A Talk Shop Dialogue on Race and Politics, Part II
Jude Wanniski
May 19, 1998


Memo To: Fans and Browsers Interested In Racial Dialogue
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Our TalkShop discussion continued

For those of you who pop into the website just to see the daily memo, I’ve decided to make a “Memo on the Margin” on the recent string of entries in our TalkShop on the subject of race and politics. (See introductory paragraph from yesterday, Part I)

Topic: 2000 election, the Black electorate and the Democratic "touch"
From: Cedric Muhammad
Date: 4/18/98

As some of you may know, I have for sometime been thinking over the relationship between Blacks and the 2-party system, trying to make some sense of the current predicament that the Black community, which votes overwhelmingly Democrat, finds itself in. I 'm just weighing in to let you know that I am still on the case thanks to recent events and discussions, and here's where I am now, 2 years from the 2000 election. I will be giving progress reports from time to time.

The Democratic Party seems poised to once again capture a huge majority of the Black vote, partly due to President Clinton's increased willingness to physically go among Black people, both here and abroad and Al Gore's work in the empowerment zones in America's inner cities. Clinton's trip to Africa, while high on symbol and low on substance, once again demonstrates (at least superficially) the Democratic party's recognition that Blacks are human beings and worthy of a human "touch." Have you noticed Clinton's dancing with African children, his hand-holding with Nelson Mandella, his embraces and holding of Blacks who were victims of the recent tornado in Alabama, his recent sit-in on the Sports and Race panel in Houston?

While this may seem to be minor, I can't begin to express how much of a big deal this has traditionally been to the Black electorate. A president, a white man, willing to look eye-to-eye with Black people, to touch them and tell them that "you do matter to me and this country," the very hint of empathy, that no president has displayed like this current one has, will go oh so far towards reinforcing the image and stereotype that the Democratic party is for Black people. Can any of us honestly say that we could imagine George Bush our last Republican President in any of the scenes that I have outlined above. How many of us can still remember Bush, looking nervous as hell, touring South Central L.A. after the disturbances there. He looked so uncomfortable, so disconnected from a group of people that number 40-50 million in this country and who the Republicans call "American" only in name, but they are never willing to touch, feel or to tell that group of people that "you do matter to me and this country." The only time Blacks get this "touch" from the GOP is before and after they are going to participate in theaters of war. I know this very well, as my father served the U.S. army for 27 years of his life, straight from the streets of Brooklyn, N.Y. looking to be all that he could not be in the inner city. Can we honestly expect anything different from the potential field of GOP candidates in the year 2000? Can you see this "touch" coming from Forbes? Quayle? Buchanan? George W. Bush? Gingrich? Kasich? any others? See, for me, at this point it is disappointing to hear from Republicans that "we are the party of economic growth of opportunity, just pick yourself up by the bootstraps and you too can enjoy the American Dream." It is disappointing because deep down in my heart, I feel that most of the men that I have met who are Republicans don't want to have anything to do with Black people, especially Black males like myself -- unless you are dunking a ball, singing a song or dying on the battlefield, you aren't American. They never will "touch" me, want to be seen with me or hear me tell them that the American Dream and "economic growth" is a theory over here and not a way of life.

Politically, the GOP talks a good game and has some bright ideas that they say are good for Blacks, but they are not willing to come to Harlem, North Philly, Newark or South Central and shake my hand while they are telling me this, like they would if I was white-skinned and living on a farm in Iowa, a ranch in Texas or working in a bank somewhere in New York City. At this point, I must say that I have found any talk about the GOP reaching out to Blacks to be minuscule and phony, yeah, just as phony as some Republicans say Clinton's "touch" is. But guess what? --  he seems to enjoy it more, is a lot better at it and seems to care a lot more about the people that he may be conning. This is why I say, personally, that Jack Kemp is the saving grace of the Republican Party as far as Blacks are concerned because he is the only one who doesn't mind touching Blacks, shaking our hands and looking us right in the eyes as he does it...Then, he speaks to you about economic growth, opportunity and the American Dream. That is why he is so well received by Blacks -- you see, we don't have a problem with white quarterbacks. But he is increasingly shunned by the GOP and others who may see his credibility with Blacks as a threat that may muddy the GOP's snow-white-makes-right image. Will Jack run? Who knows? I don't, but if he would run and confront the Democratic party's stranglehold on the Black Electorate like any politician who sees Blacks as more than 3/5 of a human being should, then we could have one exciting political race and one worthy of the participation of the Black Electorate. But if that does not happen, who can honestly blame 80% of the Black Electorate for voting Democratic and who could blame the untold millions who stay home or vote independent? A "touch" means more than some theory.

