Another Perspective on “The Man Who Would Be President”: The Brumskine Story

By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
June 9, 2005


In his epic Washington Post magazine story on the candidacy of Charles Walker Brumskine, Mr. Jonathan Ernst writes: “His desperate flight from Taylor is the central story of Brumskine’s candidacy, which strikes a delicate balance between touting his experience in government and distancing himself from the destruction that marked Taylor’s reign. The story establishes his credentials as a Taylor opponent, and it helps mask the awkward fact that until that point Brumskine had been in very tight with Taylor. It’s a dramatic tale. The only question is: Is it true?”

I do agree that that is the question: Is it true? Is it really true?

Knowing what we know about Charles Taylor today, it is mind boggling to understand and sympathize with anyone who knowingly admits to being a close advisor and confidante to him. According to the story, Mr. Brumskine, in his capacity as a moderator at a town hall, publicly referred to Mr. Taylor as “Mr. President” two years before the elections that officially brought Mr. Taylor to office. Again the question that boggles this sane mind is: “Knowing Mr. Taylor’s passion for brutality and the trail of blood that would eventually lead him to the mansion, how could any rational person, let alone a trained lawyer, have reasoned that he was the best man for the Liberian nation?

Now that Charles Taylor has been exposed as a common criminal, technically on the run from the law as a fugitive, Mr. Brumskine comfortably admits: “The thing is about my association with Taylor, generally it’s the best thing that happened to my political life”. Strange logic, isn’t it? The man is trying his best to distance himself from the dictator while admitting he immensely benefited from his association with him.

Consider the following revelations, as written by Mr. Ernst: “Taylor came to prominence in the early 1980s, with a reputation as one of the most corrupt men in the Liberian administration at the time… invaded Liberia with a band of fighters, setting off years of factional fighting that devastated the country…”

Ernst writes further: “By the time of the election, Taylor controlled about three-quarters of the Liberian countryside and could use his military units to deliver rice to villages to buy votes. He as much as said he would restart the war if he didn’t win. Crowds flocked around him with the infamous cry, ‘He killed my Ma, he killed my Pa, and I will vote for him’.”

Well, why did a “respected lawyer” align himself with an apparent tyrant-in-the-making? Did Mr. Taylor resemble a democrat? Were his actions commensurate of a worthy leader? To our presidential aspirant, only the bottom line mattered. Here is a direct quotation by Mr. Brumskine: “I knew, like everyone else who had any amount of sense, that Taylor was going to win the election.” But did the end really justify the means? ‘I’m going to vote for him because he’s going to win, anyway’? What then would be the difference between the kids who rallied, “He killed my Ma, he killed my Pa”? The same logic apparently applied, right?

But Mr. Brumskine is too smart a lawyer to let us draw any careless conclusions. He adds a clever justification: He would be a “voice of reason in the country”. Believable as that may sound to some, there are those who simply believe he was being selfish; that he knowingly and shamelessly aligned himself with a bloodthirsty rebel on the way to becoming a tyrant. After all, all the signs were apparent, but Mr. Brumskine couldn’t resist an “opportunity of history” – the opportunity to become a powerful senator.

Mr. Brumskine did become the most powerful senator in the legislature (Senate Pro Tempore) and did serve in the president’s “inner circle” until he fell out of favor for reasons not entirely clear. According to Mr. Brumskine, he was trying to change the Senate, which would in effect change the direction of the country; the Senate would eventually control the president. Should a real lawyer be excused for such absurdity and naiveté? Did he look around to see who composed the legislature? For heaven’s sake, this was a rubber-stamp legislature with members handpicked by the president.

Former Senator Grace Minor may have given new meaning to the proverbial “honor among thieves” mentality when she said: “We were a good team. We all got together and made Taylor powerful.” Senator Minor attributes Brumskine’s luck to his early departure from the Taylor-run fiasco. She is emphatic that Brumskine left because of personal political ambitions, not because he wanted to investigate the government regarding its dealings with Sierra Leone. According to Mrs. Minor, “Sierra Leone was not even in the question. That’s one thing I’m sure of. All we knew at the time was he wanted to be president, and that ‘s why they had their falling out. He told Mr. Taylor he wanted to be president.” Mr. Brumskine vigorously denies the assertion.

Indeed this is a dramatic tale and the reader is haunted by the original question: “Is it true?” Does one believe Grace Minor or Charles Brumskine? I tend to agree with the reasoning of Counselor Tiawon Gongloe: One does not try to clean up the criminal activities of gangland Chicago by joining forces with Al Capone. It is indeed a laughable defense; yet it is the only plausible one put forth by Liberia’s “respected lawyer”.

It is now ironic that Charles Brumskine has a stronger message as an evangelist than as a politician. He sees Gbarnga as the “crossroads of evil”, described by the author as “a place feared and hated as the former headquarters of Charles Ghankay Taylor”. He is now invoking the presence of his newly found God; too bad he found him a little too late to be of any help to many of Taylor’s victims; they needed the intervention then.

To be optimistic, if Brumskine doesn’t succeed in winning the presidency, he can comfort himself by preaching the Word of God to his newly found flock. He might have found his calling, finally. But first I wish him luck in evicting those poor, homeless citizens out of his “dream house” to accommodate his lovely family who luckily escaped our senseless war unscathed. But maybe he needs to work on that “final offer”; ten U.S. dollars don’t stretch too far in Monrovia nowadays, as we all know.

Maybe someone has advised those poor peasants that they who took refuge in an abandoned building, made some value-added repairs, and have occupied it for years now, are just as entitled to it as those who fled the country to take refuge in the suburbs of America, Europe and other foreign lands. But the “respected lawyer” would know more about such matters than I. Good luck to him anyway, if he wins the election, he might not need that “dream house”; he might be headed for his new “dream house”, the Executive Mansion of Liberia. But I do have my doubts.