12:14 pm Nov. 17, 20111
Councilman Charles Barron, a Brooklyn Democrat and black nationalist, was never particularly impressed with Herman Cain.
"Herman Cain is not going anywhere," Barron told me in a wide-ranging telephone conversation that started out about his own potential congressional bid, but also touched on Reconstruction, the current state of racial politics, and why he counts Moammar Khadafy among his heroes.
But first, Cain.
"If you look at his one policy, 9-9-9, it makes no-no-no sense," Barron said. "You're almost tripling the sales tax. And to have a flat tax for income, for the rich, and for the middle-income and for the poor, it's absurd. That's a thoughtless wreck.
"Secondly, for him to now cry racism when he's being beaten up, when before he said racism didn't exist, it ain't a problem, it's not our problem—any black leader denying that racism is an issue is not fit to lead us.
"And lastly, he ain't going nowhere because people shouldn't be fooled by these polls."
Barron said the recent surveys showed only about 30 percent of people had formed an opinion, and that when the dust settled, Republican voters were unlikely to be with Cain.
"When those white folks make up their mind for their final candidate, it's not going to be Herman Cain," Barron said.
I asked Barron if it said anything about the Republican Party that, even in the early stages of the primary contest, an African-American man was near the front of the field.
"Absolutely not, I don't think it does," he said. "Most of them have not chosen a candidate because it's such a pathetic field. They can't get somebody to rise to the top. Anybody can get on top of the Republican field right now. And even the selection of Barack Obama as president doesn't mean America's not racist, doesn't mean there's no racism within the Democratic Party. You cannot eradicate institutional, structural racism with the election of a black man for president or any other position."
Barron pointed out that only four African-American men had ever served as governors in the United States, and that two of them—including former New York governor David Paterson—weren't elected to the position.
"That's it. In the history of this nation. Racist. There are no blacks in the U.S. Senate. Racist. It's incredible. 21st century and we have no blacks."
He said his prospective opponents in the 10th District congressional race wouldn't make the situation any better.
"We don't need the [Hakeem] Jeffries and the [Ed] Towns there. Because look what happened with David Paterson. He has a chance to select a black senator, the black senator for this state, and he gives us Gillibrand, because he's trying to win an election that he's not going to run for. You know, just having black people in certain positions, without black consciousness and black commitment to black agendas and black issues, is a problem.
"Because then you get Barack Obama. And you get a David Paterson, or you get a David Dinkins. And you get these black governors and you think you've made progress, but whites usually select blacks that they're comfortable with. And that's going to continue the policies that keeps white interests protected."
With Barron leaning toward challenging Towns for a second time, I asked if he was at all concerned that his memorial service for Moammar Khadafy in Bed-Stuy two weeks ago might be used against him.
"Not worried at all," Barron said. "I'm not a politician. I'm not in this business to be afraid to speak my mind and speak what I believe to be the truth. And, any way Hakeem Jeffries or anybody else wants to use it, bring it."
Since I wasn't at the memorial, I asked if he could sum up why it is that he supported the former Libyan dictator.
"My point is on Khadafy, this is what people don't know, about Khadafy and Mugabe and Castro and Hugo Chavez—all of my heroes people can't stand—is that once again it's this whole idea of liberation and movement. Moammar Khadfay came into power in 1969 and..."
He paused. "Got a minute?"
Barron started at the beginning.
"He came into power in 1969 with a bloodless coup, a bloodless coup in Tripoli with King Idris. When he came in, he was going to nationalize the oil industry, so they hated him for that.
"What he did instead of nationalizing it completely, he said you'd have to give, instead of 40 or 50 percent of profits to the Libyan people, that it's going up to 80 percent. They didn't like that. He also stayed in power from '69 to '77. Then, '77, he stepped down and said that he wanted to start the Jamahiriya, J-A-M-A-H-I-R-Y-A. And with that he didn't want to have any kind of government, he wanted to have more of a people's congresses. And he started the people's congress and they, the people's congress, were elected. He stepped down from any office. And the people in office, the ministers and all of them, could be led by the decisions made by the people's congresses.
"In addition to that, it was Moammar Khadafy who supported Nelson Mandela in the fight against apartheid in South Africa.
"It was Moammar Khadafy that said he wanted the oil revenues to go directly—profits—to go directly to the people, not to government agencies who would then administer to the people, because he thought that they could be easily corrupted. And he wanted it to go directly to the people.
