Black America and Partisan Politics

Every now and then I will meet a journalist, political consultant, economist, congressional staff member or third party supporter who is taken aback by my worldview. Usually, when I first meet such inside-the-beltway-types, sooner or later they will begin to probe my line of reasoning and my stand on various issues in order to test the integrity of my belief system and political agenda. I always get a kick out of watching such individuals struggle to somehow get my answers to fit their assumptions and prejudices of what a 28 year old Black Man is "supposed" to think on various political subjects.

At the root of their mental wrestling is the fact that in order to survive in this world we all rely upon rules and laws that we can and cannot see. We all have models, paradigms and a perspective on how we view the world and relate to others. And in the field of politics and in the town of Washington D.C. this is especially true.

You must be on a team in order to get anywhere in politics, the logic follows. And there may be some truth to that as this country's system of political patronage is alive and well. Anybody working for the federal government right about now is increasingly aware of the implications of a Bush victory. If Bush-Cheney get it done in November, many federal employees down with the Clinton-Gore administration will be out of a job as the spoils system allows Bush to clean house and bring in "his people".

So of course being on a political team or a part of a political party often has a direct connection to one's bottom line. And for many that is the only consideration they need to make when deciding what issues to champion and what "team" to be on.

Many people believe they have no other alternative than to affiliate with the two major parties - even if they believe that such affiliation goes against their core principles and value system in critical areas.

If you are Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan, or a member of the Green or Reform party, the power of partisan politics is on your mind as you prepare to watch the October 3 debate between Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush and Democratic pick vice-president Al Gore. As you do so, you know that your issues of political reform, globalism, corporate welfare, human rights and the environment will not be discussed at hardly any length by the two major candidates.

And things are even worse if you are Howard Phillips, the Constitution Party's Presidential nominee or Harry Browne, The Libertarian Party's Presidential nominee. You can't even get attention for being ignored by Bush and Gore like Nader and Buchanan can.

Then there is an even larger group of politically interested people who believe that neither the major or minor parties will successfully champion their issues. This group wants to get involved but can't find a ready-made vehicle across the political spectrum, sturdy enough to carry their ideas into law.

Lastly, there are the great numbers of Americans who think the whole idea of voting and politics is a sham, much less considering a political party whether it be Democrat, Republican, Reform, Green, Libertarian or Constitution.

I used to consider myself in the latter group but have been undergoing 5 years of rehab in order to get to the point where I am now - ready to cast my vote in November.

The problem that I have had with partisan politics, and I make this point quite often to my third-party friends who claim to be an improvement over the current two-party system, is that being a partisan limits your options, reduces your receptivity to ideas that come from sources outside of your party and makes it more difficult for individuals to negotiate and compromise.

The major partisans today, are increasingly hardened and in fact emboldened by a print and television media that institutionally allies itself with either the Republican or Democratic Party or both. Such affiliations stifle public debate and investigative journalism and narrow the public's focus on the interests and issues of the two-party system when the American electorate should be openly thinking over all of its political options.

It is hard to believe that in a nation of millions only two points of view dominate in the last month before an election. Anyone who tells you that the two-party system and mainstream media capture the most important issues affecting Americans is deluded or trying to deceive you.

It is beyond dispute that the nation's major newspapers and its biggest and most accessible TV and cable outlets funnel "news" and political issues through a two-party funnel and because of that they help to strengthen the duopoly that the two-party system holds on "the issues"

Each of the "third-parties" (I never understood how 4 or 5 parties could refer to themselves as a third party), in one way or another claim that they hold the answer to this dilemma, if only we would listen to them and join their ranks. But I still have my doubts.

The "third-parties" think that hating the Republican and Democratic Parties is a political agenda in and of itself. They often act as if they are owed allegiance by the American people simply because they are critical of the Democrats and Republicans. I have been amazed by the third-party-ites that I have met who are oblivious to the fact that there do exist Republicans and Democrats - even Congressmen and women that champion their so-called "independent" issues. But because these elected officials wear a "D" or an "R" at the end of their names, the third-party supporters won't ever consider supporting them.

This provides just more evidence of how clear thinking goes out the window when people are partisan. The same disease that afflicts Democrats and Republicans, in my view, afflicts those in the "independent" party movement.

I am not saying that these parties are hopeless, I just caution Blacks about joining their ranks if they want to be open to working with anyone who may agree with them on various issues. To me it is silly to reject help and a partnership just because someone is of another party.

As I read the platforms and the agenda championed by the third parties and their leadership, I see that the best hope may lie in synthesizing the best of each party into an agenda that can be pushed at the local, state and federal level.

When I listen to Harry Browne, Pat Buchanan, George W. Bush, Al Gore, Ralph Nader and Howard Phillips, I wish I could take their best ideas and cobble them together and in effect make them into a new man - I would even throw in the best ideas of a few cultural leaders and "common" folk that I know. Not to mention the fact that the viewpoint of women is hardly ever considered with respect.

But there is hope on the horizon, at least with the Internet, we can get around the stranglehold that the major media outlets and the major and even minor parties have on the political discourse and debate. And if we so choose, we can take the best of the partisan efforts and use it wherever and however we wish in our individual and collective activism.

But of course, not everyone is on the Internet and this is truer with Blacks than virtually any other group. And for the Black electorate, the pull of the partisan/media conglomerate is almost irresistible as Black America, unfortunately, has too few media outlets in general and too many, in particular -- even its only cable network Black Entertainment television (BET) -- which are wedded to the Democratic Party. And though Black talk-radio is a little better; it is disproportionately tied to the agenda and interests of the Democratic Party.

Many Blacks are even made to feel like traitors just because they criticize the Democratic Party.

The crisis of the Black electorate is even more vivid when one considers the amount of so-called Black intellectuals and journalists who are supposed to be "free" to think, study and advise and who are Democrats.

Of course several of these "intellectual Democrats" are justified and have legitimate reasons for working with Democrats but far too many do so for the sake of some grant money and access to power that they will gain because they promote and defend a Democratic agenda. And of course, today there exists a growing number of Black "intellectual Republicans" who are making a living by doing the same.

The community that suffers the most and should avail itself to the most ideas and policy initiatives from political parties and non-partisans alike, drinks disproportionately from one fountain - the Democratic Party. And with such a broad coalition as that which exists in the Democratic Party, there is no way possible that the Democratic agenda could be flexible enough and open enough to the concerns and interests of the Black electorate.

That is why many Blacks have joined the ranks of the Republican Party and still more are considering the Green Party or at least its presidential nominee Ralph Nader.

I argue that Blacks should also consider the Reform Party, Constitution Party and Libertarian Party - all of which have something the other lacks for Black America.

And then there are the "independent" state parties that offer something to Blacks on the local level.

And we must remember that there are specific issues on the local, state level that the Black Electorate can address via initiative and referendum.

To think that after 135 years of exercising the right to vote that the majority of Blacks have voted with a one-party affiliation is depressing. In the 19th century, Blacks were married to the Republican Party in the exact same manner that they were tied to Democrats for most of the 20th century and the very same issue - that of civil rights and discrimination - is the centerpiece of the relationship between Blacks and the major party that they pledge allegiance to. Nothing has changed over time.

If Blacks truly voted in their individual and collective interests there is no way that it would be possible for 80-90% of those that vote would do so with loyalty to one party - which is now the case. Certainly this should not be the case in the year 2000.

So we end with a question: What will it take for the Black Electorate to rise above partisan politics and embrace the issues and policies that are in their individual and collective interests -- wherever they may be found?

Cedric Muhammad

Thursday, September 28, 2000