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Blacks Should Follow Donna Brazile's Example On Florida


It may not feel too good but the Black electorate and Black leaders need to perform some genuine soul-searching about what happened in last year's Florida election. We were pleased to see that Donna Brazile, former campaign manager for Al Gore, is doing just that, according to the Hartford Courant. Unfortunately, she is in the minority and as a result, a discussion that by now should have evolved into a debate over literacy problems and criminal justice issues within the Black community and the lack of responsiveness demonstrated by the Democratic Party and Justice Department toward Black voters, is still mired in an emotional venting session over how George Bush and the Supreme Court "stole" the election.

As we argued in the immediate aftermath of the election, the larger issues surrounding the vote for the Black community may have been education and criminal justice. As many have stated since, a massive voter turnout counts for nothing, if voters are not literate or educated properly about how to vote.

And a massive voter turnout counts for nothing if the power of that effort is diluted by laws that prevent Blacks - who were once incarcerated, but who have since paid their debt to society -from regaining their franchise. We were startled to learn that possibly as many as 1 in 3 Black men in Florida were unable to vote because of criminal justice issues. How powerful is the Black vote if it cannot change that reality?

And then, we argued, if Blacks were honest about what external forces did to them in Florida, they would not say that Bush "stole" the election, they would say that Gore "donated" it, by ignoring the cries of Blacks in Duval County where votes were disqualified.

It is interesting to read that Ms. Brazile, according to the Hartford Courant, immediately called former Deputy U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to tell him about the Black complaints of disenfranchisement that she was hearing about during the election. Nothing was done by the Justice Department and Gore did not amplify Ms.Brazile's voice.

That should be instructive to Blacks as well.

Despite the consistent argument made by Black civil rights leaders and opinion leaders that Blacks have power in the Democratic Party because the Whites in leadership provide them access; at the moment when Blacks needed the Democratic Party the most, and even had a Black woman as the campaign chair of the Democratic Party presidential nominee, they were ignored - victims of the very treatment they complain about receiving from Republicans.

Who was Gore listening to if not his campaign manager?

We recognized that Gore had phased Ms. Brazile out well before November of last year. It wasn't hard to tell that she was being publicly and internally marginalized as her once-frequent and prominent television appearances gave way to more and more visuals of the squeaky-voiced Gore spokesperson, Chris Lehane. And by the time the election rolled around, Gore was listening, almost exclusively, to ace political consultant Bob Shrum, campaign chairman William Daley and a small group of pollsters. When the election debacle picked up steam, it was a group of moderate and conservative Southern Democratic members of Congress who had Gore's ear, advising him to make a race-neutral case against Bush. The Gore lawyers crafted the necessary legal arguments.

Gore listened to this exclusive White male club of advisers and we will never know what would have happened if the Gore lawyers had included the Black voters of Duval County, for example, in their arguments before the Supreme Court. For all of the talk of the power of access, Black leaders should look in the mirror and think over how much access they really had, to the most powerful White men in the Democratic Party, when it came down to crunch time.

And the Black electorate should ask itself related questions: In light of what happened in Florida, what good is access if it is not accompanied by a responsiveness from those at the helm, at the most critical of moments? How were Blacks served by their near 100% support of Gore, their rejection of Bush and dismissal of Ralph Nader?

And, after Florida, do White Democrats think more of the Black vote or less? Will they work to get the remaining 7% of Blacks who vote, but do not support them? Or will they move away from the Black vote and toward the White center of American politics, in order to regain support that they have lost to the GOP, partly due to the Democratic Party's close association with the Black electorate?

The time has come for Black opinion leaders to take a more mature, honest and balanced approach to Florida that truly empowers Black voters and prepares them for future elections and not an emotional one that only continues to serve White Democrats in their efforts to oppose President Bush and the Republican Party.

It appears that Donna Brazile is showing the way.


Cedric Muhammad

Tuesday, June 12, 2001

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