Race and American Politics

New Audio:  Michael Fauntroy on NPR’s “Tell Me More” with Michel Martin

Here is a clip of Friday, September 17th edition of NPR's "Tell Me More." I'm on with Cynthia Tucker (Atlanta Journal Constitution) and Nikita Stewart (Washington Post).

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Friday, September 17, 2010
Current AffairsRace and American PoliticsU.S. Electoral PoliticsWashington, D.C Local Politics • (0) Make a Comment

Michael Fauntroy to Serve as Panelist in “We Count!” Symposium

I'm pleased to announce that I will be a panelist on the We Count! symposium on Saturday, March 20th at the Jones Convention Center at Chicago State University.  I will be part of a group discussion on the kinds of issues that should be included in a political, economic, and social agenda for African Americans.  Many thanks to Tavis Smiley for inviting me to join in the discussion.  I'm looking forward to participating and consider it an honor.

C-SPAN will broadcast the event live at 9:00 AM Eastern.  You may also check it out live online at UStream.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Thursday, March 18, 2010
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Obama, Wright, and The “Race” Speech

Obama_and_wright_6 Thirteen months into the campaign and Democratic presidential front runner Barack Obama finally discussed the one subject he has deftly avoided: race in America.  He has desperately tried to avoid it by running a deracialized campaign that has demurred on racial issues.  The speech was given after the furious response to widely reported comments made by Obama’s pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ, in which the minister spoke passionately about race in America.  The furor that has followed led Obama to give a speech he probably should have delivered months ago.

Romney_at_bush_library Much like Mitt Romney speaking on religion in the face of deteriorating polling, Obama had worrisome poll numbers that led him to make the speech.  A Rasmussen poll showed that 8 percent of Americans view Wright favorably, while 58 percent have an unfavorable view.  The poll also noted that 56 percent those surveyed said Wright’s comments made them less likely to vote for Obama. That figure includes 44 percent of Democrats.  Obama has to reverse this trend.

Obama could have avoided this mess.  Though seen as controversial to some, Wright is a well-known and well-regarded minister.  Obama knew Wright would be seen as incendiary and began to distance himself from Wright.  He disinvited Wright from his campaign announcement speech in which the pastor was to give the invocation.  That was 13 months ago, so it’s not like the campaign couldn’t imagine that Wright’s words would become a factor in the nomination fight.

To the extent that there is room to criticize his campaign strategy, he should have taken on this issue months ago on his own terms, rather than in response to a brewing feeding frenzy.  Now, his words will be parsed and examined in a lull in the campaign between now and Pennsylvania.  Five weeks is a long time in campaigns and analysts will conduct an autopsy on every speech given by Wright or anyone else close to Obama to find anything that could cause trouble for the campaign.

Most African Americans have gleefully accepted his deracialized run for the presidency.  The feeling among many of these voters is that – all the happy talk aside – there is substantial concern if America is ready for a Black president.  Consequently, Obama has not been pressed to address some of the issues that are unique to African Americans for fear that discussing such issues will hurt his chances for the presidency.  This line of reason implies, of course, that maybe America isn’t ready for a Black president if the mere discussion of certain issues will work against Obama.

Obama is a vessel in which many voters are placing their hopes and aspirations for the country. Unfortunately, some of them are enraptured by the audacity of naivete’ believing that race isn’t an issue as long as we ignore it.  This was, and is, a ridiculous notion; race became a factor in the campaign as soon as he jumped in the fight.  Obama certainly has done his best to comply with the implicit request from some voters that he not speak forcefully on race.  This line of thinking has helped fuel Obama’s candidacy among some White voters.  Now, some of those same voters appear to be getting cold feet waiting for the other racial shoe to drop.

So the task for Obama was to address the trouble caused his campaign from Wright’s words and allay White America’s latent concerns that maybe Obama is the stereotypical “Black candidate” fully willing to aggressively confront racism and its progeny.  His speech also had to defend Trinity United Church of Christ and Wright or risk angering Black voters who may see Obama turning his back on a friend.  He did a good job of walking this very fine line putting Wright’s words into a larger context of the history of slavery and segregation.  He rightly noted that his pastor’s words speak of an anger that exists in Black America over racism.  He also talked about how conservative “talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.”  Even better, he pointed out the roots of Black and White anger and challenged America to take a compassionate look at other perspectives.

He responded to his task very well and laid out a compelling message that I think should have been offered months ago.  Maybe now he can lead the country into a new discussion and understanding of race in America.

Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the book Republicans and the Black Vote.  A registered Independent, he blogs at www.MichaelFauntroy.com.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Monday, March 24, 2008
Current AffairsRace and American CultureRace and American PoliticsU.S. Electoral Politics • (4) Make a Comment

Don’t Let Your Love For Obama Prevent You From Seeking Accountability

I've been struggling to find the words to explain why I think too many Black people are not critically assessing the implications of his candidacy on Black America.  Maybe it's because the fawning White media are trying to tell Black people who there leaders should be.  Maybe it's because I worry whenever conservatives like Bill Bennett and Bill Kristol have good things to say about a Black man; given their histories, one can only wonder what's up.  Anyway, listen to this while I continue to find the right words.  It's thought provoking (if thinking is your thing).  I was particularly interested to learn that Iowa, for all the hype given its role in launching Obama's candidacy, is the fifth whitest state in the nation but leads the nation in Black incarceration (per capita).  What's up with that??

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Sunday, January 27, 2008
Current AffairsRace and American PoliticsU.S. Electoral Politics • (1) Make a Comment

With Reservations, I’m Voting for Obama

The Potomac River primaries on February 12 are just a few days away and I have to make a decision on whom to vote for in the District of Columbia primary.  I’ve struggled with this decision for some time as my first choice, Al Gore, passed on the race and my second choice, John Edwards, never got the traction I hoped he would and bowed out just before Super Tuesday.  I’m faced with a tough choice between two outstanding candidates.  Barack Obama, while inexperienced, represents an exciting challenge to the status quo that I find attractive.  Hillary Clinton, more of a known quantity, is an underrated fighter for many of the issues about which I feel very strongly.  While she butchered the healthcare reform effort in 1993, the reality is she’s taken that fight farther than anyone else in American politics.  Nonetheless, after considering all the positions, the hype, the hypersensitivity, and history, I’ve decided, with reservations, to vote for Barack Obama.

Barack_obama_2 I have at least three reservations about Obama.  First, I’m always interested in Black political empowerment and understand that for that to occur, Black people must be in the room making decisions.  As a political scientist who specializes in Black political behavior, I’m deeply concerned by what I’m hearing from smart people in Chicago who tell me that Obama has very few African Americans in decision making positions in his campaign.  It is less likely that uniquely Black issues, such as the prison-industrial complex that warehouses Black men, removes them from society and, ultimately, undermines Black families, will get an airing in such an environment.  I understand why he has to run a deracialized campaign – it’s simply the reality of American politics and culture.  I don’t understand why his campaign apparatus has to be deracialized.

Second, there is a rhetorical naivete’ to his campaign that I think is nearly disingenuous.  His talk about unifying the country and that there should be no “red state America or blue state America, but the United States of America,” sounds great, but ignores the history of the country.  America has always been divided along racial, nationality, and economic lines.  From early battles between southern agrarian barons who took credit for building the country on the backs of free slave labor to northern industrialists fighting to drag the country into a new direction, America has careened from one pole to the other on issue after issue.  Other than brief, wartime periods, this nation has never exemplified the unity Obama claims he can bring to the country.  The hordes of naive young voters that are buying this line don’t know their history and he is reaping the benefit.  There isn’t anything wrong with hoping for unity, but we can’t ignore history.

Third, Obama’s ascension will narrow opportunities for Black politicians.  I know that sounds counterintuitive, particularly since there are so many examples where Black politicians already have a low ceiling.  There have been many capable Black mayors over the years who could have been governors in a more open society with a level playing field.  Obama makes it even more difficult because some White voters may take the measure of some Black candidates and say “why can’t he be more like Obama.”  Implicit in that comment is the belief that only certain kinds of Blacks can win the votes of Whites, which disqualifies anyone seen as overtly Black.

So why am I voting for Obama?  There are some traits to commend him to the presidency.  First, people who know him say that while he is supremely ambitious, he also knows what he doesn’t know.  That’s very commendable when one considers the fact that most elected officials confuse their electoral success with the notion that they know everything – a sure path to arrogance and failure.  It’s my hope that a President Obama will surround himself with people smarter than he in the areas in which he lacks institutional memory or professional experience.  While I think being president is no place for on-the-job training, an inexperienced officeholder can do great things if he or she is comfortable in his or her own skin enough to listen and learn.  I think Obama can do that.

Second, I’m all about challenging the status quo and I write this with an eye toward November with a conservative status quo slowly losing its grip on the country.  They are responsible for the economic social woes that are now befalling our country.  Moreover, it was neo-conservative thought that led us into Iraq and destroyed our standing in the world.  These regressive moves must be reversed and Obama best represents a move in a new direction.

Third, his election strikes a blow at White supremacist thought that continues to dominate the world.  From Asia to Africa and South America, an Obama win will shake up things in countries that are still under the thumb of an intellectual mindset that suggests that people of color are inferior to Anglo-Saxons.  This blow must be struck and now is as good a time as any.

