Why Are Black Voters More Forgiving of Scandalized Politicians?

Jelani Cobb, New Republic, August 15, 2013

In a campaign season where a candidates’ literal (and Internet) bedmates are more discussed than his political ones, the New York Times recently noted that scandal-tainted politicians like Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner have retained a disproportionate level of support among black voters.

For several weeks, polling has showed a gap in black and white voters’ attitudes toward both men. Shortly after Mr. Weiner acknowledged his most recent peccadilloes, a Quinnipiac poll of likely voters in the Democratic primary found that 64 percent of white respondents said Mr. Weiner should leave the race, while only 42 percent of black respondents did. More recently, a Quinnipiac poll in the comptroller’s race found that 66 percent of white voters said that Mr. Spitzer’s prostitution scandal was a legitimate issue in the comptroller’s race. Only 43 percent of black voters agreed. And this week, a New York Times/Siena College poll found Mr. Spitzer with strong support among black registered Democrats—57 percent backed him, compared with 37 percent of white voters.

There are lots of elements at play here, including the resonance of the underdog theme, the Christian emphasis on redemption, and, crucially, a deep suspicion toward the media and political establishments that have publicized the candidates’ failings. But the Times piece overlooked the most important explanation: pragmatism. African American support for tainted politicians comes from the same ethic that has allowed Democrats to maintain black support despite poll after poll showing black attitudes on abortion, religion and, until recently, gay marriage line up more closely with the GOP’s positions. There’s a kind of Maslow’s Hierarchy at play in that decision-making. In a perfect world, one might prefer a governor who addresses your interests and doesn’t sleep with prostitutes. In the imperfect, racially and economically stratified world we actually live in, the former takes precedence over the latter—especially in communities where political attention can be a life and death issue.

Nothing better illustrates this dynamic than Marion Barry’s 1994 mayoral reelection—achieved after the nation saw him smoke crack on videotape and a subsequent prison stint. During the rally that greeted him upon his release, Louis Farrakhan pointed out that the primary victim of Barry’s ills was Barry himself and that he’d never betrayed the trust of the people. {snip}

Sharon Pratt Kelly, who ran the city during Barry’s hiatus also inflated the budget deficit to nearly $1 billion. During his campaign to unseat her, Barry pointed out that the city had remained in good fiscal standing during his previous terms, despite his personal vices. His summer employment program had provided a good number of those voters with their first jobs. I voted for Barry that year, to the bewilderment of friends who lived outside the District. The last thing that a city besieged by drugs needed was a mayor who was familiar with the proper usage of a crack pipe. But my vote was motivated by cold practicality: In choosing between two flawed candidates, I opted for the one who had better managerial credentials.

My decision—and those of many other black Washingtonians who voted for Barry—was less racial than political. {snip}

Neither Spitzer nor Weiner have overtly campaigned around African American issues (though it’s probably worth noting that half of the six photos scrolling on the Spitzer’s campaign website feature him shaking hands with older black women). {snip} While this year’s crop of mayoral candidates have struggled to calibrate their positions on the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” policy, Spitzer launched an investigation of the practice more than a decade ago. As Attorney General he recruited a coterie of African American attorneys who came to regard him as an ally of progressive causes even if he didn’t expressly speak of them in racial terms.

Spitzer retains higher levels of support among black voters for the same reason that Bill Clinton retained the support of women voters and notable figures like Gloria Steinem during L’affair Lewinsky: return on investment. The Congressional Black Caucus was similarly quick to rally around Clinton, knowing both that he would be deeply indebted to them and that the elements that dismissed Clinton as an Oxford arriviste with Arkansas mud on his shoes were also hostile to their interests. For their part, black voters suspected that Clinton was embattled precisely because he’d been too closely associated with their interests. (This is also part of the reason for Obama’s Teflon ratings among black voters.)


The empathy gap is, on some level, a product of those other more familiar racial gaps in education, wealth and employment and it will persist for as long as those barometers of inequality do, which is to say that scandal-plagued politicians will be making campaign stops in black churches for a long time to come.

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  • “Why are black voters more forgiving of scandalized politicians?”

    Because they see politicians (especially Democrats) embroiled in scandals of moral turpitude, and for them, it’s too much like looking in a mirror.

