Carol Moseley Braun had her last hurrah
being, along with Dennis Kucinich
and Al Sharpton
, a longshot candidate in the 2004 race, particularly given her low campaign budget and relative inexperience. However, she has led a very active political life both in her native Illinois and in her adoptive New Zealand
Braun was born on August 16, 1947 to a law-enforcement officer father and a medical technician mother. She has recounted that education was an important value in her family (her father spoke several languages), and that she was encouraged to work hard in her Chicago, Illinois public school system, and later at the University of Illinois, where she graduated in 1968. She later earned her law degree from the University of Chicago in 1972, and joined the State Attorney's Office the following year, where she worked in cases dealing mainly with environmental law, housing, and health.
She left her law practice to start a family, and gave birth to a son, Matthew, the following year. In 1978, after being active in community politics for many years, she ran for the State General Assembly, where she made headlines calling for a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois, nearly two decades before Governor George Ryan made that a reality.
In 1992, she ran for the United States Senate and won, making her the first female African-American Senator. She served on the Finance, Banking, and Judiciary Committees, where she helped enact several tax laws that benefited women and people of color, including her sponsorship of midnight basketball legislation. She was also a vocal critic of the United Daughters of the Confederacy after they decided to begin using the Confederate flag as their symbol. In a parliamentary tactic reminiscent of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ms. Braun spoke against the mostly Southern Senators who wanted to pass a bill commending the organization. However, her term in the Senate was also marked by scandal.
During Braun's term in the Senate, she was the subject of immense controversy after visiting Nigeria for six-days in 1996 on a mission she described as "quiet diplomacy" with Nigerian leader Sani Abacha. During this time, the United States had placed economic sanctions on the country for human rights abuses, which Braun voted against. These abuses included the execution of environmental activists weeks before her visit. Her trip, which was by no means secret, might have been influenced somewhat by the fact that her ex-fiancé, Kgosie Matthews, was a Nigerian lobbyist. She was heavily criticized by many, including Jesse Jackson Jr. and the Untied States State Department, for this trip.
Also during her term, she was criticized for the misuse of campaign funds, but these allegations were silenced after an investigation failed to find any substantial evidence against Braun.
Due largely to these scandals, she lost her 1998 re-election campaign. In reaction to columnist George Will, who had been critical of her candidacy, she made several controversial comments after her defeat, including: "I think because he could not say 'nigger', he said the word 'corrupt,'" and "George Will can just take his hood and go back to wherever he came from.'" She later brushed off these quotes, saying that she was famous for her "strong language", but ended up apologizing the next day for her baseless accusations.
When asked if she would ever run for office again, Braun gave the unequivocal answer, "Read my lips: Not. Never. Nein. Nyet." She continued with this pledge, and accepted instead a position by President Clinton to be an advisor to the Department of Education. Later, he nominated her for the position of United States Ambassador to New Zealand, Samoa, the Cook Islands and Antarctica. This position makes her the only Democratic Presidential Candidate to have diplomatic status, and gives her a superficial portfolio in foreign affairs. (It should be noted that the only argument between the two countries during her term was over payment for a piece of military equipment that was resolved quite amicably and quickly.) She was well liked in New Zealand, and was even made an honorary member of the Te Atiawa Maori people.
Ambassador Braun continued to be an active statesperson after her diplomatic term ended, including harsh criticism of the Bush administration's policies. She is one of the few candidates to continually speak out against the war in Iraq and suggested oil was the main motive. Her steadfast opposition to Bush's policies led her to run for President in 2004. Some claim that her candidacy is not a serious decision, but rather a "vanity run" to restore her reputation after her scandal-tainted years in the Senate. She has made a voice for herself in the debates, by pledging to "Take the men-only sign off the White House door." However, most polls put her in the single digits, and many political analysts believe she is running in hope of landing a Cabinet position from the Democratic nominee. This seemed less likely after January 15, 2004, days before the Iowa Caucus, when she announced that she was dropping out of the race and endorsing Howard Dean.
Regardless of one’s views on the issues, one must admire Ambassador Braun’s strong dedication to service and her personal beliefs. Of all the candidates, she has spoken out the most strongly against the USA Patriot Act and in favor of civil liberties and the rule of law. Her experience in international law gives her credibility in this regard. Carol Moseley Braun might not be winning the Presidency any time soon, but she will continue to speak out against social injustice from her soapbox made of hope and service.