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).
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).
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.
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.
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??
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.
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.
Now, the battle is joined. New Hampshire provided the country with a serious nominating contest in both parties by refusing to buy what the media and Iowa were selling. A few observations.
How ya’ like me now? I’m sure it must have been difficult for Hillary Clinton to resist the urge to gloat. After days of Hillary-is-toast coverage and polls predicting an Obama blowout, last night’s victory was a complete surprise. According to media reports, internal Obama and Clinton polls, Hillary was going down by 14 and 11 points respectively. Now, she can look at the media who pronounced her dead and ask: How ya’ like me now?
Sista’s are doing it for themselves. New Hampshire women carried Clinton over the finish line. New Hampshire isn’t Iowa. New Hampshire is used to voting for women at the top of the ballot, having recently elected Jean Shaheen for governor. Conversely, Iowa and Mississippi are the only states in the country never to have elected a woman to Congress or as Governor. Days of Clinton bashing, the Saturday candidate’s forum pile on, her voice cracking in response to a question from a voter, and concern about crowning Obama too early all seem to have aggravated enough women to either change from their first choice to support Clinton or chose came in off the sidelines to vote for her. Either way, women made themselves heard in the Granite State.
Crow-eating time for the Hillary haters. Some supporters of John Edwards and Barack hate Hillary Clinton. The evidence can be found all over the place in the wake of the Iowa caucuses, particularly among some of the bloggerazzi. The Obamaniacs took a particular delight in Clinton’s third place finish, as if winning Iowa actually meant winning the nomination. They are joined by gloating, short-sighted media that threw Clinton under the bus after Iowa and ramped up their Obama-as-Second-Coming theme. They did not distinguish themselves between Iowa and New Hampshire. They are now trying to figure out how the polls got it wrong. They need to focus on how their coverage of Obama went so over-the-top. Then, maybe, they’ll be able to avoid the egg on their collective face.
The Biden effect. I know what you’re thinking: “What effect?” Joe Biden barely registered among Democratic voters all over the country and failed miserably in the Iowa caucuses. However, Biden ran on his undeniable experience and his departure could have an impact on the nomination fight. His supporters placed that issue at the top of their list of attributes and the bulk of them will likely gravitate toward Clinton. These extra voters may well be enough to help Clinton over the top in closely contested states. Clinton beat Obama 71 percent to 5 percent among voters who stated experience was very important in a nominee. While everyone keeps talking about change, the reality is experience is a critical need. If experience becomes the most important variable, then Clinton will walk away with the nomination.
McCain the resilient. I was so wrong about John McCain. I wrote a column a few months ago saying that he wouldn’t even make it to New Hampshire. However, something began to happen over the last two months that made last night possible. First, the other Republican candidates never took the nomination by the throat. They are an undistinguished, flawed bunch that allowed McCain to stay in the game. Second, he began to get a second look by New Hampshire conservatives, particularly important newspaper editorial boards. Lastly, he stayed positive. His comments in New Hampshire on the night of the Iowa caucuses about rejecting negative politics were widely broadcast and, in my opinion, resonated with New Hampshire Republicans. There is a silver lining in this for Mitt Romney. He beat McCain in New Hampshire among Republican voters. Independents put McCain over the top.
Now we move to Michigan, Nevada, and South Carolina. On the Democratic side, the pressure now shifts to Barack Obama to prove that Iowa was not a fluke. On the Republican side, it’s now up to Mitt Romney to prove that he should stay in the race.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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
If you want to find out how easy it is to corrupt our electoral system is, then you must see the documentary “Hacking Democracy” now airing on HBO. It is a depressing and angering account of how the computers used to tabulate elections in America can be rigged. If you think it’s not a big deal, then consider this: Computers count about 80 percent of all votes cast in American elections. If that doesn’t shake you, then consider this: You can’t see a computer tabulates votes, so how do you know it’s done right?
