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Sunday, June 11, 2006

A lack of trust

A Path All His Own
For Eric Motley, the Measure of a Man Isn't His Politics

Wil Haygood
The Washington Post
Sunday, June 11, 2006; A01


For years, a battle brewed for Motley's political soul. Here, in the cradle of the civil rights movement, the black community in which he grew up was populated overwhelmingly by Democrats, men and women who reached out to nurture and inspire him. They put Motley on the ladder of success. But in time, as his experiences broadened, whites -- mostly Republicans -- embraced his promise and pulled Motley up that ladder.

There is little doubt now about which political faction won Motley's allegiance.

As a student at Robert E. Lee High School, which was approximately 40 percent black, Motley avoided black cliques. Many of the black kids were into sports, and sports held no interest for him. He watched the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in the fall of 1991. The proceedings turned into a hurricane of sexual and racial politics. Motley, who had to write a class paper on the confirmation process, fired off a sympathetic letter to Thomas.

His thoughts about politics were beginning to crystallize. "I think it was also the first time I became truly illumined that I was expected to think a certain way, given my race. It was countering everything my grandparents taught me: Think for yourself. Use your own mind. Be your own person. All these retired black persons who had been tutoring me said: 'Stand on your own two feet!' I didn't need the Negro College Fund to tell me a mind is a terrible thing to waste."

There had always been independent thinkers in his black community. Motley's own grandfather George Washington Motley sometimes crossed party lines when voting, eschewing Democratic dogma, while keeping a picture of Thurgood Marshall in the house. During races for class office, Motley found himself siding more often than not with conservative positions, which meant siding more often than not with whites. There were stares, and questioning, from blacks.

He had made the transition to independent thinker.

* * *

Soul Food?

When Eric Motley arrived on Samford's campus, he became friendly with a group of young white Republicans. He also requested a single room. He knew he would be rising every morning at 4:30 -- to write letters, read and call his grandparents.


"I was a sophomore when he was a freshman," says Millsaps, now a lawyer in Georgia. "It was known around campus I was interested in politics. Somebody said, 'Patrick, you have to meet this guy.' They said, 'By the way, he's a Republican. And he's black.' I said, 'Hmm, a black Republican. From the South.' "

Motley headed up the Samford Speakers Series on campus, beginning in 1994. He brought an eclectic group to campus: poet Gwendolyn Brooks, former State Department spokesman Margaret Tutwiler, Justice Clarence Thomas. To many at Samford, Motley seemed to transcend race. His cultural tastes, in particular, did not conform to the expectations some had of a black student.

* * *
Speaking Up for Bush

The Bush administration has not been shy about utilizing Motley as a public speaker.

"I view myself as a moderate-conservative," Motley says. "I am a conservative by nature. But I am not an extremist."

His stump speech is titled "An Odyssey of Gratitude and Grace." In it Motley talks about his upbringing, his admiration of President Bush, his own White House career: "I am a victim -- a victim of random acts of kindness, from birth to the White House. Without vanity, but with a deep sense that I am a beneficiary, you can trace the grace that runs so true through all my life thus far. My story is that grace, not race, is the dominant factor in life."

The speech serves as a counter to Bush's naysayers.

"After I began giving that speech," says Motley, "I got all kinds of invitations. From university presidents, business organizations. Actually, that speech became a kind of hot potato."

Motley, who recognizes Bush is not popular among blacks, sees himself as evidence of Bush's inclusion of minorities. "If blacks are afraid of the administration, doesn't it make sense to have me on the inside?"


On the podium, Motley welcomed everyone, sending out greetings from the White House and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He spoke reverently of the historic furnishings. Then he sought to share a little about his own life: "When I first went to work at the White House, my grandmama said, 'What you gonna be doing over there?' "

He paused, like a comic.

" 'Serving coffee? Or cleaning?' "

The humor, couched in a kind of backstairs at the White House nostalgia and delivered to a mostly white and foreign crowd, fell flat. The chuckling was painfully awkward.

* * *

A Solitary Life


His style of dress swerves from preppy to English dandy.

When Motley is not at work, he visits antique stores, art galleries. He is single. "I don't think he'll ever get married," says grandmother Mamie Motley, who believes he is too finicky for most women.