The Symbolism of Democrats
From: Scott Robinson
Date: 4/18/98

I guess its disappointing to us Republicans to see the mileage Clinton/Gore get out of hugs and photo ops while denying school children in DC their chance to go to a better school. Democrats think that spending $10,000 per child in DC and giving them government standardized tests will be better than spending $9000 per child in the same schools. Talk about symbolism.

Reaching out to Farrakhan?
From: Charles Thorpe to Cedric
Date: 4/18/98

This is my first posting on the TalkShop although I have perused some of the subjects. Since you've brought up the topic on the Black Electorate and also have stirred up some very enlightening dialogue on Minister Louis Farrakhan, I wonder with Louis Farrakhan being the most prolific contemporary leader among Black people, do you feel that President Clinton, Gore or Jack Kemp will make a significant outreach or "touch" to this man. It would seem intelligent being that outside of major athletes and entertainers, Louis Farrakhan seems to be the most influential and have the deepest connection to the Black Electorate according to what I've read on the talk shop. Could you please address this apparent contradiction? I'm kind of confused, but then I'm new to SSU!

Challenging a Democratic Monopoly
From: Cedric Muhammad to Charles Thorpe
Date: 4/19/98

At this point in the scheme of things I would say this to your questions: I think that in many respects the Black community is sub-political and sub-economic in the sense that we have not been able to sufficiently unite and present an agenda to either party or to corporate and banking America. In that sense we are not even registering on either landscape. I believe as some have told me, that the Democratic Party, deep down, doesn't believe that Blacks even want anything more than what the Democrats have been offering us. We give the vote up without any pre-conditions therefore some Democrats see that we are happy with what is being offered in the party platform. That being said, for Gore or Clinton to make an outreach to Min. Farrakhan I believe it would have to be in a cultural and societal context and not a political one. The Minister would have to be called upon to solve a problem, similar to the peace-making service that he so brilliantly provided to the city of Philadelphia and its Mayor Ed Rendell.

The Democrats don't need the Minister to bring in new votes, only to solve a problem -- domestic or foreign, most likely a domestic race problem. So in that sense the "touch" applies here, they can make an outreach to the Minister in a cultural context, the context in which White people are most comfortable in dealing with Blacks. On the other hand, the GOP is more likely to make a political outreach to Minister Farrakhan, in a desire to get votes out of the Black Electorate, with them it would be strictly political as they would be trying to break the stranglehold that the Dems currently have on the Black Electorate. Keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of the new Black male voters (1.7 million) that registered and voted in the 1996 election as a result of the Minister's call at the Million Man March, largely voted Democratic as the Republican party did not feel the need to engage these new Black voters. They went "home" to the Democratic party unchallenged.

Specifically speaking, Kemp is the candidate most likely to make a "political" outreach as he is the white candidate most authentic to Black culture, even more so than Gore. But will he do it? This is where the intrigue lies for me and many others. Who in the GOP is bold enough to challenge the Democratic monopoly on the Black Electorate, who is brave enough, man enough to admit that culturally speaking, the GOP has not cared about Black voters, even fearing that if Blacks are advertised to by GOP, that they will get in the voting booth and still vote overwhelmingly Democrat. That kind of backward thinking that violates every principle of marketing comes from elements in the GOP who still view Blacks as 3/5 of a human being -- culturally speaking. Your point about Min. Farrakhan is well-taken. He has an influence in Black America that only athletes and entertainers can generate but he is so much more influential because he can work in a political context while most athletes and entertainers are afraid to.

