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Senate Democrats Thumb Nose at Blacks

New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson Posted: Jan 06, 2009

Editor's Note: African Americans have always supported Democratic candidates, yet few Democrats ever reward blacks for their support, says NAM contributor Earl Ofari Hutchinson. Does the Senate's determination to block the entry of Roland Burris, an African American, to the chamber to fill the vacant seat of President-elect Barack Obama, stem from racism, or is it simply because they are angry at disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich for making the appointment?

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., has screamed long and loud that the Senates bashing of disputed U.S. Senate-appointee Roland Burris is racism. Burris took the cue and chimed in that he also whiffed race in the Senate Democrats determination to keep him out of the Senate. Rush and Burris took much flack for dragging race into what Senate Democrats say is simply their ire at disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich for making a legally and ethically questionable appointment.

The Senate Democrats rap against Blagojevich might fly if not for the revelation that U.S. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada did his own backroom political meddling and implored Blagojevich to appoint three candidates he, Reid, chose. None of them was African-American. Reids explanation for butting into the mess was that he wanted to get someone in office who could get re-elected; presumably he meant that a black candidate could not get white votes in conservative, central, and downstate, rural Illinois.

Theres political logic to this. Obamas bi-partisan, non-racial, centrist, pitch played well with many conservative white voters in the state. It also didnt hurt his Senate bid to have as his opponent political gadfly Alan Keyes, an African- American. However, a scandal tainted African-American candidate, such as Burris, running for the seat in 2010, wouldnt be so lucky.

But political logic is one thing, racial politics and sensitivities are another. Reids intercession to get Blagojevich to appoint a supposedly winning Democrat put him and Senate Democrats in the disastrous position of opposing a legitimate black appointee. This raises deep suspicions that Democratic Party leaders back black candidates only when it serves their interests. The massive support top Democrats gave Obamas winning White House drive didnt dispel that suspicion.

A history reminder is in order to make that point. Blacks are the most loyal of Democrat shock troops. In every election stretching back to Lyndon Johnson's landslide victory in 1964, they have given the Democrats more than 80 percent of their vote. Even as an increasing number of Latinos, Asians and trade unionists defected to the Republicans, blacks stood pat with the Democrats. But in recent years they haven't got much in return.

Black president Clinton radically downsized welfare, toughened federal anti-crime and drug laws, and pared away affirmative action programs. These were all Reagan, Bush Sr. and Nixon proposals that the Congressional Black Caucus and liberal Democrats vehemently opposed, and had languished in Congress. The ranks of the black poor quickly soared, the numbers jailed for mostly non-violent, non-serious crimes jumped, and funds for skill and education programs to permanently break the welfare cycle for the poor evaporated.

Clinton did appoint a handful of blacks to administration positions and increased funding for AIDS prevention, minority business, education, and African relief. But Bush did pretty much the same thing.
Democratic presidential candidates Al Gore and John Kerry spent most of their losing presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004 avoiding appearances in black communities, and were stone silent on issues such as racial profiling, affirmative action, housing and job discrimination, the racial disparities in prison sentencing, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, health care for the poor, failing inner city schools, and ending the racially-marred drug sentencing policy.

Both got away with this by playing hard on the terror and panic that a Bush White House win in 2000 and his reelection in 2004 stirred in many blacks. But when blacks scurried to vote for Gore and Kerry out of fear of a Bush win, they gave the Democrats another free ride.

Obama pretty much followed the same script. He talked tough about ramping up military and intelligence spending, making hard target preemptive strikes, and a massive troop build-up in Afghanistan. This was a transparent effort to trump the GOP on their pet national security issue. It was also a big tip- off that military preparedness and national security, not civil rights or social issues, would remain the Democrats' big campaign focus.

The wrinkle that Obama added to the campaign, which ultimately tipped the scales to him, was the economy. He ripped a page straight out of the Clinton playbook and pledged big tax breaks for the middle class. That did two things. It sent a strong signal that the Democrats could also pitch the virtues of the middle class. It sent the more subtle signal that Democrats would continue to place priority on middle-class needs and concerns, and not those of the black poor.

Clinton and Obama successfully, and Gore and Kerry unsuccessfully, made a deliberate and politically calculated decision that strong security and middle-class tax and economic relief are the only ways to beat the GOP for the White House. Any hint of a tilt toward minorities by Democrats would be political suicide.

Reid used pretty much the same political calculus in pushing Blagojevich to pick a white Democrat for Obamas vacant seat. The problem is that its also a perceived and real thumb nose at black voters.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is "How Obama Won" (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).

Related Articles:

Obama's Win Didn't End Racial Stereotyping

Ousting of Louisiana Congressman Not about Race

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