Chief of Naval Operations
It's Time for Some Primary Color
By Colbert I. King
When Maynard Jackson, Atlanta's first black mayor, sought the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee two years ago, "the Dems shoved him to the back of the bus so fast -- in favor of [Bill Clinton's top money-raiser, Terry] McAuliffe -- that the poor guy didn't even have a chance to put in a call to Johnnie Cochran." That dig came from an admittedly acerbic source this week. But it was close to the truth.
Now look at DNC Chairman McAuliffe's record in his first midterm election: The Republicans recaptured the Senate, expanded their majority in the House, won more seats in state legislatures than Democrats did for the first time in a half-century and, in the final blow, elected the first Republican governor of Georgia since Reconstruction. Could Maynard Jackson have done any worse?
Despite having sterling party credentials, a genius for organizing and a record of political achievement, Jackson had one problem: the unmitigated gall to reach too high. Sure, it's fine to be a lieutenant who organizes and turns out the grass-roots vote. They'll even give you a fancy-sounding title. But some things in life are just too precious to share, such as party leadership and control of the money that comes with the job. Running for president is another, but more about that later.
So McAuliffe expects to stay right where he is, schmoozing with fat cats, huddling with power brokers, playing the inside game with the next crop of presidential wannabes, and continuing to hone his strategy of winning over suburban voters while maintaining the affection of environmentalists, abortion rights advocates and gun foes. And if Democratic politics run true to form, two years from now -- after the labor-dominated primaries winnow the current field of singularly unexceptional presidential candidates to a Democratic ticket bearing a vanilla message for independents and swing voters -- McAuliffe and top party leaders will turn their attention back to urban America. Its legions of preachers, pols and party loyalists will be exhorted to get out the African American vote in time for November 2004.
If that happens, as it did this year and in every election cycle in the past two decades, and African American Democrats, the party's most loyal constituency, are once again taken for granted, who really deserves the blame?
The continued passivity of black Democrats in the face of such disrespect is an offense to the memory of ancestors who arrived on these shores in bondage and through sheer grit and determination survived slavery and went on to make it possible for future generations to reach the top in business, education, the military, law and science. Why, then, stop short of where the nation's agenda is set? Why not the presidency?
The days of settling for second string in the country's electoral process must end -- now. There are choices: African Americans can join another party, form another party, become independents or stay Democrats. But if switching's not in the cards, then at least leave the fields and fight for something.
The first target should be Terry McAuliffe. He took Democrats down in flames. It was McAuliffe who wasted funds in Florida seeking puerile revenge against Jeb Bush for brother George's victory in 2000. McAuliffe blew money that Carl McCall could have used in his historic bid to become New York's first black governor. But McAuliffe said that he didn't think McCall could win and that he would spend the money elsewhere -- like in the Sunshine State. Get this: The outpoliticked and underfunded McCall lost his bid by 16 points. But Jeb Bush also buried McAuliffe's guy in a 13-point landslide.
Carl McCall wasn't the only black candidate left in the lurch. McAuliffe talks a good game, but in contrast to the GOP, which threw tons of money into advertising on black-oriented TV and radio stations and in newspapers to cynically suppress the black vote for Democrats, the DNC, arrogantly assuming that black voters had nowhere else to go, spent relatively little on black media.
So on to step two. African American Democrats should assume a larger role in the selection of the party's presidential nominees.
No more days of white Democratic presidential candidates breezing into the African American community toward election time -- or worse still, sending in black surrogates or a Bill Clinton -- to make all sorts of promises that won't be kept. When candidates come calling in the 2004 presidential primaries, they should be greeted by a local African American favorite son or daughter who has also declared for the presidency.
For example, a popular Democrat such as D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton should declare in 2004, field a delegate slate and prepare to do battle with any outside candidate who comes to the city hunting supporters for the next convention. If the candidates aren't prepared to compete with Norton on issues of importance to District voters, such as D.C. voting rights, job creation and improving public schools, then Norton wins the primary and goes to the convention with delegates committed to her values and causes.
