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E-Letter To Jason L. Riley and the Wall St. Journal Re: How Democrats Bamboozle Black Voters

Your featured article "How Democrats Bamboozle Black Voters" is a valuable addition to the growing analysis of the relationship between Blacks and America's two-party system. And while your piece may make black Democrats a bit uncomfortable, it does deal with almost all of the important facets of a very troubling relationship. However, I think your piece is much too generous to Republican Party presidential nominee George W. Bush.

In your article you make the following statement, "But even if Republicans in the past have been guilty of too quickly and easily conceding the black vote, the same cannot be said of George W. Bush".

You follow that statement with, "Mr. Bush has made a concerted effort, as both governor of Texas and a presidential candidate, to reach out to black Americans, particularly on the matter of education"

I disagree with that assertion. I have closely watched the Bush campaign for the better part of the year looking for what you describe and I have seen little to make me believe that Governor Bush has not conceded the Black vote to Al Gore.

Some of the best evidence of that is the manner in which the Texas Governor ignored the issue of how faith-based institutions could be empowered to solve social problems that government has failed to address.

Gov. Bush, earlier in his campaign, during the Republican primaries, was very vocal about his support of the charitable choice program which would allow faith-based institutions to contract directly with state governments for the provision of services previously delivered by the Federal government.

This issue resonates with Blacks across the country who have more faith in God and their religious institutions than they do in the federal government in solving their personal and community problems.

Though he made an appearance yesterday and raised the issue, Governor Bush has been virtually silent about this issue where Al Gore is very vulnerable due to his attachment to big government programs and the left's aversion to religion in politics.

If Bush had made a concerted outreach effort to Black Pastors and even Imams and Ministers of the Islamic faith, he could have undermined Al Gore's support among the most influential opinion leaders in the Black community.

Certainly Gov. Bush deserves credit for his steadfast commitment to the education issue and the manner in which he has considered how Black children would benefit under his program but I don't see how Governor Bush's marketing of his education program as a panacea to the low academic performance of Blacks in the public school system is any different than the victimization posturing that you accuse Democrats of performing toward Blacks.

If it is bad for Democrats to prick Black victimization shouldn't the same apply to Republicans?

At times I find the Republicans to be even more patronizing than Democrats.

An example is when some Republicans argue that Blacks should support Social Security privatization because most Black males may not live to collect their benefits. The Republicans then go on to say that it is the young Blacks who pay the payroll tax who are in fact supporting elderly middle to upper class whites.

I cringe when I hear these arguments as if these same Republicans who are concerned about Blacks getting their social security benefits are active in the Black community supporting efforts to stop Black-on-Black crime and the spread of AIDS which are two of the main reasons that Black men die so young.

On social security pitch sales, Democrats could learn a lot from a few Republicans on victimization.

Bush and even your article styles Bush's education program in the following manner, "Mr. Bush favors educational choice, which would provide the disproportionately black children trapped in failing public schools with the means to escape. He wants to test schools annually in reading and math, and hold them accountable for the results"

Isn't this victimization?

Isn't Bush portraying Black children as victims of a failing public education system like Gore portraying Black motorists as victims of racial profiling?

The Democrats are guilty, at times, of what you accuse them of but so are the Republicans.

And is it victimization in every case or at times, just plain telling the truth?

I agree with Gore on issues that show how Blacks are victims of a failing criminal justice system and I agree with Bush on issues that show how Blacks are victims of a failing public school system.

It is important to note that there really has only been one relationship between Blacks and the two-party system; one party is sensitive to Black concerns for survival and security and appears sympathetic while the other party ignores those concerns and at times appears self-righteous.

In the 1800s it was the Republicans who responded to Blacks as victims and in the 1900s it was the Democrats that responded to Blacks as victims. In the 1800s the Democrats ignored the Black vote and in the 1900s the Republicans ignored the Black vote.

And neither party ignores or takes the Black vote for granted because it is less or more racist than the other. They do what they do by the Black Electorate because it fits their strategy to win elections.

