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Bases and Races


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Interesting read, any thoughts?

Bases and Races

Jay Bryant

May 24, 2004

According to an article in the paper, "top aides for Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry have promised that staff members will meet regularly with members of the Congressional Black Caucus from key states…."

Whoa! The Congressional Black Caucus has to settle for meeting with Kerry's staff? What the heck is that all about?

Same day, different paper, and there's a story about how Kerry told District of Columbia delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and other D.C. bigwigs he won't support the proposal by Virginia Republican Congressman Tom Davis that would give Norton an actual vote in Congress, in return for adding another new Congressional district in Utah (which barely missed out on getting another seat following the 2000 census.)

This is called base-bashing. Both sides do it. It's inevitable.

If you're a base voter for a given political party, that means you'll vote for that party's candidate no matter what. And if that's true, you don't have much leverage.

African-Americans are Democrat base voters. In fact, black voters are more likely to vote Democrat than Democrats. You read that right. Running on the Democrat ticket, a good candidate can get 85% of the votes cast by registered Democrats; the same candidate is likely to get at least 90% of the votes cast by African-Americans.

Democrats don't deserve it. No less a figure than Jesse Jackson once understood that, and even put it in print, in a 1977 article published in the National Republican Congressional Committee's monthly magazine, Congress Today. Jesse's point was precisely the one I'm making here – that by giving all their support to one party, the Democrats, African-Americans were giving Republicans no reason to deal with them, and encouraging Democrats to take them for granted.

That's called lose-lose.

Take the question of D.C. voting rights in Congress, for example. As a staunch Republican, I've certainly got no political reason to want to see another inevitably Democrat seat in the House. But partisanship aside, I have no ethical justification for opposing the idea. (D.C. statehood is a different issue altogether; there are sound non- partisan reasons to oppose that, and I do.)

But D.C. voting rights in Congress was just pie-in-the-sky talk until Davis came up with his plan. Now, it's a real possibility, a compromise solution that could actually pass Congress. But if John Kerry is President, he won't sign it. That's what he told Norton and the other D.C. leaders.

Kerry would much rather have an issue than a solution here – and for that matter on almost anything that irritates black voters. Irritated black voters are good for Democrats.

That's because the one bit of leverage base voters – like blacks are for Democrats – have is turnout. Turnout is the subject matter for the proposed Black Caucus-Kerry staff meetings. Right now, blacks have little reason, aside from his party affiliation, to be for Kerry. What's he ever done for them?

"African Americans feel comfortable with John Kerry because he is a Democrat," said Congressman Elijah Cummings, the Black Caucus chairman, but he indicated that they are not yet "comfortable with him because he is John Kerry."

In other words, Kerry had better do something or black voters may not show up at the polls in sufficient numbers to make a difference in close states. But what is it that the Caucus leaders want? Ads in black newspapers were mentioned in the meeting, along with "the best way to utilize [the campaign's] money." Oh, yes, and more black staffers at Kerry headquarters.

In other words, the Caucus leaders want more campaign pork. Real issues, like solving the centuries-long impasse over D.C. voting rights, forget it. Thus does the black Democrat leadership join the white Democrat leadership in selling out the interests of black people.

Here's how it's all going to come down in the end. There'll be some sort of "October Racial Surprise," something like the Trent Lott remark perhaps, and so the turnout campaign in African-American neighborhoods, well greased with campaign cash and supported by ads in African-American newspapers (the grateful publishers of which are most assuredly in a position to do many favors for their Representatives in Congress), will be able to scream and yell about what awful racists the Republicans are, and convince apathetic base voters to go to the polls after all.

Turnout will thus get up to an acceptable level – and all without Kerry or the Caucus having to commit to a single substantive solution to any of the real, desperately real, problems in the black community.

On Monday, both Kerry and President Bush spoke at the ceremonies in Topeka marking the 50th Anniversary of Brown v Board of Education, a decision rendered by a Republican Chief Justice and enforced by a Republican administration, newly installed after twenty years of Democrat power during which nothing had been done to end Jim Crow segregation. In a literally touching photo, the President embraced Cheryl Brown Henderson, the Brown of Brown v Board; he then delivered a thoughtful speech on the evil of segregation. Kerry's speech blasted Bush's education reforms and promised a better solution to America's inner city education scandal: more pork.

Tell me again why 90% of African-Americans vote Democrat?



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Several thoughts:

It is probably true that black voters get a taken for granted by both parties. And of course that’s true of a lot of minority or special interest groups. Neither party is going to waste much time or money on the extremely fundamentalist Religious Right either since they both assume their votes are a given as well.

Unfortunately for them, that does dilute the influence of African-Americans and threatening to not turn out might be a way to exert some leverage. However, to answer the question “Why do 90% vote Democratic?” with another question: Why should they vote Republican if they see absolutely nothing in the Republican platform that helps them at all? If abstaining from the polls just has the effect of maintaining Republican policies that they see as harmful, then “no vote” is in effect a passive vote for those policies.

In other example of taking a block of voters for granted, I doubt the Republicans waste much effort trying to attract the hard-core environmental “Greenpeace” radicals in the Nader camp. Here, however, the Democrats have a shot at attracting a few and had better watch out or they may lose another narrow election like last time.

As for other points in the article:

I don’t think any sitting President meets “regularly” with individual Congressmen or Congressional groups. His time is too valuable and scarce, as is theirs. He communicates regularly through his staff and their staffs and meets directly with members of Congress only when such direct communication is needed.

As far as DC voting representation in Congress…that will require a Constitutional amendment which involves a tremendous amount of time and effort. I don’t know what Kerry meant if he said he wouldn’t "support" it. What does he mean by "support"? Does that mean he is opposed and will actively lobby against it? Or does that mean he expects his time as President to be too involved in other serious problems, like an on-going war and fragile economy, and will leave the legwork on such an amendment to others while still being in favor of it? Constitutionally, the President doesn’t have a designated role in the amendment process anyway, not even the veto option. Amendments go straight from being proposed by 2/3 of Congress or a Constitutional Convention to the ratification process in the individual states.

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