"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, January 8, 2024

'The Bitch Set Me Up' - The Chutzpah, Bravado, And Gall Of A Political Wizard

Marion Barry, Washington DC’s Mayor for Life, long out of office but remembered by his community, the people for whom he was the man who stuck it to white folks.  

“Get over it”, he said to Northwest Washington voters who considered him a corrupt, morally bankrupt racial politician, who cheered when he was accused and convicted of all kinds of behavior unbecoming for a Mayor, Councilman, or American, and were disappointed when majority black DC voted him back in office despite everything.

Barry was the hero of the city beyond the Anacostia River, the man with pockets full of walkin’ around money, the politician of nepotism, favoritism, and canny ward politics.

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Most white people in DC remember Barry for the sting which caught him doing crack, and sent him packing, the only time in decades of political life that anything every stuck to the Black Teflon Man.  White people don’t remember the details of the sting, where or when it happened, but repeat what became an iconic meme of his tenure – ‘The Bitch Set Me Up’.  Which of course could have been true, a federal plant to get rid of this thorn in the side of good, responsible government, the politician who gave The Nation’s Capital a bad name.  

In addition to being the murder capital of the country, a city rife with crime, civil unrest and disobedience, Jamaican drug crews, street gangs, violent crime, and corrupt governance, it had in Marion Barry an arrogant, shameless ward politician reminiscent of Chicago’s Bathhouse John, a flamboyant politician who symbolized the naked patronage and rank corruption of ward politics.  Barry was in the face of white reformers, conservatives, federal law enforcement, and Congress.  He ran the city as his fiefdom, his turf, his streets, and his entitlement.

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'The bitch set me up' was the classic way Barry expressed a street-borne sentiment of betrayal, a break in the ‘hood code of honor, a black omertà, a sell out.  Of course the code of honor applied only to those with the cash, the guns, and the power; or to up-and-coming street bosses, high-end pimps who would sell out anyone to anyone on their way up; and Barry knew that he hadn’t been looking, hadn’t watched his back, had hired changelings instead of loyalists to watch it for him.  

So there was no contrition, no conciliatory language, no hiding the fact that street justice had been done, that he had indeed been set up, not a bad thing in and of itself, bad only because it happened to him, supposedly the most agile and deft politician to ever come to Washington

Barry had infuriated white Washington when after a major snowstorm which shut the city down and during which no snowplows were deployed to the wealthy, white Northwest neighborhoods, he said, “It’ll melt”. 

Barry had been a frontline civil rights leader in the Sixties when a multi-racial movement against Southern segregation had mounted sit-ins, marches, and demonstrations.  He was in the moderate camp of Dr. King and Ralph Abernathy who preached racial tolerance and forgiveness within a hardened message of civil rights; but he was tempted by the more incendiary, radical movement of the Black Panthers, Elijah Muhammed, and Malcolm X, knew that white racism was endemic, and that the participation of white liberals was no more than a reverse Uncle Tom black wannabee guilt trip. There was no way that he would welcome or even tolerate white supremacy and white plans to keep the black man in his place.

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Of course he never went public about his conversion, and was neither politically nor emotionally fit for violent radicalism. These West Coast firebrands would die in a hail of white bullets and would do more harm than good.  No, Barry would play the white game to rise to power and then stick it to them.  And stick it to them he did for many years until the bitch set him up.

As unpalatable a politician as Barry might have been to white Washington, he was reluctantly admired.  He did it the white way, for who ever said that white power was as lily white and pure as claimed? Barry played by white rules although not the ones most white people imagined – honesty, fair-dealing, respect for law, justice, and Christian values – but the real white values of amorality, power, deception, and mistrust.  K Street lawyers, lobbyists, Congressional aides, and interns understood that Barry’s game was their game, but he played it better.

So, ‘The Bitch Set Me Up’ was part and parcel of the Barry character – there was no caution, no political correctness, no concern about offence or political vulnerability.   In fact political correctness – the  woke, righteous movement to eliminate contrary opinions and to enforce a progressive state – is unknown across the Anacostia River in the ghetto, a rough place where crude, offensive, provocative remarks are small arms alongside big guns.  

There is no such thing as civil discourse, tolerance, rational disquisition across the River.  It is standup, macho, serious intimidation.  No censure of free speech there.  Every man and woman speaks their mind to whomever, uses free speech as a weapon, a signifier, and an outrage.

In this regard, every white is a closeted black wannabee; and all but the most reverentially neutered progressive would like to call the bitch out for setting them up, call uppity women ho’s, and be pimps and cadgers.  The suits and cordovans are just prison outfits.

And so it is for every woke issue imposed and enforced by the progressive thought police.  In the middle of the night straight people wonder about gay men, the San Francisco holes in the wall bathhouse scene, transvestitism, transgenderism and the gender spectrum; but by day they hum the tune and sing the righteous song.  Not a scintilla of suspicion can be heard from them, not even the most oblique and recondite comment about the gay lifestyle can be uttered.

Eddie Murphy in his early one-man standup comedy film, Raw, was the last of the uncensored, politically incorrect, outrageously funny comedians of the modern era.   He said what most people were thinking in the middle of the night.  He was the champion of free speech because he said exactly what you are not supposed to say; and that is at the very center of free speech.  It is speech that many find offensive but whose opinions should not rule others.

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Larry Flynt, former publisher of Hustler magazine, won his free speech case before the Supreme Court on these very grounds. Offensive speech or expression, no matter how distasteful to some, cannot be prohibited.  Flynt made the point that his hilarious although brutal satire of Jerry Falwell, a pompous, self-righteous televangelist – suggesting that he had sex with his mother – was important because its wild exaggeration exposed Falwell’s own exaggerated, sanctimonious claims.

Somehow Americans have become timorous, thin-skinned, self-described victims of ‘offensive’ speech.  Protected identity groups can never more be subjected to the taunts, ridicule, and opprobrium.  Yet how did we become such a worried people, so afraid of our own shadows, seeing insult, threat, and abuse in seemingly every utterance? 

There was never a more outrageously offensive period of American history than the free-for-all of the early Twentieth Century.  Freedom, whether of speech, assembly, press, or religion was as unbridled as the actions of the capitalists who ruled it.  It was a period of exuberance, and no such period is ever tame and judicious.  It was a heady period of individualism, raw enterprise, and success.  A nation cowering in fear of itself can never be great.  Mayor Barry, Eddie Murphy, and the Robber Barons are American heroes.

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