My decision to vote for Obama is more a leap of faith than a conviction that he will actually the bring real, deep, and substantial change he professes.  Voters who claim to want a transformational president have to be willing to give the country a Congress that will be equally change oriented.  Given that 90 percent of all members of Congress who seek reelection win, voters need to be brave enough to turnout out their own Representatives and Senators to actually make change occur.  History suggests that change is unlikely.  While I have doubts about Obama and the nation, I’m hopeful that the country is ready to move in a new direction.  I’m also hopeful that Obama can bring it all together.

Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University an author of the book Republicans and the Black Vote.  A registered Independent, he blogs at: www.MichaelFauntroy.com

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Sunday, January 13, 2008
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Johnson Did Help Give Life to King’s Dream

Hillary Clinton has been taking a beating for a comment she recently made regarding Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the role President Lyndon Johnson played in bringing about the legislative change sought by the civil rights movement.  She noted that King’s dream began to come into focus when President Lyndon Johnson supported and signed into law important civil rights legislation.  Some African Americans, sadly disconnected from the historical record, took the comment as a slight to King’s legacy.  Conservatives did what they usually do, stoking the fire by suggesting that Clinton simply dissed the Black icon and should be punished by African American voters.  (Disclosure: Neither Clinton nor Senator Barack Obama is my preferred presidential candidate).  Clinton is factually right and, after seeing the video of the comment, I am convinced that she met no disrespect to King’s legacy.

Fauntroy_and_king_at_the_voting_r_4 My interest in King is more than academic.  I’m blessed to a nephew of Rev. Walter Fauntroy, one of Dr. King’s chief lieutenants (he’s the one to standing between King and Rep. Peter Rodino at the Voting Rights Act of 1965 signing ceremony).  He has long told me of his work during this period and how the man (King) and the movement coalesced and unified the country, which became outraged by what they saw on the evening news night after night.  He also told me something that I tell my students: ideas and movements mean nothing if they don’t change public policy.  Mass movements and demonstrations are designed to prick the conscience of the country on a given issue.  At that point the legislative process takes over.  That process must go through the president.  A supportive president can accelerate change.  An obstinate president (see Bush, G.W. – Iraq) can thwart a movement, even though it might have a majority of support in Congress.

My uncle has told me a thousand times about how important Lyndon Johnson was to making the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 a reality.  He sacrificed his own favor with southern conservatives to do the right thing.  I see a particular irony that some southern Black elected officials, some of whom owe their seats in Congress to the changes effectuated by the Voting Rights Act, now criticizing Clinton for remembering her civil rights history.  Noting Johnson’s role is not disrespectful to King’s legacy.  It’s simply a historical fact.  And Clinton’s memory seems to be on target.

It’s my hope that the media and racially sensitive people of all stripes will take a deep breath and relax a bit.  Presidential candidates, talking all the time every single day while on the campaign trail, will say things that can easily be taken out of context.  Responsible observers have to encourage the public to pay closer attention to the issues rather than perceived slights that don’t really exist.  There are plenty of legitimate reasons to question whether Hillary Clinton is best suited to win the Democratic presidential nomination and the White House.  Her comment on President Johnson and the civil rights movement should not be among them.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Saturday, January 12, 2008
Current AffairsRace and American CultureRace and American PoliticsU.S. Electoral Politics • (5) Make a Comment

Obama’s Struggle With Black America

The conventional wisdom was simple: Senator Barack Obama would trounce his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination in the Black community. His youth, vitality, and freshness, coupled with his call for greater unity in the nation, suggests he has a legitimate chance to win, thereby energizing Black voters in a way unseen since Jesse Jackson’s 1988 campaign for the nomination.  This view, coupled with his phenomenal fundraising and stubborn ambivalence about Senator Hilary Clinton’s electability gave many hope that Blacks would flood ballot boxes across the country and push him over the top.

The reality, however, is beginning to set in and it’s not pretty:  Obama is beginning to look more like Howard Dean in 2003 rather than the rock star politician with the promise to remake American politics.  Yes, he’s doing very well in the polls and has raised a ridiculous amount of money; his third-quarter 2007 total was $78.9 million.  However, the emerging reality is that he won’t win the nomination next year.  The phenomenon of 2007 likely won’t win the prize in 2008.

And he can’t count on Black America to lead him to the nomination.

A recently released CNN poll shows that Obama is not being supported by Black America.  Indeed, Obama’s support among Black Democrats, never what many hoped for, is actually in decline. Thirty-three percent of Black Democrats indicated their support for Obama in the poll, a three point decline from a similar poll in April.