What Do the Democrats Offer?
From: Scott Robinson
Date: 4/20/98

It seems to me that the GOP has the same message to Blacks and Whites alike (similar even to Min. Farrakhan) of the importance of self-reliance and industry. What do the Democrats offer?  More money for failing schools. Raising minimum wage -- increasing Black youth unemployment.

Affirmative action placing unprepared students in universities where they fail in disproportionate numbers. (In the process ignoring the educational foundation of underclass students which sets them up for failure.) Opposing welfare reform (which tries to end the poverty trap)

Kemp and a GOP Symbolic Offer
From: Jude Wanniski
Date: 4/20/98

Welcome Thorpe! I've been wondering how we could get 1500 hits a day, but nobody new joining the TalkShop. To your question directly, it was not until Kemp walked up to Farrakhan at the Tyson/Holyfield fight last year in Las Vegas, and shook his hand, that I believed he could go on to win the GOP nomination and presidency. The fact that he did it with thousands of people watching was what made it courageous. As the GOP nominee, Jack would bring great numbers of blacks into the GOP. This would be a key feature of the party realignment underway. Cedric's intervention is brilliant. I've copied and emailed it to Jack. Those of you who wonder why symbolism is more important that substance should put yourself in Cedric's shoes and make a great effort to understand what it must be like to be black, and whether you would be willing to trade your manhood for a tax cut. Gore can't shake Farrakhan's hand because he would calculate all the political losses in the Democratic Party.

Surmounting the Political Party Divide
From: Mike Barkey
Date: 4/21/98

Although I disapprove of his hyperbole, I would like to second your applause to Cedric's remarks. There is no sign of outreach to black voters from the Republicans. I do not mean in terms of typical political outreach (although that is surely lacking), but in terms of actually reaching out a hand to the black community which remains extended even after election day. A very powerful symbol used by Focus Hope, an organization started by Fr. Cunningham to promote unity and help rebuild Detroit in the aftermath of the 1967 riots, is two outstretched hands, one black and one white. It’s a very simple representation but it speaks volumes. (It’s also speaks much sweeter words than one clenched fist!)

I've always believed that the biggest barrier to surmounting this political party divide involves the reality of de facto segregation. As a white who spent the first part of his life living as a "minority" in the black community, although I would occasionally get harassed because I'm a "honkey," racial tension between those living in my neighborhood was usually absent. Local efforts such as Fr. Cunningham's enabled people of all stripes to work together and demonstrate their goodwill toward one another. With blacks and whites generally separated geographically, those local concerns disappear and demonstration of goodwill becomes all that much more important.

When crack started to make its inroads and the violence skyrocketed, my parent's were finally making enough money to move us out of Detroit and into the lily-white suburbs. It quickly became apparent to me that I had picked up "racist" feelings. Not toward blacks but toward whites. The attitude that had engulfed me for so long while living in the black community was not that I was bad because I am white or the guy living down the block was bad because he was white, but that those white people living elsewhere were bad because of X, Y, and Z. Now I was one of those white people living elsewhere. I didn't do anything differently but found myself being treated differently by blacks. I had been suddenly transformed into the enemy. (As an aside, I think this reality is responsible for sustaining much of the "liberal guilt" in the world.)

Speaking with all honesty, after I realized that the "white people living elsewhere" were not somehow nefarious, I became much more hostile to black claims of racism, for example, and their placement of blame on a ubiquitous "them." (As another aside, I think this reality is responsible for much of the willingness of some in the black community to believe in conspiracy theories.) This damages (to extrapolate me into the typical white Republican politician) my credibility within the black community: I appear indifferent to black claims and most likely this skeptical attitude, in addition to appearing condescending to blacks and therefore racist, causes me to overlook many legitimate black claims which justly warrant action. When the other guy (read Democrat) is ready to respond with righteous indignation to each and every concern, no matter how spurious the charge, and then condemns those who fail to respond with the same vigor (read Republicans), he will be the one viewed as credible when election time comes around.

