Hazel Trice Edney, Louisiana Weekly (New Orleans), Sep. 27
WASHINGTON (NNPA) — Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, running neck-in-neck in his race against President George W. Bush, said he believes Black voters will determine who wins the presidential election on Nov. 2.
“I think the black vote can decide this election,” Kerry said in an exclusive interview with the NNPA News Service. “Not only [am I] not taking it for granted. I think it’s the most important vote in the election.”
Some public opinion polls place Bush ahead of his Democratic challenger, some place them essentially tied, but Kerry said the only thing is relying on is what happens at the polls on Election Day.
When it comes to African-American voters, Kerry said, he and Bush couldn’t be more different.
“Compare our records,” Kerry said. “I have a 35-year record of consistently standing up and fighting for inclusion, for equal opportunity that I began in the 1960s in the Civil Rights Movement, that I fought for when I came back from Vietnam alongside brothers and sisters of color who were mistreated when they came home from Vietnam, who had been met with discrimination.”
“I fought for minority set-asides, I wrote the historically underutilized business legislation. I fought for empowerment zones. I fought for educational opportunity for after-school programs for Head Start. All of the things that George Bush has cut, all of the things George Bush attacks, I have fought for.”
Kerry then recounted the Bush civil rights record.
“He celebrates Martin Luther King’s birthday by sending a challenge to the Michigan case on affirmative action,” Kerry said, referring to Bush. “The next year, he celebrates it by appointing [conservative Judge] Charles Pickering to the court of the United States of America. He is completely insensitive to all of the communities of color in the country. He hasn’t fulfilled his promises with respect to being a uniter, not a divider. And I think it’s important to draw those contrasts and I intend to do it.”
Black politicians and civil rights activists, including Jesse Jackson Sr., Al Sharpton and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, say they have encouraged Kerry to aggressively confront Bush during the final days of the campaign.
“In modern-American politics, unfortunately you have to answer the negative and that’s why George Bush is doing it, because he’s trying to run away from his record. And if you don’t stand up and do it, people think you’re not standing up. So the answer is we have to answer,” Kerry said.
He defends himself against criticism that he devoted too much of his acceptance speech in Boston on Iraq.
“The war in Iraq has taken $200 billion dollars from Americans. And instead of investing it in inner cities and rural communities and elsewhere, it’s gone to Iraq because the president misled America,” Kerry said. “So, we talk about it because it shows the degree to which this president has really made the wrong choices for our nation.”
And no where is that clearer than how African Americans have suffered under Bush, Kerry said.
“If you look at the African-American employment rate, it’s 10 percent . . . One in four African Americans are living in poverty, one in three children,” he said. “In addition, George Bush launched an assault on affirmative action, he launched an assault on minority set-aside programs. He promises out of one side of his mouth and he takes it away out of the other. We need a president who’s going to follow through and do things.”
What Kerry did not do was to mention blacks or African-American one time in his acceptance speech and when he referred to civil rights, it was only in the context of women.
“I was really trying to talk to all Americans and not break the speech into a constituency-oriented speech,” Kerry said. “I wanted to speak to all of them simultaneously together. I talked about schools that are separate but unequal. That is talking to the African-American community. I talked about health care for every American. That’s talking to the African-American community. I talked about education in schools where we’re fixing the separate and unequal funding system of today and we’re going to fully-fund special needs and so forth. I think I talked very much to the aspirations of African Americans, Hispanic-Americans women, men.”
Kerry, who has straight As on the NAACP annual Civil Rights Report Card, said no omissions in his speech could match Bush’s anti-civil rights record.
“He challenged affirmative action. His Equal Employment Opportunity Commission doesn’t do anything . . . He hasn’t met with the NAACP, he hasn’t met with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, he doesn’t meet with the Black Caucus,” Kerry said. “This is a man who has not reached out and just talks the talk.”
Kerry said one of his major challenges over the next month will be to show the black community why Bush does not deserve four more years.
“It’s just a difference that’s wider than the Grand Canyon between George Bush and me in terms of the outcome of what this election means to the African-American community of America,” the Democratic nominee said. “He might have the right to appoint as many as four justices to the Supreme Court. That will alter for the rest of our lives, the balance of ability to enforce equal rights, civil rights, to advance the cause of African Americans, to have an increase in the minimum wage, to keep the set-aside programs, to not see affirmative action destroyed. All of these things that they’ve been attacking for years, will be under assault if we can’t mobilize and win this election.”