While the poll had a slightly higher than usual margin for error, the numbers tell an unfortunate truth for Obama: Black women aren’t giving him the love.  Only 25 percent of Black Democratic women polled indicated they would vote for Obama; 46 percent of Black Democratic men concur. He’s trending downward at the same time his primary challenger for the nomination, Clinton, is beginning to take off with Blacks. The same poll showed Clinton favored by 57 percent of Blacks polled. Particularly notable is the support she is receiving among Black women: a whopping 68 percent are going with Clinton.

There are a number of reasons why Black America hasn’t warmed to Obama, but two warrant particular attention. First, there is a worrisome concern that has been circulating among Black activists and politicos since his campaign launch that he has few, if any, African Americans in positions of authority in his campaign. His team, led by Chicago-based consultant David Axelrod, doesn’t have a Donna Brazile-like leader whom Black America can see and embrace.  Further, the campaign strategy, to this point, has led some African Americans to scratch their heads in disbelief that Obama isn’t engaging the Black community to the extent that he should.  He doesn’t have to spend a disproportionate amount of time courting Black voters, but he does have to do more than he has.

Second, he’s shown no proclivity to speak forcefully on issues of unique importance to Black America. His relative silence on Jena 6 was duly noted by Black activists.  His conservative, de-racialized approach to campaigning is understandable – he doesn’t want to run the risk of alienating White supporters who might recoil from forceful discussions of racial issues.  It’s clear that he isn’t inspiring the volume of loyalty from Blacks necessary to fuel his candidacy.  That’s unfortunate because, his base, Black America, is craving for leadership and his silence and stylistic conservatism may be disappointing to many Black voters.

Black America too often holds Black candidates to an unfair standard of racial solidarity and purity. Most African Americans want identifiable, overt Blackness in their Black candidates.  That is, of course, a recipe for electoral failure in statewide and national contests and Black Americans are slowing and grudgingly coming to grips with this political reality.  They want Obama to be “blacker”, but he can only be as “Black” as Whites will allow him to be.  Whites want to support Black candidates, but only those they see as “safe.”  Black candidates deemed “scary” may have the same political positions as Obama, but can’t come close to a nomination.  Obama’s dilemma in this regard is clear, but he has to figure it out very soon or he will be spending the early spring of 2008 putting salve on his ego, wondering what happened, and preparing to endorse Hilary Clinton for President.

Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the recently published book Republicans and the Black Vote.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Thursday, November 08, 2007
Current AffairsRace and American PoliticsU.S. Electoral Politics • (3) Make a Comment

Is it Already Over for Obama?

The emerging consensus appears to be that Senator Hilary Clinton has all but locked up the Democratic presidential nomination.  That appears premature when one examines the fundraising numbers where Senator Barack Obama has led for most of the year and now just barely trails Clinton.  The fundraising totals would suggest that the race is close.  The state-by-state polls, however, tell a different story, one that will depress Obama supporters.  After looking at the polls, one can only conclude that barring some enormous collapse by Clinton, the race is already over.

Clinton’s surge, no pun intended, coincides with her increase in Black support.  Her lead in national polls ranges from 27 to 32 points, sizable by any measure.  While the state-by-state polls mean more, she is steadily closing in on the nomination.  Twenty-nine polls, mostly of likely voters, have been taken in the last month in the first nine primary/caucus states.  Not one shows Obama leading and only four have him within single digits and they are all in Iowa where Clinton averages a +5 point lead.  Clinton has substantial, landslide-like average leads in each state: +20% in New Hampshire; +13 in South Carolina; +27 in Florida; +27 in Nevada; +19 in Michigan; +25 in California; +22 in Pennsylvania; and +25 in New Jersey.

Obama’s team argues that these polls are meaningless and that his support levels is actually undercounted.  That may be true, but these polls show that even with an undercount, Obama has a lot of work to do.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Thursday, October 25, 2007
Current AffairsRace and American PoliticsU.S. Electoral Politics • (0) Make a Comment

Jackson Did Obama a Favor

South Carolina’s largest newspaper, The State, reported Wednesday that Rev. Jesse Jackson accused Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama of “acting like he’s White” over what Jackson considered to be a muted response by Obama to the Jena 6 controversy in Louisiana.  Jackson later backed away from the comment, telling the newspaper that he didn’t recall making the statement but, rather, that “he only wanted to point out that Obama had not seized on an opportunity to highlight the disproportionate criminal punishments black youths too often face.”  That is not exactly a denial, so I will take it as confirmation that Jackson made the comment.  In running his mouth as he did, Jackson did Obama a huge favor.