The documentary centers around Bev Harris, a Seattle writer who became a voting rights activist after being alarmed by the decision made by King County, Washington officials to acquire electronic touch screen systems for their elections. Their argument in favor of the machines by county officials led her to learn more about electronic voting machines. The more she learned, the more convinced she became that there are fundamental problems in the way our elections conducted. She then began investigating Diebold, the Ohio-based election machine company led by a man who, in 2004, promised to deliver the state of Ohio to President George Bush. Her group, Blackboxvoting.org, has traveled around the country investigating voting irregularities and alerted officials to the various ways in which elections can be stolen. Her dumpster diving revealed illegitimately certified elections in Florida and left me with the sinking feeling that all of our election results are worthy of greater scrutiny. We just can’t be sure that the candidate with the most votes actually wins. Blackboxvoting.org should be commended for their efforts and encouraged to continue their work.
“Hacking Democracy” demonstrates that the private companies that develop the technology used to administer our elections are the real arbiters over what happens and that the people and those public officials that oversee the elections can be rendered mere spectators in a grand charade that actually shows ours to be an incredibly flawed democracy. From vote tabulation cards with encrypted programs that can be used to change the result of elections, to machines that can be hacked to change vote totals, to crooked election officials who aid and abet the scandal, our way of counting votes cannot be proven to be above reproach. If our system is not corrected, then the core tenet of our democracy – fair elections – is heading for extinction.
After watching the documentary, you are likely to conclude that there is no reason to vote because it will be stolen. I couldn’t disagree more. I believe that an overwhelming turnout of voters can overcome the shenanigans that are likely to occur on Election Day. So, your task is to overcome whatever cynicism you may have about the system and vote. Decisions about war and peace, student loans, criminal justice, affordable housing, jobs and the economy, and so many other important issues that face everyday people on a daily basis are at stake in every election. If you want change, then vote for it. If you like things the way they are, then support the status quo. Either way, show up. If you don’t, then you are giving others the right to make decisions about your life.
George Will and other Republican opinion makers have begun to beat the drums in support of four African American Republicans who are running for major statewide offices in 2006. They are touting Michael Steele of Maryland, Lynn Swann of Pennsylvania, Ken Blackwell of Ohio, and Keith Butler of Michigan as potentially historic winners this November in hopes that they will undermine the relationship between African Americans and the Democratic Party. I would encourage those who believe that these four will win to restrain themselves to the greatest extent possible or run the risk of looking like fools this November. The candidacies of these men represents more of a mirage than a harbinger for the Republican Party.
Will and the others are overlooking some important factors that make these candidacies uphill climbs, at best. Steele’s campaign has recently been hurt by staff resignations and stump blunders. He recently tried to ingratiate himself with Jewish voters but ended up causing a mini-firestorm when, trying to explain his opposition to embryonic stem cell research, equated the procedure to Nazi medical experiments. The gratuitous, and failing, attempt to curry favor with an important voting bloc and the controversy surrounding it has led an increasing number of political analysts to conclude that he isn’t ready for prime time. That, added to the fact that Maryland is a 2-1 Democratic state, makes Steele’s climb unlikely to end in victory.
Swann has never held, or even run for, elective office and is running against a savvy, experienced incumbent who runs well throughout the state. At this point, his entire campaign appears to be “Democrats take Blacks for granted.” That kind of sloganeering is fine for pundits and others who want to shake the link between African Americans and the Democrats, but it doesn’t do anything to engender confidence in the voters that a serious plan for education, taxation, the economy, transportation, crime, and the other numerous issues on which people cast ballots is coming soon. At this stage of the game, he appears to only have his celebrity. Yes, he is running well in current polls and that is certainly encouraging. But running for office isn’t the same as running a pass route–particularly when you haven’t done it before. Look for crucial missteps along the way that will expose his as not ready for the job.
