Sunday, September 13, 2015

Democrats and Black Voters

It has been pretty well established by now that a Democratic candidate can't win the nomination (or likely a general election) without the support of African Americans. Due to that fact, it is interesting to take a look at how Charles Blow is summing up the challenge that faces Bernie Sanders in that regard.

Blow interviewed Sanders and then attended his rally at Benedict College in South Carolina. His column about that summarizes both some of his potential as well as challenges.
There is an earnest, if snappy, aura to Sanders that is laudable and refreshing. One doesn’t sense the stench of ambition or the revolting unctuousness of incessant calculation.

There is an idealistic crusader in the man, possibly to the point of being quixotic, but at least it doesn’t come off as having been corrupted by money or power or the God complex that so often attends those in pursuit of the seat behind the Resolute Desk.

Sanders’s message of revolutionary change to save a flailing middle class and challenge the sprawling influence of what he calls “the billionaire class” has struck a nerve with a fervid following.
When it comes to that Sanders message, I was struck by something that Blow tweeted, but left out of his column.
In his interview with Blow, Sanders stressed that his campaign recognizes that it is important to "aggressively reach out and bring the African-American community and the Latino community into our campaign." And yet it appears as though Sanders is making the same mistake a lot of white people do when they realize the importance of garnering support from the African American community...they tweak their own message rather than listen and incorporate what they hear.

For example, Blow points out the tone-deafness of assuming that a black man like Cornell West helps in that regard.
But Sanders’s ability to win Obama’s supporters may have been made difficult by his associations. On Saturday, Sanders campaigned with Dr. Cornel West, who recently issued an endorsement of Sanders.

West’s critique of the president has been so blistering and unyielding — he has called Obama “counterfeit,” the “black face of the American empire,” a verb-ed neologism of the n-word — that it has bordered on petulance and self-parody.
I would also suggest that one of the reasons Sander's message fails to connect with African Americans is that - even in the midst of economic conditions that were much worse than today - Ellis Cose pointed out in 2011 that African Americans are the country's "new optimists."
As the United States struggles through its worst economic crisis in generations, gloom has seized much of the heartland. The optimism that came so easily to many Americans as the new century dawned is significantly harder to summon these days. There is, however, a conspicuous exception: African-Americans, long accustomed to frustration in their pursuit of opportunity and respect, are amazingly upbeat, consistently astounding pollsters with their hopefulness.
To the extent that optimism has dimmed more recently - it is in response to the shootings of unarmed Black men (often by police officers) and the lack of a "just response" from our justice system. No matter how hard Sanders tries to tie that one to his message about income inequality and economics, it will fall short of connecting to the souls of African Americans.

There is a lesson in all that for Democrats: to win the support of people of color, you have to incorporate their concerns...not simply tweak your own agenda and expect them to climb on your bandwagon.


  1. When I saw that Dr. West was joining Sanders on the campaign trail in S. Carolina, I almost wept. I'm supporting Clinton, but I like Sanders. I just wish they would both listen more. The republican candidates have this listening to the base skill down pat...unfortunately their base is bat-crap-insane.

  2. Another wonderful article.

    What many left-wing whites (including Saunders) fail to realize when they only talk about economic inequality that is racism, in fact, contributes to it. Racism causes those who are its receiving end to be worse off economically due to lack of access to jobs, education, financing, and other things.

    It also hurts those in the privileged group because it makes it easier for them to vote against their best economic interests. This was the ultimate goal of the Southern strategy. Our country's social safety net is a little weaker now...for everybody. Some of us are worse off than others, but overall, we're all struggling. When Donald Trump, to the shock and horror of the GOP elites, says that he wants to protect Social Security and the predominately white and male GOP base roars in approval, the real purpose of the racist Southern strategy is revealed.

    In America, you can't discuss class without discussing race or vice versa. Racism denies economic opportunity. And yes, we do have people of color who are wealthy, but due to racism, they are still not as well off as whites in their same socioeconomic class.

    Until Bernie Saunders understands this, he's not going to make much headway with black voters (this one included). For us, economic inequality is a given and goes with the territory.

    1. Nabsentia! It's wonderful to see you here, and thank you for a most clear analysis.

      I do not understand Bernie's inability to get this message unless I project a legacy of white, messianic leadership onto it all. I was a horrified newbie in the 60s who watched that tendency in college kids who seemed to believe they were born to lead the Black man from bondage. It was sickening then, and it's more disgusting now. I am under the impression that he thinks Black people are ignorant, need him to TELL them what to do. And that is utterly unacceptable from a would-be president on the Left side. I'm not sure that at age 74 he is capable of respecting Black people and their full and complete knowledge of their own lives. Until he gains some humility - also not likely at his age - he cannot make this connection and will continue to propagate the racist notion that Black people are stupid and therefore cannot connect to his wonderfulness. And so we go on, Left and Right, in heightened racism that does no one any good at all.

    2. To Bernie's credit, he has stepped up his game; he hired Symone Sanders and he added a page to his campaign site regarding Racial Justice. But I find it tremendously disappointing that it took him 74 years to learn that racism is a problem you can't solve through economics; I give him credit for improving because that's the proper thing to do, but deep down I wonder how well he could possibly understand it if it's taken him this long.

      And of course, his fans who are racist just below the surface; if they're not actively racist, they're at least disinclined to back causes that impact non-whites, which is the same as standing in the way of improvement. So, close enough to racist that I don't feel they merit the hair-splitting. I remember McCain's Islamophobic supporters in 2008 and how I felt McCain ought to try to rein them in, and I feel Bernie is in the same place: should do it, may not be good enough of a man to.

    3. Long time, no see, Churchlady!

      Yeah, I'm not optimistic about Bernie's chances of "getting it" either. But, then again, white privilege is a "helluva" drug. Especially when you have been taking it as long as Bernie has.

      King Beaurguard, it was keen of you to point out John McCain's attempt at trying to counter the Islamophobia of his supporters. And from the things I've heard Bernie says most recently, either his new PR person is highly incompetent or he just isn't listening to her. I would wager that it's the latter.

  3. I keep hearing that Sanders is a strong powerful leader ... well I think he's hit his first crisis requiring his leadership, and that is his racist (or at least racially dismissive) supporters. As a leader it's his job to rein them in. If he can't or won't, how can he possibly be ready to lead the country?

  4. There is, however, a conspicuous exception: African-Americans, long accustomed to frustration in their pursuit of opportunity and respect, are amazingly upbeat, consistently astounding pollsters with their hopefulness.

    Yeah, only up until Jan 2017. Then a wave of depression will set in the likes of which hasn't been seen since the crack era.

    All candidates are formally and legally running to replace Barack Obama. That is unavoidable. Sanders is emphatically running to spiritually and philosophically replace Obama as well, and to purge his influence from Washington and the Democratic Party (that he's not even a member of!). As you might have noticed, people are picking up on this and are none too happy. There's no mediating that conflict.