By Richard Muhammad
(Straightwords e-zine) – Conventional wisdom says the best thing about Democrats seeking Black support for the party presidential nomination is that the aspirants are not George W. Bush.
As the Feb. 3 South Carolina primary brought focus on Black voters, the major question wasn’t about affirmative action, reparations, or the country’s racial divide. The question repeatedly asked: Which candidate in the race has the best chance to unseat the Republican president?
While many mainstream politicians and media focused on “electability,” others warned that Blacks need to force Democrats to back specific agenda items, such as clearing up criminal records to help Black ex-offenders move forward; a specific plan to help Black youths through jobs and education; and the movement on reparations.
“With a few exceptions, all of the leading Democratic candidates are acceptable to Black voters this year, because I think that the number one issue with Black voters this year is replacing George W. Bush,” said David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C.
“Defeat George Bush–what does that mean? Defeating George Bush and having George Bush’s cousin in the White House, that doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me,” said Conrad Worrill of the National Black United Front and a reparations movement leader. Given a recent court decision that said reparations for slavery and post-slavery abuses belongs in Congress, not in courts, reparations should be the major issue, Dr. Worrill said. “We have been through every issue since we were voting in America; we’ve never put reparations squarely on the table,” he noted, saying that means making Democrats commit to Rep. John Conyers’ (D-Mich.) bill to study reparations.
“Bush’s cousin in office” refers to the rightward shift of former president Bill Clinton and others within the Democratic Leadership Council wing of the party. Their policies and rhetoric resemble Republicans–calling for being tough on crime, strong defense and ending government dependency, opposition to affirmative action, support for the war on Iraq and Homeland Security expansions.
Although Mr. Clinton may have been pro-death penalty, lobbed missiles into Sudan and forced welfare reform, there are serious differences between the centrist Clinton and Mr. Bush, argued Mr. Bositis.
“Almost anything having to do with economics was remarkably better under Clinton. Under George Bush, it’s back to double-digit unemployment for African Americans. Incomes are not growing, and in some cases are falling. He would like to pack the court with right wing nominees and he very much represents White southerners who left the Democratic Party because of civil rights,” he explained.
“Clinton at least gave the impression that he was a good guy, that he had the interest of minorities and other folks at heart and that kind of staves off the criticism,” observed Cedric Johnson, a political science professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y. “But it’s naked with Bush.”
The naked Bush politics began with his presidential appointment by the Supreme Court after Black voter disenfranchisement in Florida; runs through a troubled economy and a dubious Leave No Child Behind initiative that critics say sucks money out of troubled schools systems; and ends with war in Iraq and Afghanistan. With Blacks disproportionately serving in the armed forces, Black families and communities feel the impact of the president’s pre-emptive military strikes, the political analysts said.
Professor Johnson hears candidates speaking a kind of reinvented New Deal liberalism that says “let’s have the government solve these problems.” But over the past 30 years, Democrats move to the center following their convention, trying to be more conservative to cater to White voters, he noted.
“At least since the triumph of Reagan there’s a sense from the Democrats that they have to be more like the Republicans,” he said. “I don’t think you can beat Bush by being like Bush.”
Ray Winbush, of the Urban Institute at Morgan State University, argues every voting bloc in America has an issues litmus test, except Blacks. “We’ve got to talk about who serves our issues,” said Mr. Winbush.
Like Dr. Worrill, Mr. Winbush wants to see the Democrats move forward on reparations. The checks may not be in the mail, but these activists want to keep pressure on. Mr. Winbush and Rev. Al Sampson, a longtime Chicago activist, also said Rev. Al Sharpton’s campaign and its potential impact has been undercut, especially hurt by a lack of media coverage and political disunity within the Black community.
That means Blacks could go into the Democratic convention not controlling enough delegates to ensure Black issues are included in the party platform, said Rev. Sampson.
If Blacks back Rev. Sharpton, the Black activist from New York can push agenda items inside convention proceedings, like reparations and expungement of criminal records, Rev. Sampson said.
An Associated Press analysis of the 269 pledged delegates up for grabs Feb. 3 concluded that Kerry won 128, with Edwards taking 61, Clark getting 49, and Dean seven. Rev. Sharpton acquired one delegate and 23 delegates had yet to be allocated, AP said.