Speaking Truth 

An astonishing dialogue took place last weekend during a North Memphis forum featuring candidates for the 9th District congressional seat. The forum, third in a series organized by the Rev. LaSimba Gray, was undertaken (like the first two) in a self-professed effort to select a "consensus" black candidate -- on the ground that only one such could represent the district's African-American majority.

Rev. Gray's effort was patently aimed at the candidacy of state

senator Steve Cohen -- one of several hopefuls in a rather talented field who could do the 9th District proud. Cohen, however, happens to be white -- though he has been a consistent champion of civil rights (and of black candidates for office) over the years.

Having failed to get the senator's goat by applying overtly racial criteria to the series of debates, Gray must have thought he'd hit the mother lode when, in responding to a forum question two weeks ago about the readiness of candidates to take an FBI background test and a drug test, Cohen answered perfunctorily in the affirmative and then pointed out that, in our democracy, it is the FBI -- the same FBI that once plotted against Dr. Martin Luther King -- that should pass our, the citizens', test.

The same question was asked a second time in last weekend's debate, and this time the good reverend accompanied it with a bogus set of facts about congressional high crimes and misdemeanors, using an Internet fable that was demonstrated to be a fiction way back in 1999.

Cohen is Cohen, and he speaks what he thinks. Answering the original question much as he had the first time, he then told Gray that "with all respect," the statistics he'd given out weren't genuine. That gave Gray the opportunity to step out of his moderator's role and call Cohen "paternalistic and arrogant," accusing him of insulting the predominantly black audience.

Mission accomplished, Gray must have thought, a la G.W. Bush.

Cohen and several of the other candidates have vowed to speak truth to power. Given the fact that Gray possesses at least a modicum of power in ministerial affairs and in the African-American community, we regret that other candidates did not follow Cohen's lead and contradict "information" that must have seemed patently spurious to many of them as well. In fairness, the program had, by that time, almost run its course, and not many of them had the opportunity to object.

Whoever goes to Congress from the 9th District must represent all of the residents of District 9 -- black or white, Republican, Democrat, or independent -- and the best way to get started on such a noble mission is to acknowledge that all of the residents of District 9 are eligible to serve as well as to be served.

Under the circumstances, it would be speaking truth to power to say so out loud. At the very least, what a self-respecting candidate should do when he hears outright balderdash is to speak simple truth.

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