    • NeanderthalDNA

      They are antinomian by nature. They see some moronic Wiener sexting pics of his genetalia to someone other than his wife and losing his career over it and say to themselves…

      That guy is just like me!

      If its a black, however, they support him because that person represents their highest fantasy…the opportunity to cheat, steal, and act like oversexed, sociopathic, juvenile delinquent 14 year old white boys.


      • NeanderthalDNA

        Apologies to all oversexed, sociopathic, juvenile delinquent 14 year old white boys.

        My comment was out of line and I deeply regret the offense I have given.

        • newscomments70

          When I was 14, I acted like an idiot, as did the others… but we did not sell drugs, join violent racist gangs, nor light people on fire. I don’t think anyone was offended by the comment though, no big deal.

    • Oil Can Harry

      Exactly. Blacks have much lower moral standards than everyone else. They think everyone steals and commits adultery.

  • MekongDelta69

    Because leftists give them ‘free’ stuff (i.e. We pay for it).

    • serious123

      Dead on. The moral issues or criminality mean nothing to them only the promises of what they may get out of the election.

  • Freedoooom

    Hookers and cheating on your wife. That’s called a slow Monday.

    I’m sure they would, especially black women, be forgiving of beating their white wife.

    • jane johnson

      Phone-y scandals.

    • Triarius

      They forgive a black man killing their white wife, OJ among others.

  • haroldcrews

    Wow, talk about reaching. I frequently see it written or hear someone say that Black people are more religious than Whites but I see no evidence of it. By most indices Blacks are more likely than Whites to engage in what has traditionally been regarded as immoral behaviour. Among the metrics are illegitimacy, substance abuse, criminality, public dependency, STD rates and others which I can’t think of at the moment.

    I think it more likely that Blacks overlook such things because they do not care about such things in their own life or in those who lead them. Blacks individually and collectively see themselves as victims and will not scrutinize their own behaviour or that of their leaders.

    • So CAL Snowman

      Black men heard the story about Weiner sexting and thought, “damn, now there’s a White boy who keeps it real, respect.”

    • Sick of it

      Many of their churches are political, not spiritual.

      • jane johnson

        They call it “Liberation Theology”,and Obama’s up to his Dumboesque ears in it, courtesy of Jeremiah Wright’s “church’. I’ll bet the right reverend has no trouble with HIS tax-exempt status.

        • Sick of it

          They say Liberation Theology, I say Marxism.

    • Nathanwartooth

      Being religious and believing in God does not mean that someone will not commit immoral acts.

      • haroldcrews

        No it doesn’t. But certainly if an important part of the religion is morality then logically people who follow that religion ought to be more moral in respect to the teachings of that religion. Merely because everyone is a sinner doesn’t mean that all are equally sinners.

  • Spartacus

    Animals have short memories…

  • E_Pluribus_Pluribus

    Jelani Cobb: “…the Times piece overlooked the most important explanation: pragmatism.”

    Cobb is right. Shelby Steele, using different words, makes that point in a 2006 interview with the American Enterprise Institute:

    TAE: What is the glue that holds the black vote to the Democratic Party?

    STEELE: Politically, black America is almost socialistic. There’s a feeling that the government is the vehicle that’s going to lift us to equality, and without the government, we’ll never make it.


    Sound, pragmatic reasoning.

    • Stentorian_Commentator

      Yes, even idiots can be adept at working the system for their own benefit. I know an real idiot (OK, maybe an imbecile, but that’s about it), and he doesn’t know much, but dang if he could make my head spin with restraining orders and other legal impediments. And of course he is on the welfare while I am working. Fortunately, he has other targets. It does not take much brain power for blacks to do the same, especially if there are politicians willing to spend other people’s money to cultivate them as a constituency.

  • APaige

    I believe that three-quarters of the members of the Black Caucus have been named in an ethics investigation. Jessie Jackson Jr. was re-elected even though he missed a lot of the campaign while receiving treatment for an undisclosed medical issue and also while be investigated for improper use of funds. The guy he replaced was convicted of having sex with a minor.

    • Greg Thomas

      The undisclosed “medical issue” was a pending federal indictment. He no doubt was advised by his legal counsel to take some time off in the nearest mental
      facility, in order to mitigate damage.

      • MBlanc46

        Federalindictmentitis is the technical term.