"It was Moammar Khadafy who supported the United States of Africa, a concept that Kwame Nkrumah came up with in 1955, '59, when they were fighting for African liberation, and said, look, why don't you just recognize these African borderlines, these are imperial colonial lines and not fight each other, and let's build a United States of Africa.
"It was Moammar Khadafy who put $70 billion dollars, because he has one of the richest countries in Africa, in an African central bank so that African banks can borrow money from him at no interest instead of the IMF, at high interest rates, that would recolonize Africa.
"It was Moammar Khadafy that took his country from 10 percent literacy in '69 to almost 90 percent literacy. 57 years was the life expectancy rate, moved into 78 years or 77 years and unemployment is almost non-existing."
Barron acknowledged there was some poverty, in Benghazi.
"He is in opposition with some of the rebels there, and that's King Idris' area. So they did have some economic struggles there, that was real."
But he said it paled in comparison with what Khadafy had done.
"Homelessness: almost every Libyan is guaranteed a home," he said. "Free education, free health care."
"Now as far as Lockerbie is concerned—people don't like to hear this—but they have not linked him indefinitely to that. It was a Libyan person who did it. He denied he had anything to do with it. He paid compensation to the families. He didn't free the young man, the guy who did it ... He embraced him when he came home."
(The man convicted of the bombing, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was granted compassionate release from a Scottish prison in 2009, and was greeted with a celebration in Libya. A former Libyan justice minister told the BBC in February that Khadafy had ordered the bombing.)
Barron said Khadafy wasn't perfect.
"Is he a perfect servant, does he give too much to his family, was he around too long? People can have those opinions. I don't think anybody's perfect. Everybody has flaws. Everybody makes mistakes. I have some criticisms of him on things—around Chad and other things.
"But to me, he is a hero. He is a freedom fighter. And America doesn't like him because they can't control him and they want to control the oil of Libya. And the geopolitics in that area. And they do that to anyone that they can't control."
He compared Khadafy to Mugabe, who he once hosted at City Hall.
"When capitalism couldn't control Robert Mugabe, because he took the land back from the whites, he was a monster. Prior to him taking the land back—because they had their revolution in 1980—he didn't become a terrible person killing his own people, 20 years later, when he changed the policy from willing-seller, willing-buyer, as the land reform policy. If the white farmer was willing to sell, England would buy it and give it to the Africans. That didn't work. When he took it back in 2000, then he became the worst person in the world."
Barron said that about summed up his remarks last week.
"So that was what I was saying at the memorial, saying that he was a hero, so is Mugabe, and so are some of the other people America hates.
"And America is nothing but a bunch of hypocrites. Because if they don't like people who kill their own people, then how do you embrace Duvalier in Haiti? How do you embrace Pinochet in Chile? Murderers. How do you embrace the Shah of Iran? A murderous dictator. And Marcos in the Phillipines. Batista in Cuba. Sandanistas went against Somoza, a murderer. All these murderous dictators that are worse than Khadafy. America took him off the terrorist list because he was doing so well.
"So please, it's nothing but a bunch of hypocrisy. I could easily defend my admiration of Moammar Khadafy."
He went on.
"It's just not right the way America paints this terrorist brush on any leader of color that chooses an anti-capitalist path for the development of their country. They become the worst people in the world. And Americans are not told the truth. I would say 90 percent of Americans who hate Khadafy have no idea of all of the stuff that I just told you. And probably couldn't even point to it on the map."
This was the same day, but shortly before, a video went public showing Cain struggling to respond to a question about Libya.
"Let's say you totally hate Khadafy and let's say that's he wrong, and everything you're saying about him is right. First of all, two things, one, Khadafy if he is a problem, is Africa's problem. Not NATO's. not America's. Europe cannot solve Africa's problem. The AU didn't say they wanted a regime change. The African Union, 53, 54 African nations. So who is NATO and the United States to decide they're going to bomb Libya into oblivion and have—when it first started off—these 16 rebels on a tank before they went into a town you just leveled. Every time they went into a town shooting their guns off, I ain't seen nobody shoot back."
He laughed a little.
"Because NATO leveled the town! You and I could have walked in there and liberated those towns. So NATO can't solve Africa's problems. Those are Africa's issues.
"And lastly, and King mentioned this in some of his words, that even your enemy, you shouldn't gloat in his murder and killing. To kill him like that in the street and don't give him a chance to go to the world court and lay his case out, I think is unconscionable and abominable. Why would Americans support that kind of murder?"