Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are now arguing about race, and like many such arguments in campaigns, it has nothing to do with any substantive difference between them on policy issues. But the stakes could hardly be higher — indeed, it’s no exaggeration to say that if Sanders can’t find a way to win over large numbers of African-American voters, he will have virtually no chance of winning the Democratic nomination for president.
Which is why, when Sanders released an ad showing him amidst his many adoring supporters, Clinton ally David Brock, who runs about a hundred different super PACs and other organizations devoted to getting her elected (I exaggerate, but only slightly) gave an interview in which he said: “From this ad, it seems black lives don’t matter much to Bernie Sanders.” Because of course, if the crowd shots in his ad aren’t diverse enough, that must mean Sanders doesn’t care whether black people live or die. (Full disclosure: some years ago I worked for David Brock for a time.)
Naturally, the Sanders campaign was outraged, but Brock’s attack cleverly alluded to the period last summer and fall when Black Lives Matter activists were interrupting Sanders at speeches and pushing him to endorse their agenda. Sanders was the perfect target for those actions, because he’s a liberal eager to show African-Americans that he’s on their side, but also someone likely to make the kind of verbal slips that would allow them to criticize him.
That’s because despite his commitment to civil rights, Sanders hasn’t spent his political career in an environment where African-Americans are what they are in most of the country: the very heart of the Democratic coalition. Since Vermont is 95 percent white, Sanders hasn’t had to build up the kind of partnerships and habits of mind and work that other Democrats do, which is just one of the reasons he has a steep hill to climb with African-Americans.
What I mean by habits of mind and work is this: Every politician and political organizer has things they learn to do by reflex in order to make sure the groups whose help they need are appropriately cared for. For instance, if you work on a Democratic campaign, you’d damn well better make sure that every flyer you print up has a union “bug” on it, the tiny mark showing it was printed at a union shop. And when you have a public event, you make sure that the people in view of the camera are appropriately diverse. I have a vivid memory of a photo-op on a campaign I worked on as a young man, when one of the campaign’s senior staff, an African-American, looked at one such array of supporters positioned behind the candidate and saw that the black people were mostly on one side and the whites were on the other. “Why don’t we salt-and-pepper this up a bit?”, he said, and everyone looked around, immediately understood what he meant, and shifted positions.
But it’s about a lot more than optics. One of Sanders’ many challenges is to turn a campaign built on idealism and vision into a machine that can turn out votes on the ground — state by state, town by town, and precinct by precinct. As Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman points out, Sanders does best with liberal whites, and “there is only one state where whites who self-identify as liberals make up a higher share of the Democratic primary electorate than Iowa and New Hampshire. You guessed it: Vermont.” So as soon as those two states are behind us, the campaign will move to places where African-Americans, among whom Hillary Clinton remains extremely popular, will make up a much larger share of the vote.
While Sanders would argue that he has a strong case to make to those voters about why they should support him, Clinton has ties to them that go back decades. And as a whole (and keep in mind that what I’m talking about doesn’t necessarily apply to any one individual even if it holds true for the group at large), African-Americans have a pragmatic view of politics. They had to fight — and some people even died — to secure the right to vote that whites always took for granted. They have to keep fighting to maintain that right in the face of a GOP that would put every impediment to the ballot it can find in front of them.
Ask anyone involved in Democratic politics about winning black votes in primaries, and they’ll tell you that it isn’t about hopes and dreams, though those are nice too. It’s about the nuts and bolts: the social networks, the key endorsers and officials, the neighborhood institutions, the systems that have been built up in the most trying circumstances to get people to the polls. Those kinds of factors matter among every voting bloc, but they’re particularly important among African-Americans. You can’t blow into town a week before election day with a bunch of eager white 20-something volunteers from somewhere else and win their votes.
It even took African-Americans a long time to commit to Barack Obama — against Clinton — during the 2008 primaries, despite the fact that he would become the first black president and today continues to command near-unanimous support from them. It wasn’t until he won the Iowa caucuses, making clear that he had a good shot at winning the nomination, that they began moving in large numbers away from their prior support of Clinton and toward him. And it’s no accident that one of the main lines of argument Clinton has been using lately is that Sanders has been insufficiently loyal to Obama. There are lots of Democratic voters among whom that might resonate, but none more than African-Americans.
So Sanders has multiple challenges among African-American voters: to show them that he’s really on their side, to show them that he really can win, and to do the complicated work in the field that will get them to the polls to pull the lever for him. He may be able to do all that, but it won’t be easy.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, January 22, 2016
Hardly a week goes by without some demand for an apology populating my inbox. I have never apologized for two reasons: The usual one is that I’m not sorry. The other is that calls for an apology have become an irritating tactic in American political discourse, a kind of bullying.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t regretted things I’ve said or the tone used. I have. So here’s a compromise: I will issue one apology a year.