Blackwell is running in a state in which the incumbent governor has, as Will noted, an 18 percent approval rating, among Republican voters. Republican officeholders throughout the state are in scandal and all this is likely weigh down Blackwell’s campaign. Plus, he’s running against a strong Democrat when voters appear to be tiring of Republicans. This and the current controversy over his recent television ads linking his primary opponent to ultra-unpopular Governor Robert Taft may have turned some party activists against him.
Lastly, Keith Butler is a Republican running in a strong “blue” state. He has poor name recognition outside of Detroit, which is problematic for Republicans, who have to run strong outside of Detroit to overcome the large number of democratic votes to come out of the state’s largest city. He’s also running against a strong incumbent.
These candidates are also running in the face of a number of national issues that will likely hurt Republicans–Black or otherwise. The federal response to Hurricane Katrina will be in the news throughout the year and the one year anniversary of the tragedy will be just two months before the election. Iraq is still a mess and unlikely to change anytime soon. We haven’t heard the last of Jack Abramoff or Tom DeLay and there is likely to be other prominent Republicans caught up in the lobbyist scandal.
These problems open a range of opportunities for Democrats. Every Democratic candidate around the country should force their Republican opponent to defend President Bush and his policies on these and other issues. Making the race about Bush, given his unpopularity, adds an albatross that will be difficult for every candidate to overcome.
As I see it, these candidates, who are being portrayed as heroes for being Black Republicans, have almost as many odds stacked against them as a gay man on the “700 Club.” For these and other reasons, it seems to me that the Republican wishful thinkers should try harder to resist the urge to dub 2006 the year of the Black Republican.
© Michael K. Fauntroy, Ph.D.
February 22, 2006
With all the attention given to the gubernatorial bids of prominent African American Republicans Ken Blackwell and Lynn Swann in Ohio and Pennsylvania, respectively, you would think they were the only Black major party nominees for state chief executive positions but they aren’t. Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial nominee Deval Patrick, who has been lost in much of the national attention on Black candidates for statewide office around the country, may well be more likely to win his state’s top position than either Blackwell or Swann.
Patrick, a former assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Clinton administration, won his party’s convention endorsement last month and leads in the race to win the September primary. He also looks strong for the general election, as he leads Lt. Governor Kerry Healey by 20 percentage points in the most recent Rasmussen poll. Healey, running with the endorsement of outgoing Governor Mitt Romney, is struggling as a Republican in a Democratic state and with the national mood toward Republicans; President Bush stands at 32 percent approval in the Bay State. The political tide is turning in favor of Democrats around the nation and Patrick is poised to ride the wave to the governorship.
The race could be a dream matchup for political junkies: an African American man versus a Republican woman. It could be a contest that confounds prognosticators and pollsters alike. Could Democratic women be attracted by the notion of electing the first woman as governor of Massachusetts? Could Republican men be turned off by the possibility of a woman as governor and instead vote for a Democratic man who is also Black?
Massachusetts, particularly its capital city of Boston, has at times had a complicated racial history so a Patrick victory in November would represent a tremendous milestone in American politics. In the mid-1970s, Boston was the epicenter of White riots and violence following a federal court ruling mandating busing as a means of desegregating the city’s public schools. Many remember the famous photograph of a Black man in a three-piece suit being held by one White rioter as another White rioter jammed an American-flag draped flagpole in the Black man’s chest. The image came to characterize racial animosities in Boston and led many to conclude that the city and, by extension the state, could not reconcile itself with the changing winds of race relations. Now, this same state may elect an African American to its highest office. That would be progress, indeed.
Republicans, in their public courtship of Black voters, recently have lobbed the charge that the Democrats take African Americans for granted. The charge is designed to divert attention from the Grand Old Party’s abysmal record with African Americans and its inability to attract voters with its own program. So, in addition to being history making, a Patrick victory would go a long way toward helping Democrats rebut their Republican critics. The Democrats’ response would be all the sweeter if favored Black Republican statewide candidates such as Blackwell and Swann, and Maryland Senate candidate Michael Steele all lose.
© Michael K. Fauntroy, Ph.D.
July 18, 2006