Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On an Acorn Fallen Pretty Far From the Tree

Posted By on Tue, Nov 24, 2009 at 2:00 AM

Wade Rathke
  • Wade Rathke
Life is full of surprises. I have followed the right wing’s recent propaganda war against ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) only casually and more sympathetically for ACORN than not.

I recall being holed up in a Little Rock hotel late one night in 1982 while I was working on an Arkansas political campaign and listening to a meeting of the group transpire either overhead or in an adjoining room. In whichever case, it was like I was right there, hearing every voice as a passionate argument went on between ACORN field reps over the best recruiting strategies to pursue in Arkansas.

What I recall most, beside the aforesaid passion, was the absolute sincerity and sense of commitment, even zeal, of the participants for doing something about the living conditions of the poor and powerless. That leaked through the partition, and, though it eventually became a drone that I went to sleep by, I was not unimpressed.

Well, here I was Monday morning looking at an email from the Tennessee Republican Party (being in the business, as it were, I’m on everybody’s send list) noting that one Wade Rathke was due to speak at the University of Memphis that night.

He was identified as ACORN’s co-founder and taken to task by the anonymous GOP scribe for concealing the embarrassing fact that his brother had embezzled almost $1 million from the group — a circumstance that supposedly prompted Rathke to resign from ACORN only last month.

I gather that the point of the email was to entice Republicans to go heckle Rathke or, at the very least, to monitor his activities. For myself, remembering the intensity and righteous energy I’d overheard in that Arkansas hotel way back when, I thought I would go give the ACORN man a fair hearing if circumstances permitted.

Later in the day, though, I got another email alerting me to an entry in the aforesaid Rathke’s personal blog. (Like I said, I’m in the business.)

Discussing a meeting sometime Sunday with “twenty community leaders” here in Memphis, Rathke went on to deal with a recent controversy involving developer Harold Buehler’s ultimately successful application, under a federal program, to acquire 140 vacant lots to develop rental property on.

Said Rathke: “I found a squib by Jackson Baker in something called the ‘political beat’ in the Memphis Flyer. Despite Baker’s bias in favor of Buehler and his contempt for Commissioner Henri Brooks, and anyone who opposes this project, his piece does confirm the facts behind the minister’s disgust and my new friends’ revulsion at this action.”

Whereupon he went on to quote several paragraphs from my coverage of a commission meeting, and, sure enough, those paragraphs could be used to support criticism of Buehler’s project. Or mayhap to support the project, for that matter. Or whatever one chose to think, really, since all I was aiming to do was, as Rathke would put it, to “confirm the facts” behind the controversy. Not to argue them one way or the other.

I own up to contributing “squibs” on a regular basis to “something called the ‘political beat’ in the Memphis Flyer” (that would be online) and to something else called “Politics” in the print edition of the Flyer. I disclaim, however, any “bias in favor of Buehler” and, most certainly, any “contempt for Commissioner Henri Brooks, and anyone who opposes this project.” Au contraire. I confess to a regard for several opponents of the project, and a genuine respect for Commissioner Brooks, especially for her determination to go it alone if need be on behalf of causes she holds dear. (Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act never had a more dedicated watchdog.)

What I have “contempt” for is someone who rolls into town and, on the basis of a single ex parte conversation and a hasty skimming (and misreading) of one article, becomes an instant authority on people, places, and things he knows not of. For the record, Rathke should know that most of the certifiable progressives on the commission, those who would be expected to underwrite the goals of organizations like, say, ACORN, voted with Buehler. Rightly or wrongly.

On the evidence of Mr. Rathke’s capacity for blatant prejudgment, I find myself at least leaning to the notion that the conscientious members of ACORN might be well rid of him, whatever his contributions of the past. And that’s the end of this squib.

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