  • bigone4u

    Blacks are racists by definition. They support their own for racial reasons if one of their own is in the race, no matter if he is a crack addict. If no one of their race is in the race, then they vote for whoever promises more gibsmedat. This is what you would expect of a race with an average IQ of 82 or so.

  • libertarian1234

    “Why Are Black Voters More Forgiving of Scandalized Politicians?”

    They’re forgiving only if the politicians are perceived to be in their camp.
    With blacks it is me, me, me.

    I’ve never heard even one who advocated something that they thought was good for the country.

    With them it is race first, last, always and to the exclusion of everything else.
    Segregation is the only answer.

    • Stentorian_Commentator

      I prefer the 200-year old solution of colonization, that is, getting them the hell out of the U.S.A., one way or another.

  • Ed_NY

    Corruption and a lack of ethics is a way of life among blacks everywhere in this world. It’s genetic.

  • din_do_nuffins

    Blacks in Clayton County Georgia just exonerated their black sheriff on corruption charges. They’ rather be ruled by a criminal than lose the privileges that come with racial solidarity.

  • Pax Romana

    “Why Are Black Voters More Forgiving of Scandalized Politicians?”

    Because they view rules and laws, be they moral, social, or legal, as the ‘white man’s rules and laws’, who they despise. And therefore don’t apply to them. They see them only as things to be broken, and in doing so, a personal victory and middle finger against a “white oppression” that the Liberal MSM and Democrats have drummed into their heads constantly for the last 40 years.

    If a Democrat politician breaks those same “White man’s rules” even if they are white themselves, he as viewed as rebelling against his own, which is fine with them.

  • Because black culture demonstratedly places a much lower value on honesty, integrity, and ethical behavior than ours does. Duh?

  • dd121

    Because they don’t have the mental capacity to anticipate consequences?

  • kjh64

    If a politician will give Blacks what they want, they’ll overlook anything. Also, Black culture as a whole, is much more corrupt on average than White culture. I’m not saying there is no corruption among Whites, there is, look at congress. However, Blacks on average don’t value honesty nearly as much.

  • Rhialto

    Jellini Kobb (Black male) is being somewhat disingenuous. Weiner and Spitzer’s sexual activities are very restrained by Black standards. In fact, monogamy in a Black man is classified as sexually dysfunctional.

    • Whitetrashgang

      Well I would think he would be considered gay atleast.

  • Bobbala

    Answer: Other People’s Money

    What are they going to do? Provide for themselves …

    • Irishgirl

      Perish the thought!

  • Lewis33

    Weiner, Spitzer and Fillner also have something else in common. Funny how there has been no articles about that.

  • IstvanIN

    What we consider bad behavior, or criminal behavior, or just plain bad manners, blacks consider normal behavior. They view criminality pretty much the same way we view cigarette smoking, not good but nothing to hold against a man.

    • libertarian1234

      That’s funny. Probably because it’s true.

    • MBlanc46

      Perhaps putting it slightly differently, the black electorate view political office the way black politicians do: as a cash cow.

  • Evette Coutier

    Blacks are more forgiving of democrats not republicans. It is because they are tribal and see democrats as the party who sticks it to whitey. I know this to be fact. I lived in Detroit during the Coleman Young years. I’d say to blacks how can you support Young over a better black candidate like Dennis Archer, he’s destroying your city. And they would actually say it was because he was sticking to whitey. This is what we are up against.

  • IKantunderstand

    “Why are black voters more forgiving of scandalized politicians?” That’s easy, they are STUPID, and their crappy DNA indicates a predilection to vote for despots, idiots, and anyone who claims that they are on their side, even, if an exploration of their previous record would indicate otherwise. Just pander to the Black belief in magical thinking, and you are a shoo- in. Cripes, and to think we are not only having to share a country with these superstitious cretins, but also our very own neighborhoods, compliments of HUD. Umm, we do not have to welcome diversity. Seriously, we don’t.

  • WR_the_realist

    I believe the author’s full name is William Jelani Cobb and you won’t be surprised to hear he is a black man. I can’t imagine any white person voting for Marion Barry. Black people vote for corrupt politicians for the simplest of reasons — they can identify with them.

  • Bossman

    When it comes to matters of sex, Europeans are also more forgiving of their politicians.

  • Herman

    Because blacks love to take the opposite side of what they see as the white peoples’ position.

  • ravitchn

    Blacks are simply more depraved!