Legacy & Leadership: Black Pride, Principles, and Pragmatism

man podium

President Barack Obama could take a lesson from the career of Jackson, Mississippi’s principled and pragmatic mayor, Chokwe Lumumba. Lumumba left his leadership early and suddenly — and was so beloved that someone wondered if his fatal heart attack could have been caused by foul play (it was not). The irony of Lumumba’s leadership, in a city that is 82 percent African-American, is that, according to the New York Times, “his most significant concrete achievement as mayor was the passage of a regressive tax to fix potholes.”  Surely not.

For a black separatist to be elected to any office, no matter how high the concentration of any one identity group, is an achievement — pothole taxes or not.

Ironies always abound, and while Obama should take inspiration from such a beloved, principled leader who was also a pragmatist, there will be many ironies and possibly a few last laughs as Obamacare unfolds.

Indeed, New York Times reporter Erica Goode covered one of the potentially most complicated and yet inspiring ones to date.  (Second, potentially, only to the fact that persons with mental disabilities — injuries or impairments — must receive parity in treatment under Obamacare.) And that is that the states will start piling on to re-federalize (in effect) one aspect of the prison system — getting inmates, be they in jail or prison, signed up for Obamacare.  This will save the states hundreds of millions of dollars.

What do all the social workers, jail wardens, and anyone working for a municipal, state, or local incarceration facility know? They know full well that “about 70 percent of prison inmates in the state have problems with addiction . . . and 34 percent suffer from mental illness.” Part of Obama’s legacy could be that his administration ended up funding some of the most vulnerable population that politics of any kind — left or right — can ever serve.

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About Ruth O'Brien

Professor Ruth O'Brien, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York (CUNY) & Honorary Unaffiliated Academic Book Series Editor for The Public Square, Princeton University Press & Heretical Thought, Oxford University Press, USA Last book: Out of Many, One: Obama & the Third American Political Tradition (U of Chicago 2013). Nickname: Professorette by Rush Limbaugh (see http://www.gc.cuny.edu/Faculty/Core-Bios/Ruth-O-Brien)

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