Give Us All of the Bush Record

Was Donald Trump in line to join the Bush ticket?

By Richard Prince

The death of almost any president is an occasion for glowing tributes, the challenge being to tell the truth without offending sensibilities. And including the sensibilities of readers and viewers of color, whose recollections might not match those of the “mainstream.”

The passing of George H.W. Bush, 41st president, provides another test.

While Bush, who died Friday Nov. 30, is rightly being praised for his demeanor and character (especially in comparison to the 45th president) and such accomplishments as passage of the Americans for Disabilities Act, he is also the president who gave us Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; promoted Lee Atwater, who gave the nation the Willie Horton bogeyman; and had subordinates lure an African-American teenager to the park across from the White House to buy crack.

One-dimensional portraits do not serve the quest for truth very well; we all have our pluses and minuses. Understanding them adds to our appreciation of the human condition.

The lured teenager was Keith Jackson, who told the agents who enticed him that he didn’t even know where the White House was.

“He was the 18-year-old who was charged with (but acquitted of) selling the bag of crack that President Bush held up during a nationally televised speech on the nation’s drug problems in September 1989,” Jefferson Morley wrote in 1993 for the Washington Post.

“The idea of holding up a bag of crack had been dreamed up in the summer of 1989 by a clever speechwriter from Yale. Bush liked the idea. Phone calls went from the White House to the attorney general’s office to the Drug Enforcement Administration to the local police. The request-cum-order: Lure somebody — anybody — to Lafayette Park and buy crack cocaine from him.

“Keith Jackson, at the time, was a suspected entry-level dealer who was just starting his senior year at Spingarn High School. He lived with his mother, younger brother and grandfather on M Street NE. His friends described him as loyal, easy-going and popular with girls.

“His teachers found him pleasant and consistently gave him D’s. Keith said he wanted to be a barber. He had also sold cocaine on four occasions to undercover government agents. All the president’s men set him up as their sucker. . . .”

“Agents had been cultivating him in the hope that he could lead them to bigger players in the distribution network of Rayful Edmonds, one of the biggest drug dealers in Washington. They didn’t arrest him after the undercover buy because they really wanted a bigger dealer.

“After Bush’s speech, the agents had to abandon that plan. They feared that Jackson or somebody close to him might have seen the president talking about crack purchased in Lafayette Park and realize he had been set up. Jackson was arrested.

“Shortly thereafter, The Washington Post revealed how the crack sale had been arranged. When reporters badgered Bush about the propriety of the set-up, the president responded angrily, ‘You don’t have any sympathy for this drug guy, do you?’

“Not really. When Keith Jackson went on trial in December 1989 on five counts of selling drugs, there was not much media attention. The jury could not reach a verdict, and a mistrial was declared. He was retried in January 1990 and convicted for two of the cocaine sales to the undercover agents.

“Under the provisions of a tougher anti-drug law passed (with the vocal support of George Bush) in 1987, Judge Stanley Sporkin had no choice but to sentence Jackson to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. Jackson is now serving his time in a federal prison in Petersburg, Va. . . .”

Thomas was chosen for the high court after Bush, a moderate-turned-conservative, was faced with a vacancy after the venerated Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice and a civil rights hero, decided for health reasons that he could no longer hold on to his seat.

George H.W. Bush nominates Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court

“Now his worst fear was that a Republican White House, in a political move designed to disarm its liberal opponents, would replace him with a black nominee who shunned the very civil rights agenda for which Marshall had spent his life fighting,” Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson write in their 1994 book, “Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas.”

“Marshall had often ridiculed Clarence Thomas and his fellow conservatives as ‘the goddamn black sellouts’ who directly benefited from legal remedies such as affirmative action and then denounced them."

‘Marshall would shake his head in wonderment that a black man who grew up in Jim Crow Georgia, and who had benefited from a thousand affirmative actions by nuns and others, and who had attended Yale Law School on a racial quota, could suddenly find affirmative action so destructive of the character of black people,’ observed Carl Rowan, one of the few journalists to whom Marshall granted interviews. . . .”