Although large numbers of blacks live scattered among middle-class white faces, increasingly a large portion of the black community lives in neighborhoods which have been getting bleaker and blacker over the decades. Ne’er one white face. This is the problem. Blacks and whites do not get the chance to see their collective interests, build common ties, and notice personal commonality because those local institutions they inhabit are predominantly black or predominantly white. Intermingling within the community is therefore made rare.

Democrats had established their reputation within the black community through civil rights and national actions, just as the Republicans had 100 years before through emancipation and national action. Both times it took national action to demonstrate white goodwill because both times blacks and whites lived separate lives, had separate ties and as a result were deeply mistrustful of one another. Republicans emphasize the importance of local institutions because of the very reasons suggested above. And rightly so. The problem is that as governmentally prescribed efforts at desegregation such as forced busing and racial preferences have failed (producing a white backlash instead), and national action is opposed by Republicans on this and most other fronts, white Republicans are left without legislative opportunity to demonstrate goodwill toward blacks. Only goodwill toward all which is less appealing to a mistrustful black voter.

Ironically, Federalist #10 suggested that local politics meant minorities would find their needs neglected. To protect against this Madison proposed expanding the orbit of politics through a national electorate. Because minority groups are segregated (rather than minority factions ignored), national politics provides the answer to the dilemma of representation but in the process does greater harm than good. Underlying causes of mistrust go neglected because it is only in localities where problems like race can be solved, not in "national dialogues." Subsequently, national politics perpetuates a one-party black system. I love the government created by the Founding Fathers. But for a third time in US history, the question of state versus federal action in the realm of race offers a very difficult paradox to be resolved. 

Counter to Jude’s suggestions of a political realignment with blacks becoming key players in support of the Republican Party, I believe these circumstances make blacks more rather than less likely to pledge allegiance to the Democratic Party. (The hatred Ronald Reagan generates within the black community for his efforts to devolve power back to the states is good evidence of this.) I do believe, however, that the symbolic has become so much more important in the age of TV that it offers a unique opportunity to a political party which supports state and local control to express a message of goodwill toward minorities without going through local institutions or necessarily supporting federal action. Although the only media savvy Republican no longer remembers his own name (God bless him), I do doubt that such a party can make it on fluff alone. When it comes down to policy, actions will speak louder than words, and the Democrats will retain their hold on the black vote by their willingness to endorse national policy and engage in irresponsible demagogic rhetoric in the process.

Until integration becomes a reality and local institutions do what they do best, the Democratic stranglehold on the black vote will remain firmly in place. Even though Jack Kemp may have the bona fides to court the black vote, I doubt 8 years of him presiding over a booming economy would succeed in breaking the Democratic stranglehold or produce anything near a realignment of black voters. That is unless he abandons the Republican Party’s principle of local control and faith in local institutions in his effort, which will lead to vicious denouncements by his own party. (Talk about a way to alienate a people from a party!) Moreover, the day he steps out of office, as long as integration has not occurred, Republicans would be in the same boat they are today. Probably one with larger holes in its hull if devolution continues.

Slowly but surely a burgeoning black middle-class is moving into the suburbs. It will be here where any future realignment will begin, as blacks and whites work together to improve their own communities. It will occur locally. Resistance on the national level will be fierce. The attacks on "uncle Tom" Clarence Thomas will pale in comparison. When realignment (or even black dealignment) appears around the corner, the rhetoric will heat up on the Left, and accusations of racism will get tossed around like Frisbees. Only when people begin to realize that such accusations are untrue, that the guy down the block is not a bigot, and displays of warmth and community spirit between races are common in our town, will the Democratic Party find the black voter slipping through its fingers.