I can’t prove it, but I suspect that the Obama headquarters may not be too upset over all this.  That is because Jackson is considered so anathema to many independent voters, even to many Democrats, his criticism of Obama serves the purpose of burnishing the image of the Illinois Senator.  It goes something like this: “I can’t stand Jackson; Jackson criticized Obama; therefore, Obama must be all right.”

What Jackson and others who are criticizing Obama on this issue seem to forget is that overtly and exclusively Black candidates cannot become president.  Yes, they can win 11 primaries and nearly seven million votes, as Jackson did in 1988, but they can’t win a nomination.  Obama can only be as Black as White America will allow, so don’t expect to see him front-and-center on controversial racial issues.  Be patient with Obama, Black America.  He is walking a tightrope unlike any other presidential candidate in American history.

So, Jesse, charge him with “acting White.”  That only makes him more attractive to the White voters he will need to win the nomination.  Keep up the good work!

Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the recently published book Republicans and the Black Vote.  He blogs at MichaelFauntroy.com

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Thursday, September 20, 2007
Current AffairsRace and American CultureRace and American PoliticsU.S. Electoral Politics • (2) Make a Comment

Republicans Blow Another Opportunity to Reach Black America

Republicans have long attributed their electoral position in Black America to an unfortunate confluence of misunderstandings, liberal media bias, and Black civil rights leaders that “control” the thought processes of Black voters and instruct them to be supplicants to the Democratic Party.  If only Republicans could speak directly to Black voters without the media filter, they contend, Black voters would see that the GOP has a platform that speaks to Black empowerment.  Indeed, the argument goes, once Black voters hear the Republicans speak to them unfiltered, then it is only a matter of time before the GOP begins to win substantial Black support.  There’s only one problem with that argument as it relates to the 2008 Republican presidential nomination fight: Republican candidates are willfully missing an unfiltered, unedited opportunity to speak directly to African Americans.  Their snubbing of minority groups is more evidence that it is not serious about winning Black and Brown votes.

The Public Broadcasting Service announced on February 8, 2007 that it would broadcast two live presidential candidate forums to be moderated by Tavis Smiley, the host of a talk show on the network.  According to the February announcement, the forums were conceived in the wake of the release of Smiley’s book the Covenant with Black America, which speaks to ten of the most significant issues facing Black America.  Upon the book’s publication, the national committees of both major parties pledged that their respective presidential candidates would address the issues raised in the book.

While every Democratic presidential candidate found their way to D.C. for the June forum, it appears that the Republican candidates can’t get their GPS to direct them to Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland for the GOP candidate’s forum scheduled for September 27.  It appears that none of the “top tier” candidates will participate.  Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and former Senator Fred Thompson  have already declined invitations while Senator John McCain is still unconfirmed.

There is an awful lot of time between early February and late September, so it’s implausible that the Republican candidates were booked when the forum was announced.  The GOP absences from a forum that targets voters they claim to covet can only be seen as proof that their talk and deeds on winning Black votes are moving in opposite directions.

Sadly, this is standard operating procedure for the Republicans and outreach to minority constituencies.  Most major GOP candidates have declined invitations to address the NAACP and the Urban League, as well as appear at a forum televised by Univision.  Univision cancelled it’s forum because of the abysmal Republican response (only Senator John McCain accepted the invitation)  This strategy is insane when you consider that many of the issues that are raised at these events would also be raised in “majority” settings as well.  It’s also arrogant, as it suggests that some voters are unworthy of addressing. 

Yes, the Republicans are in trouble with Black Americans and struggling with Hispanic Americans.  However, thumbing your nose so publicly at these constituencies is politically stupid and represents yet another in the long list of examples that show the GOP is not serious about winning minority voters.  Demographic trends suggest that position will hurt the party in the long run.

Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the recently published book Republicans and the Black Vote.  He blogs at www.MichaelFauntroy.com.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Current AffairsRace and American PoliticsU.S. Electoral Politics • (5) Make a Comment

The GOP and Minorities

Andrew Sullivan posted earlier today on the GOP and minorities:

I understand why some disagree with debates focused on one interest group or another. But as a practical matter, the major parties do have to contend with minority voting blocs. It seems to me a sign of considerable vulnerability that the Republicans all refused to debate in front of a gay audience and all but McCain refused to debate for Univision. The signal that the GOP is uninterested in anyone not white is not exactly the way to build a majority party.

While I agree with his overall assessment, I feel compelled to add one group to his list.  GOP candidates have been largely absent from African-American candidate gatherings sponsored by the NAACP and the Urban League.  I can see why Republicans won't appear at Savior's Day at the Nation of Islam or Al Sharpton's National Action Network, but why snub the NAACP and Urban League?  That's just politically stupid.

