Gerald Ford and James Brown died only within a day of each other. You may be wondering how those 2 connect. Ford may not have known this but James Brown wrote a song about Ford called “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” in the wake of the Watergate meltdown.

Given all the talk about escalating a failed, non-defensive war in a foreign land, I think it’s not a waste of time to look back at the close of the Vietnam era and what people were saying and thinking at that time about their political leadership.

If you’re not black, you may be curious, dismissive or even contemptuous about all the attention given to James Brown’s funeralization process. Brown’s posthumous farewell tour of several American cities with its celebrity appearances and patient queues of people waiting to pay their respects mirrored Ford’s pomp and circumstance in a way. That’s because musicians like Brown are not only creatives but spokesmen. You can say and do things through art that may not be acceptable otherwise. This has been particularly true for African-Americans as historically, our real political and economic power through the establishment tended to be thwarted and curtailed. Brown was one of those artists like Kanye West and Marvin Gaye who used his influence and medium to communicate. “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud!” Call it social power.

Things are different in 2007. One of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus (Charlie Rangel) is about to become one of the most powerful Congressmen in Washington as the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee. Another CBC member, Barack Obama, is a frontrunner and serious potential contender for the White House. Now that we are gaining actual political and economic power to match our social power, African-Americans need to do more than revere musicians who push on the powers that and recognize that now WE are the powers that be. We need to start asking and expecting more from our elected leaders — black, white and otherwise — as citizens with an equal stake and an equal contribution in the success of America.

In the meantime, here are a few stanzas from Funky President:

Hey, country
Didn’t say what you meant
Just changed
Brand new funky President

Stock market going up
Jobs going down
And ain’t no funking
Jobs to be found

Taxes keep going up
I changed from a glass
Now I drink out of a paper cup
It’s getting bad

Turn on your funk motor
I know it’s tough
Turn on your funk motor
Until you get enough

I got to say it again
We got to get together
And buy some land
Raise our food just like the Man
Save our money, do like the Mob
Put up your fight right on the job

We gotta get over
Before we go under
Time’s getting short, Lord

Country, do you know
Just what I meant
We just changed, we got
A brand new funky President

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