National Programs Aren’t Beneficial
From: Scott Robinson
Date: 4/21/98

Mike, Thanks for the thoughtful, powerful post. I believe there were two threads to the message which were very disheartening. The first was that African American voters are unable to understand where there own best interests lie, and that they only respond to platitudes and one size fits all national political programs. The second is the notion that national political programs are more beneficial than local ones (where's Tip O'Neill when we need him). Madison recognized the appeal and the risk of national political efforts (plenary governmental powers) which is why he wrote the Bill of Rights. Your comments about the emerging black middle class may be accurate. Republicans like me want this to occur as fast and as widely as possible. We don't think (the Thernstroms have documented it) that national political programs have any track record of making this happen.

Overcoming Fears of White Racism
From: Mike Barkey in reply to Scott Robinson
Date: 4/21/98

I wholeheartedly agree with you. National programs have failed and often worsened the plight of many living in the inner cities. The problem is that I believe there exists an unjustified antipathy within the black community to local action. I do not mean antipathy toward taking local initiative within a particular community but in placing faith in the devolution of power which inevitably means greater white power at the state level. "States' rights" gave us two of the worst blights on our nation's history, slavery and segregation, and obviously blacks bore the brunt of each. The Bill of Rights did nothing to prevent either. I am not saying that black voters are "unable to understand where there own best interests lie," please do not take that to be my point. My point is that many blacks are legitimately reticent of what would be in their best interests giving the realities of our shared history. To overcome that reticence and break the stranglehold of the Democratic Party over the black electorate (thanks to their embrace of national action) fears of white racism must greatly abate. (This is one reason I worry about Minister Farrakhan's fiery rhetoric and support the immediate elimination of racial preferences and the divisiveness they create.) Until that day, best interest will be sacrificed on the altar of a terrible history of racism and oppression. But one day, integration will occur and local institutions will do what they do best: create community among people.

Get Into Farrakhan’s Shoes
From: Jude Wanniski
Date: 4/22/98

Fears of white racism are not being stoked by Louis Farrakhan. That is not what his "fiery rhetoric" is all about. I keep telling you there is no hatred in his rhetoric, only anger and frustration that you won't listen. Thirty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a bundle of fiery rhetoric, and got bumped off for his trouble. So was Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. White folks who refuse to listen to what he has to say are refusing to understand the depth of white racism in America today. There is nothing "racist" in Farrakhan's rhetoric, except insofar as he speaks on behalf of a black America that lives with what I call "benevolent white racism" every day. How many times do I have to tell you folks that I have spent hundreds of hours investigating Farrakhan, talking to him, and listening to him -- while you are satisfied to have seen a sound bite courtesy of Dan Rather. I don't need your "assessments" of those sound bites, telling me you are persuaded Farrakhan is a bad guy. I'm quite ready to hear that you have done some heavy lifting on the subject and have found XY&Z and have concluded AB&C. Then we would have something to discuss and debate. The fact is, there remains a huge gulf between whites and blacks in America, because whites think they are doing their bit by rooting for Michael Jordan or listening to Whitney Houston. You have to get into Farrakhan's shoes to understand him. Go into the NOI website and order some of his videotapes, at random, and watch them as if you were black and in his shoes, and then you might hear. My friend Bob Novak listened to the Million Man March speech at the time it was delivered and wrote a column denouncing Farrakhan's fiery rhetoric. A year later, I asked him to read the transcript of the speech, and he admitted to me that he had not been listening the first time around, that the speech was a good one that shook him up a bit. That's all I'm trying to do here, shake things up a bit.

It Is a Possibility
From: Todd Davis to Jude
Date: 4/22/98

I agree with your suggestion to perform due diligence when assessing leaders. I've found it especially helpful to read what someone has actually said in speeches and letters rather than what is said or written about them. My perception of Malcolm X did a 180 after I read a collection of his speeches given from the mid 1950s until his death. His words reflected someone who thought deeply and changed his view of the world over time as he matured and evolved. A few soundbites from many of his speeches could be misleading as the context and deeper message are lost. I don't have enough information yet to say this is the case with Farrakhan but I have a mindset that says it is a possibility.