Politics Mondays: Dr. Lenora Fulani To Congressional Black Caucus: "Let Black America Debate Nader vs. Kerry"
Dr. Lenora Fulani, the country’s leading Black independent, has written a letter to Congressional Black Caucus chair Rep. Elijah Cummings in response to his efforts to arrange a meeting between the CBC and independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader and persuade him to abandon his campaign.
The letter continues Dr. Fulani’s critique of the "Anybody But Bush" approach to the 2004 presidential race.
Below is the full text of Dr. Fulani’s letter.
May 2, 2004
Honorable Elijah Cummings
Chair, Congressional Black Caucus
1632 Longworth HOB
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Congressman Cummings,
I understand that you and the CBC are hoping to meet with independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader to ask him to drop out of the race because you “are worried that he will take votes away” from the Democratic candidate John Kerry.
Congressman, I cannot begin to tell you how ridiculous and insulting this position is. It is ridiculous because Ralph Nader has already plainly indicated that he is running and does not believe that stepping aside to give John Kerry a clear field among progressive voters is a reasonable strategy in light of the crisis that America faces. What’s worse, however, is that the CBC’s position is insulting to black Americans, who are capable of making up their minds about who to vote for without the CBC attempting to secure an outcome by eliminating Nader from the presidential contest.
You do a tremendous disservice to our community and to our ongoing struggle to make American democracy whole by attempting to short circuit a vigorous and inclusive decision-making process. If you want black people to vote for John Kerry, make your case. Don’t try to abridge the right of the voters to make a choice.
I suspect that the idea to have the CBC lean on Mr. Nader is motivated by fears that black people won’t monolithically follow the Democratic Party line and might choose instead to vote for a genuine anti-war candidate, who also supports universal health care and numerous other needs that the CBC embraces as part of its mission. Such fears are justified, since 25% of African Americans consider themselves independents, not Democrats, according to the most recent surveys. Among 18 to 29 year old African Americans, the number climbs to 35%.
One major reason for disaffection with the Democratic Party is that it has moved increasingly to the right and allowed conservative Republicanism to set its political agenda. Black voters are now marginalized, but we are still expected to be a loyal voting constituency for the Democrats. While that might benefit the CBC and other black Democrats like Reverend Al Sharpton, it does precious little to advance the condition of black people in America.
I am well aware that the Democratic Party’s strategy is to try to frighten the black community about George Bush, to argue “this time it’s different, this time we have to vote Democrat in order to save the country.” George Bush and his neo-conservative pals are certainly taking America down a dangerous path, one which John Kerry and a majority of other congressional Democrats supported. We would be foolish to think that we can rely on the Democratic Party to stand up against the right-wing. That simply hasn’t happened, in spite of the CBC’s efforts to be its conscience.
Some of us have been around long enough and are independent-minded enough to see through the “Anybody But Bush” gambit. In 1984, black people were told we had to vote for Walter Mondale (who was busy engineering new party rules that denied Jesse Jackson his rightful share of convention delegates) because Ronald Reagan would bring fascism to America. Black people did vote for Mondale and for every Democratic presidential candidate since then. Yet even when Democrats were in the White House and/or in control of Congress, the conditions of black America continued to decline. As Harvard’s Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. points out in his latest documentary and book, when Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, 35% of black children lived at or below the poverty line. Today, 35% still live at or below the poverty line.
The question of whether black voters should remain blindly loyal to the Democratic Party in the face of this history and Mr. Kerry’s spotty (at best!) record with respect to issues of concern to us, is a serious one. I intend to work hard to make sure that we address that question during this campaign. I am supporting Ralph Nader’s candidacy because I believe he is the best candidate, and not only because his political positions express our interests. The fact that he is running as an independent and that his candidacy galvanizes a progressive independent political movement that is an alternative to weak-kneed conscienceless Democrats, makes him the best hope for creating something of value for black people in this election.
Exercising your right to speak out forcefully for John Kerry and the Democratic Party is, of course, proper. Extending your advocacy to limit the democratic process itself goes against the grain of everything we hold dear.
Lenora B. Fulani
cc: Members, Congressional Black Caucus;
Monday, May 10, 2004