’s weekly radio show, Dialogues, with co-hosts Rotan Lee and Bill Miller, is burning up the airwaves Fridays 7-10 a.m. on WURD (900 AM) in Philadelphia.