Motley has not tapped into the vein of black cultural life in Washington. Sometimes he will hop on his bicycle to look at the architecture of black churches over in Southeast. The curiosity of his eyes satisfied, he pedals on. One can sit in Motley's apartment for hours, and the phone won't ring, not once. "I grew up by myself," Motley says. "Of course there were kids around. But my interests, for the most part, were always different from theirs. I had this wonderful capacity as a child to keep myself engaged."

* * *


Mamie Motley lives alone. She lives for the thrice-weekly phone calls she gets from Eric. "He come home and he goes around picking up all the trash on the roadside," she says. (Mamie Motley will not, however, discuss politics with her grandson.)


"You know Bob Carter, the judge?" Seay asks Motley. "Well, he once wrote an article about a black judge, about a man in a black robe who thinks white."

Momentary silence.

"My name certainly wasn't in that article!" Motley blurts out, before letting loose some nervous laughter.

Seay doesn't crack a smile.

And not far down the road, here stands, in his junk-strewn yard, Nathaniel Johnson, a farmer of very modest means. He, like the others, is happy to see Eric home for a visit. The farmer is in a T-shirt and coveralls. He is holding a pipe; whiffs of tobacco scent the air. There are other things Johnson wishes to say to Eric Motley.

"Boy, what in the world you doing up there in Washington? Y'all done messed up the whole country. What in the world is Bush doing? Things just a mess. I mean, a mess. I don't like that business over in Iraq one bit."

"Well, Mr. Johnson . . ."

Eric fidgets. Grins. The grin vanishes.

"No, I'm serious!" Johnson goes on. "I mean things is messed up!"


* * *

The Road Ahead
The service inside Eric Motley's home church is winding down. The minister has singled out Motley, talked about how he had been praying for him and President Bush.


Motley has said to White House officials -- as well as power brokers in Alabama -- that he may return to Alabama after his tenure in the Bush administration. "These people have said to me whatever it is I want to do, they're willing to help me," Motley says. "I'm trying to decide what I want to do."

He may run for office at some point. He wants to keep outrunning labels. "There are still some people in this community who are not overly anxious to embrace Eric," says Solomon Seay, "even though he has gotten to where he's at in life."


Jim Wilson, the lawyer and member of Motley's church, has watched Motley's career from afar. And Wilson also has concerns about Motley. "My worry," he says, "is that when all of this is over -- the Bush administration, Eric's job, because it will all come to an end -- my worry is: Will Eric be able to find his way back home?"

Independent thinker? Please. To most black people, it just means he soldout for personal gain. I hope he likes teaching, because he has no political career in his future.


Because, how could black voters trust him to understand their problems and represent their interests? See, it's not that this man isn't intelligent or capable, but when it comes to standing up for black interests, aligning yourself with Bush is not the way to go.

Take Corey Booker. A lot of people do not trust him, some do. But he's a Democrat. Because if he was a Republican, he would have never been elected to anything in North Jersey. You may disagree with his policies, but you know that he is still on your side.

The problem with Motley is not his not liking rap, or other so-called "interests" of black people, but his allegiance to white conservatives and his obviously lack of comfort with black social life.
Church's? He'd never been to a black restaurant? That's weird. Churches is not black food. And even worse, he was afraid to be seen in Church's.

Make no mistake, as personally happy as his friends and family are for his success, they don't trust or like his politics and none of them agree with him.

The problem is that white conservatives talk up black candidates and then watch them lose.

The problem is that Eric Motley is going be used to sell ideas which have zero currency in Black America. Conservatism hasn't only failed, it's been deemed hostile to black and now Latino progress. They talk a good game, until they have to give something up. Then they sit on their hands. Black ministers went to GOP in the beginning of 2005 with an agenda.When it got to prison reform, I realized I was reading the words of idiots. They didn't get that the GOP agenda would NEVER include prison reform to benefit blacks, because they had run against blacks using prisons.

And when the conservatives start in with that plantation bullshit, they miss the point. Independent thinker is fine when it's truly independent thought. Joining up with the GOP and being used as an example is not independent thought.

What the old folks aren't saying, and there are more than one of Motley's peers on track for a political career, as a Democrat, is that people don't trust him. They like him, but they don't trust him and the people he associates with. Which is the issue. How can you trust someone who supports ideas which are harmful to you and your community?

Which is why his political career is unlikely to go far.

posted by Steve @ 11:23:00 AM

11:23:00 AM

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