As someone who follows the party as it relates to African Americans, I find myself wondering why Republicans, given all the demographic change that is taking place in America, is so willing to let its fortunes be decided by its narrow voter focus.  The numbers don't add up for the party going forward and, if current trends continue, Republicans will be a significantly smaller, regional (the South) party in a generation or so.  Why don't they understand that?

By the way Andrew, at what point do all of these "minorities" constitute a "majority"?

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Tuesday, September 18, 2007
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Video Book Talk:  Republicans and the Black Vote

Below are clips from a February talk I gave at the Progressive Majority.  The topic?  My book, Republicans and the Black Vote.  Thanks to Starbuckwylde for putting the clips on YouTube.  Many thanks to Malia Lazu and everyone else at Progressive Majority for inviting me in to talk about my book.

Part One:

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Monday, September 17, 2007
Current AffairsRace and American CultureRace and American PoliticsU.S. Electoral Politics

Conservatives Roll Back the Clock on Civil Rights Enforcement

A recent Supreme Court ruling which upheld the unreasonable and unrealistic application of  time limits on those who believe they are the victim of pay discrimination is another in a growing list of occurrences which demonstrate, clearly and convincingly, that the clock is being rolled back on civil rights enforcement in America.  It’s the Reagan era all over again.  Court rulings and the Bush administration’s abdication of support for those who have been wronged has literally made it easier to discriminate against individuals based on race and gender.  This is an unfortunate result of conservative deregulation of civil rights enforcement that, if left unchecked, will adversely impact minorities and women for decades.  The conservative juggernaut that has demonized discussions of legitimate concern regarding civil rights as simply seeking “political correctness” or “playing the race card” has gone on long enough and those who know better must speak up in defense of what is right.

The Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. seems absurd on its face.  Lilly Ledbetter, who worked at Goodyear for 19 years, alleged that she received less pay than male counterparts for the same work because of gender discrimination.  At the time of the discrimination complaint, Ledbetter was making $6,000 less per year than the lowest paid man doing the same job.  She was awarded $360,000 (down from the $3.6 million original jury award) in damages but the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding that the district court should have granted Goodyear's motion for judgment because the statute required Ledbetter to file her complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within six months of the alleged illegal employment practice (Ledbetter argued that each paycheck constituted a new discriminatory act).  The Supreme Court upheld the circuit court ruling in a ruling which held that each paycheck that showed a gender-based disparity must have been contested within the 180-day EEOC timeframe.

Congress established the time limit in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The limit now seems arbitrary and penalizes anyone who finds out after that period that they are being wronged.  The Supreme Court has made the burden even more difficult by now putting victims of discrimination in the position of being protected only if they happen to find out about the discrimination within the first six months of their employment.  How likely is it that a discriminatory practice would be revealed so quickly?  While a time limit is a reasonable requirement, a short one such as this does not give a fair chance to those seeking court redress.  This is even more notable when one considers the enormous and growing backlog of cases before the EEOC.  As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg noted in the dissenting opinion, “The Court’s insistence on immediate contest overlooks common characteristics of pay discrimination.”  Ginsberg noted that pay discrimination often occurs in small increments that may take a long period of time to be revealed.  As pay information is often secret, it is even more difficult for someone being victimized by wage discrimination to learn of such discrepancies.

And as the Supreme Court continues to erode civil rights protections, the Bush administration is making things worse.  It was recently revealed that the Justice Department has an abysmal record when it comes to hiring Black attorneys and conducting civil rights cases.  Since 2003, the criminal section within the Civil Rights Division (CRD) has not hired a single African American attorney to replace those who have left and it’s not like the CRD was a hotbed for Black attorneys.  In 2007, there are fifty attorneys in the Criminal Section, just two of whom are African American.  By comparison, the section had two African American attorneys in 1978, despite the fact that it was half the size of the current organization.

Justice commissioned KPMG Consulting and Taylor Cox and to examine diversity among attorneys throughout the department.  The report, which was initially kept from Congress and the public, was heavily redacted when it was released.  It was ultimately revealed that women and minority attorneys in the department feel that their careers are hindered and they are passed up in favor of White men when it comes to getting the best assignments.   This, combined with six senior CRD officials being forced from their jobs for what appears to be political reasons, has undermined the work of the Justice Department.