As my friend, supply-side economist Jude Wanniski and I have discussed for years, the most recent evolution of this "ignored and taken for granted" dichotomy began in the 1960 election when Democratic party presidential nominee John F. Kennedy reached out to Black voters and the Republican nominee Richard Nixon ignored the Black voter in his efforts to take the south from Democrats.

It also was with this effort that Republicans sought to win over Hispanic voters, in the southwest in particular. The symbolic event that captured the essence of what happened in 1960 was when Kennedy made a phone call to Dr. King's family and to southern Democrats in an effort to get Dr. King out of jail while Nixon ignored the family and did nothing in an effort to help Dr. King. King had been arrested for an act of civil disobedience protesting discrimination.

Once Republican strategists bought into this strategy of conceding the Black vote in an effort to win over southern Democrats who were irritated at their party's growing attention to civil rights, the belief became codified inside of the Republican party that it was a waste of time to win Black votes.

Some strategists like Lazio consultant Mike Murphy even believe that if Republican candidates increase Black voter turnout, that somehow, at the last minute, these Blacks who may intend to vote Republican will succumb to pressure and pull the lever for Democrats while in the voting booth.

It is this type of thinking that has Lazio doing so poorly among Black voters when he is capable, on personality and track record alone, of winning 15 - 20% of the Black vote - even Al Sharpton publicly stated this possibility when Lazio's Senate campaign was launched.

Governor Bush did nothing during the debates to confront the stranglehold that the Dems hold over the Black vote; he did not challenge Gore where he is vulnerable in the Black community on issues like environmental racism. He did not raise the fact that no Black has ever even received serious consideration as a vice-presidential candidate for the Democratic Party. And he did not challenge the Clinton-Gore administrations dubious claims about how Blacks have benefited from this "booming economy".

And if Gov. Bush has such a strong message for Black voters where are the Bush commercials specifically aimed at Black voters? Where are the national and regional ad buys in print, radio, TV and internet media outlets broadcasting Bush's education message, if it is so powerful? Where are the exclusive interviews with Black media that the Governor gives to everybody else? Where are the opinion editorials by Bush surrogates in Black media outlets or anywhere else on subjects of importance to Black voters?

I have heard the Republican Party's commercials that are part of the $1 million ad buy that was made with the American Urban Radio Network. And the ads are professional, high quality and are honest about how the GOP has not been successful in reaching Blacks, but credit for that last-minute effort to reach Black voters belongs to the Republican Party itself and not to Governor Bush.

Out of the buckets of millions that the Bush campaign received in cash how much was directed toward a Black voter outreach effort?

Yes, it is true that Gov. Bush's attention to the education issue has implications for Black children and Bush should be applauded for publicly recognizing this obvious fact instead of ignoring it as Republicans have done in the past. But his decision to sit on the charitable choice issue, make little outreach to Black religious leaders and to ignore the Black professional class is not exactly what I would call a marked improvement over the Republican Party's past performance with Black voters.

I can appreciate your argument that Bush's message has application in the lives of many Blacks and that Blacks should understand it. And I see nothing wrong with Blacks voting for Bush - there are great reasons to do so.

But I could never expect Blacks to fully support a man who implies where he is relevant to them but won't come to their home and ask them for their vote to their face in a direct discussion. Blacks should vote their conscious and their enlightened self-interest but they should not have to trade their manhood or womanhood in order to do so.

If Gov. Bush really wants the Black vote and deserves it, he should go to Blacks directly and ask for it. He has not done that in a significant manner.

And when he had an opportunity to challenge Al Gore on the "ignored and taken for granted" gentleman's agreement between the two-parties - he was silent.

If you want someone's support, you don't just run down a list of how your programs can help them (when you are not in their presence), you spend time with them, develop a relationship and you ask them for it. This simple principle seems lost on Republicans much more than it is lost on Blacks.

Congratulations on a an insightful and masterfully written piece but it is much too generous and gives credit where it just isn't due.


Cedric Muhammad

Wednesday, November 1, 2000

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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

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