A similar scenario should occur in primaries all over the country, especially since Democratic Party rules allow the proportional selection of delegates.
Why shouldn't Rep. James Clyburn adopt a similar strategy in the South Carolina primary? Or Rep. Charlie Rangel in New York? Rep. John Conyers in Michigan? Rep. Maxine Waters in California? Rep. John Lewis in Georgia? Rep. Bobby Scott in Virginia? Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and politicians such as Texas's defeated Democratic Senate nominee, Ron Kirk, ought to be planning now to launch their own candidacies or to back strong alternatives as presidential candidates in their own state primaries. Talk about energizing the black base.
Chances are, African American candidates who ran aggressive, issue-oriented campaigns in their states and districts would receive enough votes proportionally to show up at the convention with committed delegates of their own. That would give them a stronger voice when talks turned to determining the platform and the next presidential and vice presidential nominees. And, unlike in times past, those voices would be heard.
And please don't hand me that stuff about African Americans not being qualified to run for the big one. For goodness' sake, look at who's running now: John Edwards, a North Carolina newcomer to the Senate whose claim to fame is that he made loads of money as a trial lawyer. John Kerry, a Massachusetts senator and decorated veteran with a Dudley Do-Right persona. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut senator and nice guy who doesn't have half the legislative and public policy experience or war record of Rangel, or history of advocacy for women, children, the poor and people of color of Waters, or grounding in the Constitution, the law and social policy of Norton.
The days of playing supplicant are over. It's time for self-respecting black Democrats to get it on with their party -- or look for another home.
And somebody please alert Johnnie Cochran.
I think a lot of the gains have to do with the Republicans effectively convincing the country that the economy is turning around under GW Bush's leadership. As for the racial inequalities in the Democratic party, they have always talked a good fight about equality... but never really seem to do much about it.
Me? I don't belong to any political organization. I would not choose a political candidate based on race. Now if a candidate's platform is "Screw whitey" I am not gonna vote for him, just the same as I wouldn't vote for and racist candidate. Maybe people should consider the actual voting record and actions of a party before deciding whether or not to support it. I have, that is why am neither a Democrat or Republican. Don't throw away a vote on a bad compromise... vote independant. It scares the politicians.
Eh, I dunno. I'm sure they could do better, but as is they are waaaaay better than republicans in that respect. I wouldn;t vote for or against a candidate based on race, so I don't know to whose advanatge it would be to have more black candidates who are less qualified to be there. If the black candidate is good and deserves to be there, then by all means vote for him. But otherwise you're doing to politics what is being done to professional sports, forcing private organizatiosn to make decisions based on race and race alone.
Originally posted by Grimm
As for the racial inequalities in the Democratic party, they have always talked a good fight about equality... but never really seem to do much about it.
i think the column has some very valid point
1.) McAuliffe screwed up big time. his only qualification in the first place was that he was a good fund-raising whore and a chief FOB. obviously, that didn't do his party a whole hell of a lot of good last week.
2.) dems haven't been doing the important things to help minority voters for the last 30 years. they are great at tokenism, but as far as really trying to address the deep problems that are keeping minorities from really achieving equality....it's not happening. yet the dems just take for granted that the black community (churches, etc) will turn out the voters every 2 years.
3.) it would be great to see a diversity of ideas in a primary election, whether democrat or republican.
the problem with his argument: it's all great to say that these people should run at that they would win delegates to the national convention who could be a voice for their issues. however, i know from trying to organize the election of john mccain's delegates to the GOP nat'l convention in 2000 after he won MI that it is basically impossible to do so. we ended up getting about 10 out of the 45 slots we should have had filled with our people. and i think the democrats are even worse than republicans when it comes to trying to "pay off" all the people who were "supposed" to get trips to the convention