E-Letter to the Washington Post Regarding "Al Gore and the Legacy of Race"
Your Sunday magazine article "Al Gore and the Legacy of Race" by Ellen Nakashima and David Maraniss was quite informative. However, Mr. Maraniss and Ms. Nakashima commit a familiar error and omission in their piece on Gore. They totally ignore the role that Vice-President Gore had in the development and implementation of the strategy that moved the Democratic Party away from the Black Electorate.
Their dismissal of this critical subject comes as no surprise as it is only in the last few years that political analysts and authors have begun to produce literature that reveals the connection between Al Gore and the Democratic Leadership Council, which served as the brains for the strategy. Maraniss and Nakashima err when they depict the relationship between Gore and a group of Democrats who actively implemented the strategy, only in terms of class and briefly at that. In the article they write, " With many other moderate Democrats during that period, Gore was trying to develop a New Democratic agenda that promoted economic development as the path to self-sufficiency". This is a gross misrepresentation of what was really occurring.
What Gore and other "moderate Democrats" were really attempting to do was distance themselves from Rev. Jesse Jackson and the perception that the Democratic Party was too liberal and too responsive to the concerns of Blacks. The Democratic Party's goal, to move away from this perception, even pre-dates Rev. Jackson's presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988. It actually dates back to the mid-1960s immediately after the Civil Rights Bill was signed by President Lyndon Johnson.
By 1973, the strategy to move the Democratic Party away from the perception that it was under the undue influence of the Civil Rights Movement and other liberals received a huge push forward under the leadership of then-Democratic National Committee chairman Bob Strauss. Strauss' efforts in the 1970s and that of his mentee, Al From in the 1980s, resulted in the development of organizations that were committed to moving the Democratic Party to the center of American electoral politics. The chief of these organizations was the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) which was coordinated by From and of which Al Gore was an early and influential member.
It is in the DLC where you will find the genesis and cultivation of the "New Democrats" referred to by Maraniss and Nakashima. The DLC was established to win back the "Reagan Democrats" which the party lost in large part due to its identification with Blacks, civil rights, affirmative action and welfare. It was Al Gore who ran for President in 1988, with the backing of the DLC and it was Al Gore who was the only Democratic presidential candidate who vehemently opposed Rev. Jesse Jackson that year. Your article does bring out some of the characteristics of Gore's opposition to Rev. Jackson but it does not get into the why of that opposition. The why of Gore's opposition to Rev. Jackson was not only Gore's desire to appeal to New York City's Jewish constituency, as your article implies, but it was also Gore's desire to position himself as an anti-Jesse Jackson Democrat who could be trusted to address the concerns of middle America and the lost "Reagan Democrats".
As your article indicates, it was Al Gore who first raised the issue of then-Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis' weekend furlough program that eventually would be used against him by George Bush via the now infamous Willie Horton commercials. These commercials played upon White America's perceptions, stereotypes and fears of violent Black crime. As your article notes, it was from Gore that the Bush campaign got the idea to use Willie Horton against Dukakis.
After Dukakis was defeated in 1988, the Democratic Party fell firmly into the grip of the DLC and it was determined that in the next election Democrats would move aggressively away from liberal, Civil Rights politics that seemed to cater to Blacks and Rev. Jackson and toward the elusive center of the political spectrum. Then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, a card-carrying member of the DLC, was committed to such a strategy and with the enormous backing of the DLC became the Democratic Party's nominee for President in 1992. Again, during that campaign, it was Rev. Jackson who was used to demonstrate the Democratic Party's new commitment to move away from the perception that the Democratic Party catered to Blacks excessively. Gov. Clinton used a Black woman, Sister Souljah to embarrass Rev. Jackson and send a signal, loud and clear, that the Democratic Party was not a "Minority Party". According to polls, Clinton's use of Rev. Jackson in this regard achieved the desired result.
Clinton then selected Gore as his running mate and with the brainpower of the DLC and New Democrats crafted an agenda and during the administration - a response to the Republican Party - that made it clear that the Democratic Party was moving away from concerns and issues that were held dear by most Black Americans. The Clinton-Gore administration's work in reference to Welfare reform, Affirmative Action and the Crime Bill all were met with opposition from within the Black Community but all three of these stances taken by Clinton-Gore were done so at the behest and backing of the DLC and New Democrats.
For Maraniss and Nakashima to totally ignore Vice-President Gore's relationship with the DLC and to reduce his relationship with New Democrats to a mere after-thought and a couple of sentences in a 10,000 word article is unfortunate and misleading. Especially if one is attempting to obtain an accurate picture of Gore's views on race and the impact that the issues he has advocated and policies he has implemented have had on America's racial discourse. I hope that as the campaign season progresses, the Washington Post will devote more attention to the impact that the DLC has had on Vice-President Gore and what that impact has ultimately meant and may continue to mean to the political aspirations and lives of the Black Electorate.
Tuesday, April 25, 2000