Extending the debate into the monochromatic nature of the John Kerry campaign, today’s Washington Post again details complaints from the African-American community about the lack of access to the Democratic nominee and the paucity of its representation within his organization. At the same time, the Post inadvertently notes the reasons why Kerry feels little pressure to change:
Although the Massachusetts senator has many black supporters, civil rights leaders and academics are grumbling about his absence from black communities and a lack of top black officials in his campaign.
“You pick up the paper . . . and you see a picture where he’s surrounded by all whites,” Ronald Walters, a University of Maryland political scientist who helped run two presidential campaigns, said of Kerry. “That’s sensitive to black Democrats. It raises questions about the lack of blacks and Hispanics in his inner circle.”
Nine out of 10 black Americans voted for former vice president Al Gore in 2000, following a decades-long trend of crucial support for Democrats. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that Kerry has similar support among black Americans, but Walters and others said he must do more to make sure they vote.
Over 90% of the black vote went to Al Gore in 2000 … and he lost anyway, and that in a race where evangelicals stayed home in droves, an unlikely event this time around. Unfortunately for African-Americans, 2000 proved one thing: Republicans can win without them and Democrats can lose even when they have almost complete support from them. Lockstep, or bloc, voting has made their constituency somewhat irrelevant at the national level, although that is certainly not true at state and local levels. That lesson has mostly been lost on African-American community leadership, and so they continue to concentrate their efforts on a party that doesn’t even go through the motions anymore to include them at high levels of power. In contrast, although the Bush administration received little of their support, Bush has named blacks to prominent positions within his Cabinet, yet receives little credit for doing so.
In pressuring their community to focus solely on the Democratic party, they have thrown away their options to play on both sides of the aisle. While Republicans would love to have an opportunity to attract more support especially from middle-class blacks who might appreciate the laissez-faire economic policies of the GOP, they traditionally receive little response for outreach efforts. Take the assertion towards the end of the article that Jesse Jackson makes of being “shut out” of the government:
More than ever, Jackson said, black Americans are primed to vote against a sitting president. “Bush has a closed-door policy on civil rights and labor,” he said. “He has not met with the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Congressional Black Caucus, except for once, or organized labor. We don’t have access to our government.”
Jackson lied. George Bush met with the NAACP — he spoke at their meeting in 2000 during his first campaign for president. In return, they produced a series of ads tying him to the dragging-death lynching of James Byrd, a particularly egregious campaign commercial that even some NAACP members questioned, especially since Texas enthusiastically prosecuted the murderers responsible and sentenced them to death. Now that the NAACP burned its bridges with Bush, Jackson complains that Bush doesn’t want to walk across the smoking wreckage.
All they proved was that the NAACP and the political class of the African-American community have no intention of ever working with the GOP. Why, then, does John Kerry need to parcel out key positions to them when he can make more effective use of patronage with other constituencies? Until moderates within the black electorate take back control from the Jacksons and Kweisi Mfumes, Democrats will continue to ignore them and Republicans will focus elsewhere.
UPDATE: Jim Miller has more thoughts, and some historical analysis that may surprise you. It surprised me a bit.