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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 99

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This is the grave of Ron Brown.

Born in 1941, Brown grew up in a middle-class Harlem family and attended elite prep schools, one of the first black students at some of them. He attended Middlebury, graduated in 1962, and joined the military. He was discharged in 1967 and worked for the Urban League, while obtaining a law degree from St. John’s in 1970.

He soon became a rising star in the Democratic Party. His work with the Urban League led him into elite circles and he became Ted Kennedy’s deputy campaign manager for his failed 1980 challenge to Jimmy Carter. He was hired by the leading Washington law firm Patton, Boggs, & Blow as a lobbyist in 1981. This made him the consummate Washington insider. I guess it’s some kind of civil rights victory to be among the first African-American Beltway elites. Among his major clients was the horrid government of Baby Doc Duvalier in Haiti. Brown served as Duvalier’s chief lobbyist in Washington beginning in 1982. He was paid $630,000 over the next four years to lobby the Reagan administration to continue aid to Duvalier and he refused to drop the Haitian government when criticized for it. He was hired by Jesse Jackson in 1988 to head Jackson’s Democratic National Convention team although he was already basically running Jackson’s campaign. When Michael Dukakis completely blew off Jackson, naming Lloyd Bentsen his VP candidate instead and not even telling Jackson, who heard it on the news, Brown served as the intermediary between the two camps to get Jackson on board for the general. He became head of the Democratic National Committee in 1989 after distancing himself from Jackson, a black leader for a post-Dukakis era where centrists would hold the balance of power in the party. The DLC leadership loved him. Here was an African-American politician more comfortable with Wall Street than 125th Street.

Bill Clinton named Brown Secretary of Commerce in 1993. He and Clinton were not close because Clinton refused to allow Jesse Jackson to even address the DLC in 1991. Brown hated most of Clinton’s Arkansas people as well. But they needed each other. Clinton needed some kind of connection with the African-American power community and Brown needed Clinton to ensure his rising star. Brown played a pretty big managerial role in the Clinton campaign and hoped to be rewarded by being named Secretary of State. That was not going to happen and Commerce, basically a backwater ever since Herbert Hoover left the office, was all that was left for him. Brown was considered a liberal in the Clinton cabinet, but he was also very comfortable with the rise of the DLC and the move toward centrism. Brown was also fairly slimy. He had a long history of questionable business arrangements that may have crossed the nepotism border, including to his lover. That dropped him to a lower profile in the spoils. This was a time when being nakedly corrupt wasn’t an actual required qualification for the Cabinet. Suspend your disbelief and bear with me here. He faced some difficulty in his confirmation hearing over all this. He was hired by a Columbus based company called PEBSCO that specialized in supplemental retirement insurance to government employees. Brown knew nothing of the issue. But he was Ron Brown and could introduce people in Washington to PEBSCO lobbyists and officers. And of course he profited handsomely on the deal.

Soon he faced allegations of using his position to pressure corporations to give political donations to Democrats. There’s little question that Brown gave greater access on international trade trips to businesses that were Clinton supporters, but it’s also true that this is just part of the general ooze of a corporate-influenced government and everything Brown was criticized for on this front was modus operandi for Republicans, then and now. Almost immediately after his confirmation, Brown was under investigation for taking $700,000 from the Vietnamese government to influence the U.S. to normalize relations between the two countries. Brown admitted he knew everyone involved but denied taking the money. Even though all this happened before he became Commerce Secretary, this dogged him constantly. Finally, Attorney General Janet Reno asked for an independent counsel to investigate Brown for the statements on his financial disclosures, which were, how shall we say, less than accurate.

That investigation was ongoing the next year, when Brown went on a trade mission to Croatia and Serbia. His plane crashed in Croatia. He was 54 years old. It’s entirely possible he would have gone to jail had he not died. The “Wonderful Husband” epitaph is somewhat amusing given that he was carrying on a semi-open affair with a Washington insider for years that was the subject of 1997 New Yorker article, from which I borrowed some of the material for this post

Believe what you want about Brown’s death, but everyone in the know is aware that he was murdered by the greatest mass killer in American history–Hillary Clinton. Chalk him up to her death toll that includes Vince Foster, Marc Rich, Chandra Levy, Pat Nixon, Nicole Brown Simpson, Andre the Giant, and whatever figure on the left Doug Henwood admires who dies from any given cause.

Ron Brown is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

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