At Large

Cynthia McKinney in the Twilight Zone

Would that the gentlewoman from Georgia were merely a flake. But she does real damage. Ask the victims of Robert Mugabe.

By 4.16.02

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To be sure, Cynthia McKinney, the gentlewoman from Georgia's Fourth Congressional District, is a flake, but what kind of a flake -- merely absurd, or knowingly pernicious? Whether she is the one or the other, however, attention must be paid. She made the Prowler's Enemies List last week, but only in passing, and her aberrant behavior demands a longer look than that.

Most recently, McKinney, in an interview with a Berkeley, California radio station, said that President Bush had advance warning of the terrorist attacks on September 11, but did nothing to prevent them. "Persons close to this administration," she added, "are poised to make huge profits off America's new war." In particular, she cited the Carlyle Group, an investment firm that employs a number of one-time government officials -- former President George H. W. Bush is a consultant -- as a beneficiary of the new war.

According to the Washington Post, which first disclosed the Berkeley radio interview, McKinney said the war had enriched Carlyle Group investors by increasing the value of a military contractor that the firm partly owned. When the Post asked her for a follow-up interview, however, McKinney declined, and issued instead a statement:

"I am not aware of any evidence showing that President Bush or members of his administration have personally profited from the attacks of 9-11. A complete investigation might reveal that to be the case."

Consider that as actively pernicious, an attempt to raise paranoid discontent. Meanwhile in a House speech last month, McKinney made virtually the same assertions as she did in the radio interview, although this time she sounded merely absurd, or, perhaps, patently nuts.

McKinney asked her colleagues to close their eyes and "imagine themselves going faster and faster into a black unknown." Then, she said, they will see a "bright light," and hear "a huge booming voice coming from nowhere, and at the same time coming from everywhere."

Just what the voice was saying, however, McKinney did not say, but instead went on:

"You unlock this door with the key of understanding. Beyond it is another dimension, a dimension of hearing that which is not spoken, a dimension of seeing that which is invisible, a dimension of reading that which is not written."

And this, she declared, is "the Twilight Zone, better known as George Bush's America."

Then she said the White House had received "warning after warning" about the terrorist attacks, but had begged Senate majority leader Tom Daschle not to inquire why it had done nothing about them. She also said that Bush was calling for a big increase in defense spending, and that this means "his dad stands to make a mint."

"Wake up, America," she concluded. "We are not only in the Twilight Zone. We have crossed the threshold to George Bush's America."

Grant now that the right wing also has its clowns and bozos. On the "700 Club" the other night, Pat Robertson warned us about that dread secret order, the Masons. Nonetheless you always know what side the right wingers are on, while you can never be sure with left wingers like McKinney. She often suggests that America is run by hooded men in white sheets, and that it wants to oppress people of color everywhere. At the U.N.'s fatuous conference in South Africa last year on racism, sexism, colonialism and God knows what else, she said the White House was full of "latent racists."

(When Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary general, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a few months after she attended the U.N. conference, however, McKinney, ever the loose cannon, denounced the award as "an insult to the millions that died at the hand of the U.N. in recent years.")

McKinney often poses as a great friend of Africa and an expert on its problems. As a member of the House International Relations Committee and the Congressional Black Caucus, she frequently makes pronouncements. She has, however, a sorry record on Africa, and she does more harm than good. She plays the race card, and mindlessly supports tyrants.

McKinney, for example, has defended Robert Mugabe's despotic rule in Zimbabwe. In a bizarre House speech last December, she said that Zimbabwe was a "stable democracy." She also said that Mugabe, who has impoverished his country and brought about a famine, brutalized his opponents, and ordered the killing of any number of ordinary Zimbabweans, has only been attempting to right old wrongs. The old wrongs, of course, were all imposed by white colonialists; and any attempt by Congress to censure Mugabe or impose sanctions on Zimbabwe, according to McKinney, would be a "formal declaration of United States complicity to maintain white-skin rule."

This was, in fact, a grotesque analysis, but you would be wrong to dismiss it or others like it. So know now that some of Mugabe's domestic political opponents were here last week, trying to drum up support for a democratic transition in Zimbabwe. They turned up at the State Department, Congress and the Council on Foreign Relations. They also met, unhappily, with what one of them called their "African-American brothers."

Most of the brothers, it seemed, did not want to take any kind of stand against Mugabe. According to the Zimbabweans, they had bought into the idea that he was a revolutionary leader and that any attempt to unseat him would play into the hands of his country's old white rulers. The Zimbabweans were disappointed, of course, but there you are. McKinney may deal in paranoid absurdities, but they are not without effect.

Meanwhile McKinney is patronized by her congressional colleagues, at least some of whom, it seems, even admire her political acumen. The Washington Post story about her September 11 accusation also quoted Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston, a Republican no less, whom it identified as a friend of McKinney's.

Kingston said McKinney was adept at raising "red-meat" issues that appeal to her political base. "She's not as random as people think," he said. "People always want to hear a political conspiracy theory."

Indeed they do, and McKinney no doubt will continue to offer them. So yes, she is a flake, but above all, she is a menace.

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About the Author

John Corry is a former New York Times media critic and reporter.