The personnel decisions in the CRD are but part of the problem.  Prosecutions are down as well.  On the one hand, one may argue a decline in prosecutions can reflect a reduction in discrimination and, therefore, be a sign of progress.  Those who reject that argument, of which I am one, would counter that it could mean that Justice is more accommodating to those who engage in illegal discrimination.  Be that as it may, the statistics are more than worrisome.  According to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Justice Department has only tried 35 Title VII employment discrimination cases since 2001, compared to 92 cases brought during the Clinton administration.  The Housing and Civil Enforcement section's cases dropped from 53 in 2001 to 31 in 2006, with a 60% decline in the number of race-related cases.

Sadly, this is in keeping with the history of conservative civil rights enforcement.  As professor Hanes Walton demonstrated 20 years ago in his book When the Marching Stopped: The Politics of Civil Rights Regulatory Agencies, conservatives have long resisted fair civil rights enforcement.  Conservative arguments often revolve around the notion that federal civil rights enforcement too often results in reverse discrimination and harms Whites.  These efforts took on new resonance with Ronald Reagan’s election to the presidency in 1980.  He talked openly of remaking the civil rights status quo. 

But as I note in my book Republicans and the Black Vote, Democrats controlled the House of Representatives and vehemently opposed Reagan’s efforts and served as a backstop against Reagan and the Republican majority in the Senate, many of whom were elected along with Reagan on a conservative policy platform and were sure to support the president’s proposed changes in this regard.  Overtly seeking to overturn these measures would continue to paint Reagan as a racist, and continued a controversy that had the potential to bog down other areas of his domestic agenda, such as tax cuts.  Reagan needed a more covert approach to get closer to his policy goals.  The Reagan solution was to defund the parts of the federal apparatus responsible for enforcing and contributing to the enforcement of civil rights laws, thereby lessening their ability to examine and enforce federal civil rights issues.

The dismantling of Federal civil rights enforcement under Reagan took two forms occurring concomitantly.  First, was the freezing or reducing of funding for agencies charged with enforcement of federal civil rights laws and regulations. Rather than overtly end these programs and agencies, the Reagan administration sought to starve them to prevent them from doing their work.  In this way, they could largely achieve their goal of civil rights deregulation without seeking the abolition of the programs and agencies, thereby providing some political cover.  Second, was the hiring of individuals to lead these organizations, or take high-ranking positions therein, who were ideologically pre-disposed to not enforce federal civil rights laws and regulations as aggressively as their predecessors.  These actions deregulated federal civil rights enforcement and created an environment in which civil rights violations could occur with near impunity and certainly with much less fear of federal reprisals than before.

In some departments, enforcement either shifted in new ways, was reduced, or discontinued.  One congressional investigation concluded that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shifted away from class action lawsuits, elevated the standard of proof to establish reasonable cause, orally directed staff not to recommend the use of goals and time tables and not to intervene in cases in which goals and timetables were proposed as a remedy for discrimination, and accelerated closure of cases at the expense of quality of investigations.  The Justice Department filed no cases under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 during its first year under Reagan; they filed two in 1982.  Under presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter, the department averaged thirty-two cases a year.

This background demonstrates that the Bush administration’s civil rights enforcement efforts are part of a long lineage of conservative policies in this area.  It is clear and incontrovertible that conservative civil rights enforcement will always work against those most likely to be victimized by discrimination, be it in the workplace, in housing, or education.  For conservatives, the real victims are not those who are discriminated against but, rather, those who are have to operate within the confines of civil rights law and are trapped into frivolous litigation.  Conservatives who argue otherwise are either ignorant of history or willfully twisting the truth to support their point.

The conservative-led deregulation of civil rights enforcement has created a fairness void in America that flies in the face of attempts by the Republican Party to reach out to minorities.  Republican political activists are quick to note the appointments of Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice to significant and unprecedented positions in the Bush administration as evidence that the GOP is doing the right thing on civil rights.  While notable, these appointments do nothing to overcome the reality that this administration, like so many conservative governments of previous years, has deregulated civil rights enforcement to such a degree that basic, common-sense civil rights for all is in jeopardy. 


Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the recently published book Republicans and the Black Vote.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Saturday, June 30, 2007
Current AffairsRace and American CultureRace and American Politics

Giuliani and Romney Stiff-Arm Urban League

And they want to be President.  The recent report that Republican presidential candidates Rudolph Giuliani and Mitt Romney have declined invitations to speak at the annual convention of the National Urban League represents yet another brick in the wall that exists between the Grand Old Party (GOP) and African Americans. It is also evidence that Republican candidates can not seem to get out of their own when it comes to Black outreach. If Giuliani and Romney are representative of Republican thinking, then they just don’t get it and they will pay a price in the general election. You cannot contend, on the one hand, that you want votes from a particular segment of the electorate while, on the other hand, stiff-arming important, substantial organizations that represent those same voters.

