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Eric Holder was our firewall against GOP bigotry

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

One of the most poignant moments in Attorney General Eric Holder Jr.’s six-year tenure heading the Justice Department came in February 2009, barely a month after he had been confirmed as Attorney General. He told an overflow crowd celebrating Black History Month at the Justice Department that America was “cowardly” when it came to facing race and racism. That did it. From that moment on the lines were sharply and brutally drawn. The pack of right wing bloggers, web sites, and of course, the GOP, made Holder their Public Enemy Number 1. They would hector, hound, harass, demean, insult and batter him at every turn. He was hauled before countless GOP controlled House committees and grilled mercilessly on everything from his alleged bungling and deceit in the fast and furious gun running sting to the reporter leak flap in which he supposedly vindictively went after reporters in an effort to uncover damaging security leaks. The topper was the House’s frivolous lawsuit, a contempt citation and an equally frivolous and clumsy threat to impeach him.

The vicious baiting was never really about Holder. It was about President Obama and race. Obama, in the sense that Holder became the softest of soft targets in the GOP’s no-holds-barred campaign to hamstring Obama with the odor of scandal and in effect straightjacket his presidency. The race part was even more insidious. Holder meant what he said that the nation had marched backward for every step it went forward in dealing with racial bias. He backed up his words with repeated actions on voting rights abuses, grotesque racially skewed sentencing disparities, and defense of gay rights. This was crowned by his rush to St. Louis following the slaying of Michael Brown and putting dozens of FBI and Justice Department attorney’s boots on the ground there with the strong hint that a civil rights prosecution could be in the offing if there was no state prosecution of Ferguson cop Darren Wilson for the killing of Brown. This sent the professional Holder baiters into a tizzy and again the shouts were long and loud for his head.

But Holder each time held fast and didn’t buckle. He even doubled down again on his blast at racism noting on several occasions that he, as Michael Brown and countless other young black males, had been profiled by police once as a law student and later as a federal prosecutor. To add even more to the GOP and Holder baiters’ vitriol, he had the audacity to make the claim and the revelation of his personal experience with racial profiling in a keynote speech before Al Sharpton’s National Action Network convention last April.

Sharpton went further in that speech and frontally called out the GOP about its ruthless, cynical and politically calculating war against Obama. He noted that Obama had been vilified as no other president in living memory, and race was the reason. Holder could say that. Obama couldn’t at the risk of creating another firestorm and laying himself open even wider to the accusation that he was a race baiting president. Holder in essence had license to say what Obama didn’t dare say but well knew to be true. So Holder continually and effectively provided a protective cover over Obama in taking on the critics on racial matters. And he provided the same protective cover over the key areas of civil rights and voting rights protections that no other Attorney General had provided since Attorney General Ramsey Clark had done during the Lyndon Johnson administration in the late 1960s.

The proof of Holder’s effectiveness was the backhand perverse compliment the Holder baiters paid him in their euphoria over his resignation. They dredged up all the old distortions, myths, and lies about him in their rush to maliciously tar him as “the worst attorney general” the nation ever had. This spoke volumes how Holder was able to get under their skin to the point where they had to shout in glee at his departure.

The beauty is that Holder has left a solid legacy of accomplishment in the areas that have been and continue to be the greatest flashpoints of public controversy, namely civil rights, and racial justice and fairness. A final testament to Holder’s commitment here was his announcement three weeks before he announced his departure that the probe he ordered into the killing of Trayvon Martin was still active and that there were new developments to be announced. The implication was that there was still the possibility of civil rights charges being filed against Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman. Holder then ended his tenure as he began still taking controversial stances on issues that would surely send his army of detractors back into froth. But that was vintage Holder. He was our firewall against GOP bigotry and we’ll sorely miss him.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.

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