Allan C. Brownfeld, Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, August 21, 2012
As the presidential campaign gets under way, it is in the interest of all Americans that it be about what is the best path to ensure a peaceful and prosperous future for our country. Unfortunately, early indications suggest that appeals on the basis of race will be a key ingredient in the contest.
In May, House Democrats were tutored by a George Soros-funded pressure group, the Center for Social Inclusion, to “address the issue of race to defend government progress,” reported the Washington Examiner.
According to the Examiner, “The prepared content of a… presentation to the House Democratic Caucus and staff indicates that Democrats will seek to portray apparently neutral free-market rhetoric as being tinged with racial bias, conscious or unconscious.”
Maya Wiley of the Center for Social Inclusion told the lawmakers that “conservative messages” are “racially coded” and suggested ways to combat them. In Ms. Wiley’s estimation, the facts of matters in question are not important. Rather, she said, “It’s emotional connection, nor rational connection, that we need.”
She argued, for example, that Newt Gingrich’s labeling of President Obama as a “food stamp president” cannot be “a race neutral statement, even if Newt Gingrich did not intend racism.” Thus, even though the food stamp program has grown dramatically in recent years, and despite the fact that most recipients are white, to discuss the question is somehow to engage in “racism.”
This same line of argument has been promoted by members of the Congressional Black Caucus for some time. Rep. Andre Carson (D-Indiana) has said that members of the Tea Party movement “would love to see us (black Americans) as second class citizens…. Some of them would love to see us hanging on a tree.”
Sadly, it is black spokesmen who bring race into the presidential campaign far more than anyone else. Washington Timescolumnist Wesley Pruden notes, “The most pronounced… race-based voting, in fact, was (in the 2008 presidential election) in predominantly black precincts. One such precinct voted 100 per cent for Mr. Obama, percentages in the high 90s were commonplace in black neighborhoods…. Maybe these voters just can’t vote for someone of another race. Or, maybe they’re just taking pride in helping a black man do well. Maybe the white vote against Mr. Obama isn’t about race, but reflects rage against… [a] president who promised to change the old ways and now reveals himself to be just another pol… with a scheme to divide and conquer with the race card. We’ve heard this sad song before.”
One need not share Mr. Pruden’s assessment of the record of the Obama administration to lament the injection of a racial component to the current campaign.
The campaign team of Mitt Romney, it has been reported, is laying plans for an outreach effort to black voters. According toThe Washington Post, “That plan, still in the early stages, ran into the harsh political realities on the ground in Philadelphia… when Romney was treated to a hostile welcome on his first campaign swing through a poor black neighborhood this year. A few dozen protestors met him with chants of ‘Get out, Romney, get out.’”
The Post reports that during Romney’s late-May visit, one Philadelphia resident, Madaline G. Dunn, 78, told reporters that she has lived there for 50 years and she is “personally offended” that he would visit her neighborhood. “It is not appreciated here,” she said. “It is absolutely denigrating for him to come here and speak his garbage.”
Among those heckling Romney from a distance were some of Philadelphia’s most prominent officials, all of the Democrats. Mayor Michael Nutter quipped that Romney had “suddenly somehow found west Philadelphia…. I don’t know that a one-day experience in the heart of west Philadelphia is enough to get you ready to run the United States of America.”
Tara Wall, a former Bush administration official, is a senior Romney communications adviser and the most senior African-American on his team. Recently, she said, “Yes, it’s a bit harder this time. We have a black president. But we can’t go in with the mindset that we aren’t going to win any people over to our side. From a messaging standpoint, we need to be able to communicate and relate to these communities about how they are being impacted by Obama’s policies…. It’s not a ploy, it’s not a tactic, it’s part of who we are. We have to show up.”
The latest Post-ABC News poll shows Romney receiving 5 percent of the African-American vote to Obama’s 92 percent. ThePost reports that, “… there are signs that some of the support may have eroded, as blacks have faced record high unemployment — according to the Quinnipiac poll in Florida, Obama gets 85 percent of the black vote, down from 95 percent in 2008.”
President Obama’s decision to back same-sex marriage has reframed some of the conversation with the black community, especially among pastors. Tara Wall says that Obama’s position on same-sex marriage could give African-Americans with strong religious beliefs a reason to look at Romney or to stay home. But Romney’s core message, she said, will be about black businesses and the 13 percent unemployment rate among blacks.
“The biggest factor is the economic situation that we, as black folks, find ourselves in. It’s been horrendous,” Wall said. “All we’re asking is that people at least give Romney a listen.”
Conservative commentator Star Parker, who is black, notes that, “It’s not hard to understand why black Americans were happy that a black man was elected president of the United States. It was kind of a final and most grand announcement that racism has finally been purged from America. But for the highly politicized parts of black America, this was certainly not the only message. Because for the highly politicized parts of black America, the point has always been to keep race in American politics…. the point was not just equal treatment under the law, but special treatment under the law…. The post-civil rights movement black political culture embraced an agenda exactly the opposite of what the civil rights movement was about.”
In her view, “Its agenda was to get laws and policies that were not neutral but racially slanted and to put individuals in power based on their race and not on their character and capability.”
Identity politics — voting for candidates for public office on the basis of race, religion, gender, or ethnicity rather than on the basis of their individual merit as candidates and the programs they advocate for the country’s future — is a challenge both to the very idea of representative democracy and to the goal of men and women of good will for a genuinely color-blind society. It is unfortunate that just as white Americans have shown their willingness to vote for black candidates, many black spokesmen reject the same color-blind approach to politics.
In the end, when voters decide whether to vote for Barack Obama or his opponent, that choice should be made on the basis of whom the individual voter believes would be best for our country — not on the basis of the race, religion, or ethnicity of the candidate. Black Americans want white Americans to adhere to that standard. They are right to do so — but it is important that they adhere as well.