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Bush Gets An F In Black Politics 101


Tuesday’s Washington Post had it both right and wrong in its article about George W. Bush’s failure to make headway among Blacks. They were right about the fact that he definitely blew an opportunity to cultivate a relationship with Rev. Floyd Flake that may have resulted in a Flake endorsement of Bush that would have carried tremendous weight among Blacks around the country. But they were wrong to think that Bush’s affiliation with Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and prominent Black professional groups qualifies as a suitable alternative plan to obtain a significant portion of the Black vote. If Gov. Bush was interested in obtaining 15-25%the Black vote, Rev. Flake was more important than Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and all of the Black professional groups combined.

Why? Because with Rev. Flake, the Republican Governor would have made headway with a Black Pastor who has street credibility and the political sagacity necessary to wean Black voters away from their allegiance to the Democratic Party. I personally know a prominent Black pastor who after having met with Gov. Bush through Rev. Flake was leaning very heavily in favor of supporting Gov. Bush. This pastor’s congregation was overwhelmingly Black and after meeting with Bush, he invited the Governor to speak to his congregation and drew a crowd of several hundred people, on a weekday, with no advance notice. Bush made quite an impression.

The importance of Rev. Flake to Gov. Bush’s chances cannot be overestimated. In his one person, he could have transferred not only some of his personal credibility and considerable rolodex to Bush but he also could have guaranteed that Bush would have had an intellectual initiative over Gore on the issues of inner-city economic development, the role of Black faith-based institutions in community development and maybe even education. While many conservatives humor themselves into believing that all they must do to win Black votes is speak their lofty message over the airwaves and that through osmosis Blacks will gravitate toward them, Flake has actually implemented much of what they only speak of – in the city of New York and in his own church. The ideas they quote and wax poetic about he actually puts into practice.

Even die-hard liberals have had to concede that Flake has done a great job using policies and government programs that have traditionally not been popular among Democrats.

And that is why Flake was so important to Bush’s chances among Blacks because he could have done with authority what conservatives only talk about: he could have told Black audiences to their faces that Blacks have not benefited from their unwillingness to vote against the Democratic Party in key political contests and on certain issues, specially in matters pertaining to education and economics.

And one issue in particular, charitable choice, which is championed by Gov. Bush and Rev. Flake, could have been used to pull an enormous amount of Black Pastors away from Al Gore and into Bush’s column in November. Charitable Choice is a program created under a little-known provision of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act where faith-based institutions are permitted to directly contract with state governments and deliver services that previously were provided by the government under the old welfare program. Gore is vulnerable on that issue because he has to placate key Democratic constituencies that argue that charitable choice violates the separation between church and state. Bush has no such problem and has received his best reception among Black religious leaders when he argues on behalf of the program and how it could benefit urban areas more than any other.

Though they are probably too stubborn to do it, if Republicans spent only a fraction of the time talking about charitable choice that they do advocating their tax cut and pro-life positions, they would be amazed at how many Blacks would listen to them.

But for whatever reason, Bush appears to have allowed Flake’s interest in his candidacy to wane and he seems to have opted for a strategy of prominently featuring the Blacks who advise him like Powell and Rice, as well as seeking to win the endorsements of high-profile professional Blacks.

It is a losing strategy (as far as the Black vote is concerned) as Bush fails to realize that in the Black community there isn’t any more of a “high-profile” leader than the Black preacher. The Black Preacher, better than any other opinion leader in the Black community, represents the widest cross-section of the Black Electorate that actually votes. If he wins their support or a significant percentage - 15-25% he could easily win the same percentage of the Black vote in November. No similar percentage of Black professionals can deliver the same and Powell and Rice certainly will not. Nor is that the best use of their talents and skills.

So we give Governor Bush an F in his long-talked about efforts to win the Black vote. It certainly is more symbol than substance at this point. And we can find no better evidence of this than in his poor handling of Rev. Flake and Black Pastors thus far. We'll see how he fares during summer school.


Cedric Muhammad

Thursday, June 15, 2000

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