And the winner for 2015 is … Bernie Sanders.
Why Bernie? Some liberal friends complain that I’ve been overly dismissive of the senator from Vermont’s candidacy. They have cause.
I was especially rough in pointing out the cracks in Bernie’s self-portrait of a national force for civil rights. Perhaps I overdid it.
But the fact remains that he fled the troubled New York of the ’60s for the whitest state in the nation. It baffles that he shares his campaign stage with Cornel West, a black academic who condemns Barack Obama in nasty racial terms.
On advancing civil rights, Bernie’s been totally on board. Still, one can see why ordinary African-Americans seem to relate better to Hillary Clinton.
Bernie, you’re really good on most concerns: Reining in Wall Street’s power. Expanding Medicare to all Americans.
You also rise over conventional liberal stances, opposing gun control measures that come off as more anti-gun than pro-control. You’ve clearly been talking to hunters in your rural state.
Your views on immigration are well-nuanced. You support a path to citizenship for otherwise law-abiding undocumented people. But you oppose calls for massive temporary-worker programs that would replace American workers — and not just farmworkers — with lower-cost substitutes.
The Democratic debates have shown you at your best. On Saturday, you graciously offered … an apology … over your campaign’s breach of Clinton’s proprietary data. (Hillary responded in kind, saying it was time to move on.) That was quite noble of you in light of the Democratic National Committee’s decision to temporarily cut your campaign’s access to its voter database. The DNC has not treated you fairly.
You’ve been taking the high road in this campaign, sticking to issues and even occasionally praising Hillary. Your dismissal of the right wing’s obsessive harping over Clinton’s use of private email while secretary of state will not be forgotten.
Bernie, the poll numbers show you slipping further behind Hillary among Democratic voters. That alone is not reason enough to downplay your quest for the presidency. Candidates have come roaring back, and Hillary’s performance over the years has not been flawless.
But there’s a big question besides “can you win?” That is, What would happen if you did? For all your solid thinking, you’ve never been able to work with others in Washington, and we’re not just talking about Republicans. You often can’t get along with liberal Democrats.
Your “holier than thou” attitude, as former Rep. Barney Frank put it, has kept you from actively participating in the formation of laws. That bill you negotiated with conservatives to improve veterans’ health care doesn’t count. Helping veterans is not a hard sell.
But let’s end the criticism here. I’m glad you’re running. Without you, hardly any attention would have been paid to the Democratic side. The other remaining challenger, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, simply isn’t original enough. (Sorry, Martin. This year’s apology has just been used up.)
Finally, I never tire of hearing you describe your smart liberal ideas with force and conviction. I still don’t think you’re going to be IT. But if I ever came off as not respecting you, Bernie, I apologize.
By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, December 22, 2015
In the fall of 1943, a remarkable football game was played on the Eastern Plains of Colorado, the open, desolate, sparsely-populated landscape that pulls up to the great Rocky Mountains like the ebb of an inland sea they once were.
Dotted with small towns and grain towers, among the other installations on Colorado’s Eastern Plains during World War II was the Granada Relocation Center for Japanese Americans, colloquially known as Amache after a Cheyenne Indian Chief’s daughter. Like the communities around it, Amache was too small to field a full 11-man football team so instead they played six-man, including against a squad from the nearby town of Holly, the Holly High School Wildcats. They were prisoners and designated not-Americans, yet played that most American of sports.
The Amache team won that six-man football game in 1943, 7-0. Among the players on the Holly team was a teenage farm boy named Roy Romer. “We felt strange,” he recalled. “Why were folks herded here?”
Romer would go on to become four-term governor of Colorado and chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He talked about growing up in the shadow of Amache as a lifelong influence on his support for civil rights and treating people equally. Romer was part of the Colorado contingent that marched on the last day from Selma to Montgomery with Dr. King, and he was one of the first national figures to support LGBT rights by opposing Colorado’s anti-gay Amendment 2.
Colorado’s Republican governor at the time, Ralph Carr, opposed Executive Order 9066, the internment of Japanese Americans and said of them, “the Japanese are protected by the same Constitution that protects us. An American citizen of Japanese descent has the same rights as any other citizen. … If you harm them, you must first harm me. I was brought up in small towns where I knew the shame and dishonor of race hatred. I grew to despise it.”
Considered a rising star in the national Republican Party, Carr’s pro-civil rights stand provoked a firestorm of ugly criticism and cost him the 1942 Colorado Senate race. Amache ended Ralph Carr’s career. It began Roy Romer’s.
So when I hear the ugly rhetoric around Muslims not being real Americans from Donald Trump and Ben Carson, and the pejorative “anchor babies” from Jeb Bush, I think, have we learned nothing from Amache? I witness the hateful, divisive venom from Trump and Carson and the “birthers” and I wonder, what makes your family any better or different? What entitles you to separate yourself from people named Khan and Rodriguez and Obama – and for that matter, Reince Priebus?
