Herman Cain, President Obama and Jackie Robinson

“In 1945, the Jim Crow policies of baseball changed forever when Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson of the Negro League’s Kansas City Monarchs agreed to a contract that would bring Robinson into the major leagues in 1947.”

My dad really hated the way that Jackie Robinson was selected to be the one to “officially” break the color barrier in Major League Baseball.  He argued that the person to do that should have been selected on the base of talent alone. 

I have come to respectfully disagree.

Undeniably there was some paternalism in Rickey’s choice. But there was also hard won wisdom and vision from 60 years of experience as a coach, manager, owner, and player. His speech about his decision lays out some important principles that are very relevant to the 2012 election.






This speech indicates that there are important distinctions to be made when facing down volatile problems. We might rail against the necessity for Rickey’s strategy but that’s a longer term haul. Many of us are not very good at the long haul. Thankless, unsung struggle cuts against the grain of a narcissistic culture that worships celebrity. It’s strategy versus tactics.

The question of what to do right now and how to do it rarely yields to idealism. This question has to be informed by idealism. And, of course, the ends can never fully justify the means. In the end, it has to yield to a hard, messy calculus.

Back to Jackie Robinson: a man of excellence and athletic prowess but also a man of character.  Like Jimmy Carter, Robinson’s impact on the world broadened with age, testifying to a powerful intelligence and strength that went far beyond the milieu in which he began. Check out his articulate letters to various presidents. They contained detailed policy analyses but come from a place of informed authority.

All that brings me to Herman Cain.  He is an experienced business man. But the way he has handled the sexual harassment news has made me long for the quiet authority of a Jackie Robinson. I know that that day has passed but perhaps its lessons passed prematurely. Jackie Robinson was a true gentleman in the tradition of former New York City David Dinkins. Herman Cain shares many of their qualities. I can’t blame this group of intelligent, well educated post war leaders who tried a principled, dignified response to racism. But Robinson didn’t just play tennis and network effectively, he was an effective advocate who knew when and how to be combative. He didn’t perform authority and influence. He wielded them. He came from a place of integrity. How do I know? He had an empowered wife who wound up teaching nursing at Yale. I don’t believe that Robinson would have entered anything halfheartedly. Candidate Cain has and does.

I was not surprised by Cain’s connection to the Koch brothers. I am shocked by his lack of preparation. The shifting sands of his positions on taxes and abortion, the aw shucks outrageous misstatements relegate him to Palin-Bachmann status. I don’t think that he’s an idiot. But I do find something about him fundamentally duplicitous. Is it all about promoting his book? Presenting a more diverse Republican face post Michael Steele? The point is that we didn’t know. The sorrow is that he, himself, appears to be unsure.

A half generation later produces President Obama. He seems derailed by the unrelenting intensity of his opposition. By putting his faith in Summers and Geithner, he raised real questions about his judgment given their opposition to regulation and resistance to directly helping homeowners !@#%

Robinson expected resistance and had an effective strategy against it. While Obama has done a lot of good, he has lost key symbolic victories. See paragraph one above. Symbolism sometimes matters even more than facts. I thought we’d long ago put to the bed the idea that one could simply work hard, be a good boy and be rewarded. That won’t work at the presidential level. The chipping away at his fatally flawed health care legislation proves that. It also demonstrates that it’s not just about getting the laws on the books, it’s your ability to defend them. 

Like many others, I’m puzzled by the way the President continually backs down. He only seems to rise to the occasion as a candidate. The lesson of Rickey and Robinson is understanding how to be effective in a diverse range of roles. Here’s to less time spent nursing the generation gap and 































About liftingasweclimb

Mildred Lewis writes and directs for theater, television, film and the web. She's also a full time professor, Christian, activist and troublemaker with a passion to save as much of the world as she can.
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