Dear Hank Aaron:
In your interview with USA Today, published earlier this week, you compared Republicans that oppose President Barack Obama to the Ku Klux Klan, saying:
“Sure, this country has a black president, but when you look at a black president, President Obama is left with his foot stuck in the mud from all of the Republicans with the way he’s treated. The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”
My initial reaction upon reading the article surprised me, because I was not angry, I was really sad. I have been a big Hank Aaron fan from my earliest memories, and I am a huge fan of the Atlanta Braves. It felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. You completely crossed the line of decency and fair play. How can you be so comfortable, in effect, comparing me and about half the country to a terrorist organization like the Ku Klux Klan, that has murdered people, lynched people, dragged kids behind moving cars, beaten people, maimed people, burned down and bombed churches (sometimes with kids inside), intimidated people, and the list of horrors goes on and on? What was my “crime” that provoked such a vile attack on my character?
Apparently, my “crime” was that I had exercised several of what I thought were my unquestionably guaranteed rights under the Constitution. I had exercised my right to vote … for a Republican. I had exercised my right to free speech … to oppose some of President Obama’s liberal policies, because I am not liberal. I had exercised my right to religious liberty … by belonging to a Christian church that opposes some of President Obama’s polices that differ from the teachings of my Church. I am sure that I don’t have to remind you that many people were killed in the fight to secure those rights for all Americans. Should I just surrender all of those rights to just blindly support President Obama, simply because he has black skin? Do you think Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have surrendered his rights to blindly support a President with white skin for fear of being labeled a racist? No, he would have marched in the streets to prevent that from happening. President Obama’s race is completely irrelevant in all of my decisions regarding how I exercise my constitutional rights. I oppose his liberal, and in some cases downright harmful, socialist political ideas, but can I prove that racism is not also a factor? No, but how can anyone prove or disprove something that does not exist? Is it racism when a white Democrat Senator like Harry Reid takes the floor, in a necktie and starched shirt, to oppose a position taken by black Republican Senator Tim Scott? Is conservative black Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who often takes positions contrary to President Obama, also like a Ku Klux Klan member?
We elect a President, Mr. Aaron, not a King or dictator. We have a constitutional republic, Mr. Aaron, not a monarchy or dictatorship—so the President leads only one of the three branches of government. Our constitution created a carefully crafted set of checks and balances, so that one branch cannot dominate another branch. Do you really not understand the danger of concentrating all of the country’s power in just one person? Do you really need a history lesson that covers the brutal dictators in Germany, Russia, China, Iraq, Libya and North Korea? Members of Congress are elected by the people to serve their constituents, not a dictator. They owe a duty to all of their voters to represent those voters, not just blindly enact anything the President demands. Do you really want to live in a dictatorship? Careful, because you might like this dictator but hate and fear the next one!
If President Obama announced tomorrow that he was sending legislation to Congress to enact, word for word, the entire platform of the Republican Party, do you really believe that the Republicans would reject it because he is a black President? When Democrat members of Congress were blocking virtually every nominee of George W. Bush, were they doing so because they hated white people? No, that is utterly preposterous; they were just doing what members of the minority party in Congress have done since Congress was created—using the powers of the Legislative branch to block policies coming from the Executive branch with which they do not agree.
You have been described as a caring, decent man. You have suffered brutal racism and have walked in shoes that thankfully, not many people have had to walk in. I still admire and respect you, despite these recent comments, because all of us are humans that fall short of perfection and make mistakes at times. But what matters in the end is not what we do in good times but instead what we do when we fall short. In this case, putting a group of people into a box based on their political party and then putting a “Ku Klux Klan” label on the box is disgraceful. Do the right thing, Mr. Aaron, apologize and take back your statement. Most of us Republicans are good, decent, hard-working people who love our families and, regardless of how we vote, want a good life not just for us, but for everybody. And we want to live in a country where our constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms remain intact, without having to turn them over to a one-man dictatorship solely because of the color of his skin.
Dave Beltrami is a lawyer and political analyst living in Atlanta, Georgia. He received his Juris Doctor and Master of Laws (Taxation) degrees from the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.