This is toxic and anti-American. Rep. Mike Honda and his family were interned at Amache. The late Sen. Dan Inouye lost an arm for this country serving in a Japanese-American combat unit. He was awarded the Medal of Honor along with 20 other Nisei solders who were members of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, many of whom had family members in internment camps. Sometimes the “hyphenated” citizens of this country give us better than the non-hyphenated ones deserve.
If there’s one thing that defines this country above all others, it is that we are made up of people who wanted to come here. E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one.
The people in Amache were Americans. So are 3 million Muslim Americans. So is Jorge Ramos. When it comes to our values, Trump, Carson and the racist birther idiots they feed in the hopes of becoming president, I’m not so sure.
By: Laura Chapin, U. S. News and World Report, September 23, 2015
“Bye-Bye Federal Criminal Justice Reform?”: Hard To Imagine GOP Congressional Leaders Bucking Their Base To Push Reform
There’s a powerful tendency in the chattering classes, impervious so far to contrary data, to think of Donald Trump as just a summer sideshow that will close down directly once the real candidates–you know, Jeb!–get in gear and Party Elites send down the word that the base has had its fun and now needs to get into line. You don’t have to think he’s actually going to get the nomination (and I still don’t, though I wouldn’t bet the farm I don’t have on it at this juncture) to understand he’s having an impact on the GOP and indirectly the country.
Most obviously, no Republican who wants to seriously compete for the nomination is going to get all loud-and-proud about comprehensive immigration reform, no matter what’s down there in the footnotes of their policy tomes.
But my biggest fear has been that Trump’s poisoning the well for criminal justice reform at the federal level, and Michael Grunwald shares it:
Criminal justice reform, a perennial lost cause for civil rights lefties, had its surprise bipartisan moment this year. Conservative Republican voices like anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers led campaigns against mass incarceration and mandatory drug sentences. GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush has embraced the pro-reform Right on Crime initiative, while Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have co-sponsored reform bills with liberal Democratic senators.
But the Kumbaya reform moment may not survive the Summer of Trump.
After roiling the politics of immigration with jeremiads about border walls and Mexican rapists, Donald Trump has scrambled the politics of crime by running as a pro-cop, anti-thug “law-and-order” candidate, denouncing rioters in Baltimore and Ferguson, vowing to “get rid of gang members so fast your head will spin.” And as with immigration, his rivals are echoing his appeals to the angry id of their party’s white base, distancing themselves from bipartisan reform. Bush is now touting his own “eight-year record of cracking down on violent criminals” as governor of Florida, while attacking Trump as “soft on crime” because of his past support for Democrats and marijuana decriminalization. Candidates like Cruz and the usually Koch-friendly Scott Walker are also trumpeting their toughness on criminal justice issues, blaming President Barack Obama and the Black Lives Matter movement for recent attacks on police officers. In this climate, it’s even harder than usual to imagine GOP congressional leaders bucking their base to push reform.
Trump has been dismissed as a sideshow, but for now at least, he’s the main show.
I suppose it’s possible that a Republican presidential candidate or two will decide to get attention as someone who’s “fighting” Trump on this or that issue instead of positioning him- or her-self to inherit his support when whatever it is that’s supposed to strike him down finally happens. But I wouldn’t count on it, particularly on an issue–crime–that is more viscerally immediate to angry and frightened white people than immigration.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 14, 2015
“Obama Will Make Some News Thursday, Too”: Will Call For The Restoration Of The Voting Rights Act On Its 50th Anniversary
As I write this post, political junkies are awaiting the official word on the list of candidates who will appear in Thursday’s first official Republican presidential debate. But in an example of questionable timing by Fox News, Thursday is the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And since said act was largely vitiated by a conservative majority of SCOTUS in 2013, and congressional Republicans have barely lifted any fingers to restore it, the president’s going to do everything possible to force voting rights into the national consciousness that day, and perhaps even into the GOP debate, as reported by The Hill‘s Jordan Fabian:
President Obama will call for the restoration of the Voting Rights Act on its 50th anniversary Thursday, the White House said.
Obama will hold a teleconference to commemorate the landmark legislation and call for its renewal, following a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that voided one of its central provisions.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who rose to prominence in the 1960s as a civil rights leader, will participate.
The event will allow Obama to draw a sharp contrast with Republicans, many of whom argue some provisions of the 1965 law went too far. It will take place on the same day as the first GOP presidential primary debate.
You have to love this quote:
Asked about the timing of the event, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that “one person’s irony is another person’s serendipity.”
“Maybe there will be an opportunity for Republican candidates to discuss the right for every American to cast a vote,” he added.
It will tell you a lot about the GOP and about Fox News if the subject is not mentioned on Thursday night.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 4, 2015