The two major GOP candidates have claimed that their schedules will not permit their attendance at the convention. Aside from being an unfortunate political decision, the problem with that explanation is that the invitations were extended in November of 2006, long before either candidate likely filled their July schedules. One can only conclude, then, that Giuliani and Romney had other reasons for skipping the convention. Whatever the reasons, they have blown an opportunity to engage in the kind of symbolic outreach that can reap serious benefits.

Clearly, Giuliani and Romney do not view this event as something they need to win their party’s nomination. There is no rocket science in that political calculation – Republicans have serious problems in Black America and do not appear to be close to repairing them. However, this view is short-sighted. Both of these candidates, as party nominee’s, will need Black votes to make up for what they will lose from Christian conservative voters. Consequently, the Urban League convention is a good opportunity for both Giuliani and Romney to reach out to an organization and its politically engaged constituents. Given their problems in Black America – Giuliani’s stint as New York mayor inflamed Black New Yorkers and Romney’s religion has an unfortunate history of anti-Blackness – they both should be able to see the value in addressing the Urban League.

The Urban League is about as mainstream as you can get in Black America. It is led by former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial – hardly a paragon of anarchy and chaos. President Bush addressed the organization as he was boycotting the NAACP. In other words, the Urban League is not some far-leftist organization preaching hate and hell-bent on destroying America. Indeed, the Urban League has its share of conservatives. So if you can’t address the Urban League, a safe outlet for Black outreach, then you can’t address Black America.

Let’s hope that Giuliani and Romney will come to see the mistake in their decisions and find a way to make the convention. The political costs for not addressing the convention are higher than any benefits they will accrue from skipping the conference. It’s unfortunate that their political tin-ears have led them to make a stupid political decision that will only harm them in Black America.

Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the recently released book "Republicans and the Black Vote." © Michael K. Fauntroy, Ph.D., March 31, 2007

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Saturday, June 16, 2007
Current AffairsRace and American PoliticsU.S. Electoral Politics

Where is the CBC on Iraq Debate?

There has been a tremendous amount of handwringing and discontent about the slowness with which congressional Democrats are moving to end the Iraq War. Some are angry that the Democrats are being tentative about how best to end the war given their recent ascendancy to majority status leading some to wonder what is the point of throwing out the Republicans if the Democrats will show little leadership on this critical issue. This is a time for conscience and character, something Congress needs now more than ever before since Watergate. So where is the Congressional Black Caucus’ – the self-styled "conscience of Congress" – in the debate over the war and the distribution of supplemental funds? The reality is, that with all its vocal opposition to the war, the CBC has not done much to lead Congress and the country out of Iraq.

Legislatively, the CBC’s role is limited because the only way to end the war in the short run is through the appropriations process and this is where the Caucus has little influence. CBC members hold just 5 of the 37 Democratic seats on the full appropriations committee and just one – Sanford Bishop– on the Defense appropriations subcommittee. Bishop isn’t really considered to be a "firestarter" so to speak, so it’s unlikely that there will be a CBC-led push on the sub-committee to cut off funding or place significant constraints thereon. Given that reality, the CBC can only make any headway in the full committee, where long-standing and vocal critics of the Iraq War, most notably California Representative Barbara Lee, sit. While Lee is the most courageous member of Congress on Iraq given her 2002 no vote for authorization, even she can’t bring Congress to its senses. Consequently, there are individual members have show great courage and leadership but the Caucus, as a group, has left much to be desired.

The most respected and experienced members of the Caucus – e.g. John Conyers and Charlie Rangel – don’t chair committees with the authority to end the war. What is left are members who are either conflicted (Rep. Jim Clyburn, who is in the leadership and answerable to Speaker Nancy Pelosi moreso than the Caucus), vocal, correct but, ultimately, seen as marginalized (most notably Reps. Lee and Maxine Waters), and everyone else who opposes the war but struggles to balance that goal with the political/military reality that a hasty exit may make things worse.

The timetable measures that have been offered and talked about problematic because they all engage in congressional micromanaging of the war at one level or another. I spoke recently with a high-ranking Pentagon official who told me that DoD is sick of Bush/neo-con micromanagement and adding Congress to the mix would make everything messier.  While President Bush's consistent failures and incompetence have undermined his credibility and taken away any benefit of the doubt that he might otherwise get, it's not yet clear that Congress will do much better.

All this does give the CBC an opportunity to lead, something the country desperately needs.  Continued Caucus silence, however, gives CBC bashers another opportunity to take a rhetorical bat to the venerable "conscious of the Congress," a group that many feel no longer lives up to its moniker.

© Michael K. Fauntroy, Ph.D. April 5, 2007

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Thursday, April 05, 2007
Current AffairsRace and American Politics

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