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“It’s About The Nuts And Bolts”: Why African-American Voters May Doom Bernie Sanders’ Candidacy

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

January 23, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Soft Bigotry Of Low Expectations”: The Right’s Pathetically Low Curve; How It Got A Pass On Race And Poverty

Rep. Paul Ryan, budget-slasher, releases a paternalistic poverty plan that has one good idea. Sen. Rand Paul, Civil Rights Act skeptic, speaks to the African-American National Urban League. The Koch brothers, backers of voter suppression efforts and union busting, give $25 million to the United Negro College Fund.

And each winds up hailed, even by some liberals, as taking a big step for the Republican Party when it comes to questions of race and poverty. Why do people settle for so little when it comes to the right trying to signal a change in its damaging approach to both?

Ryan’s one good idea is expanding the earned income tax credit, originally a Republican policy that Republicans turned against because Democrats embraced it too. The EITC is one big reason for the “47 percent” of people who pay no taxes that Ryan’s running mate railed against. Now Ryan says he wants to expand it, and some other programs – which doesn’t square with his infamous budget proposals of recent years.

So MSNBC’s Chuck Todd politely asked Ryan to reconcile his poverty plan with his budget plan – which cuts $5 trillion over 10 years, and takes 69 percent of the cuts from low- and moderate-income families – and he couldn’t do it.

“Does this mean you would change your budget proposal to reflect your new poverty plan?” Todd asked.

“No,” Ryan answered. “I didn’t want to get into a debate over the funding levels of the status quo. I want to talk about how to reform the status quo.”

Todd tried again. “So we should ignore your budget proposal for these programs?”

“No, Chuck, what I’m trying to tell you is, let’s not focus on dollars and cents for these programs,” Ryan replied, a little peevishly. “Let’s focus on reforming these programs so they work more effectively.”

Paul Ryan: a profile in equivocation.

Then there’s Rand Paul, continuing his “outreach” to African-Americans with his visit to the Urban League annual convention. Paul actually deserves credit for trying to tackle issues of criminal justice reform with Sen. Cory Booker. But in his Friday speech he also seemed to decry voter suppression laws, insisting his goal is to “help more people vote,” in the words of the Louisville Courier-Journal.

“We have to be together to defend the rights of all minorities,” Paul said.

But Paul flip-flops on this issue every chance he gets. “I don’t think there is objective evidence that we’re precluding African-Americans from voting any longer,” he said last year, after the Supreme Court curtailed the Voting Rights Act. But a few months later, he seemed to have second thoughts.

“Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter-ID thing,” Paul the New York Times. “I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.”

That was big news. But then, confronted by his friends at Fox, he lurched into reverse. Paul assured Sean Hannity he was fully on board with the Republican voter ID strategy. “No, I agree there’s nothing wrong with it. To see Eric Holder you’ve got to show your driver’s license to get in the building. So I don’t really object to having some rules for how we vote. I show my driver’s license every time I vote in Kentucky … and I don’t feel like it is a great burden. So it’s funny that it got reported that way.”

“It’s funny it got reported that way,” when that’s what Paul said. Maybe that’s where Paul Ryan learned how to equivocate.

Then there are the Koch brothers. I said everything I needed to in this story. I’m sympathetic to the UNCF wanting more scholarship funding. But “Koch scholars”? A no-strings gift would be one thing, but scholarships Koch foundation appointees help award, based on a student’s affinity for “entrepreneurship” and the free market is something else entirely.

Liberals who applaud UNCF taking the money, and decry AFSCME’s parting ways with the group, insist it’s possible to separate the principle of education for black children from the Kochs’ funding of efforts to break unions in the public sector – which disproportionately employ their parents – and suppress their voting rights.

But it’s true that all of these moves are preferable to outright race baiting and demonizing black people and the poor, so liberals give them extra credit. Applauding minimal GOP gestures toward decency reflects the soft bigotry of low expectations once again.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, July 25, 2014

July 26, 2014 Posted by | Koch Brothers, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Norman Rockwell’s America Is Gone”: The Nation Should Welcome Darkening Demographic

Norman Rockwell is dead. So is his America.

If you find that declaration sad, or possibly slanderous, you probably have fond memories of “the way we were” during a supposedly kinder and gentler time before the civil rights movement, women’s lib and cellphones. If you don’t shed tears over that America, you may have grown up as I did — oppressed by the strictures of a social and political system that didn’t show much respect to those who were not white male Christians.

Either way, the overwhelmingly white nation that Rockwell depicted in his sentimental paintings is gone. (I intend no disrespect to Rockwell, whose portrait of 6-year-old Ruby Bridges integrating a New Orleans school stands out in civil rights iconography.) Just last week, new data from the U.S. Census Bureau confirmed a trend long in evidence: The nation continues, inexorably, to grow darker.

For the year ending July 1, 2012, deaths among non-Hispanic whites exceeded births, the Census Bureau reported. The majority of births in this country are now to blacks, Asians and Latinas.

That trend helps to explain the discomfort among older conservative voters with immigration, which has been the driver of the nation’s increasing diversity. They see the country in which they grew up, in which they held the political, social and economic power, slipping away, becoming a place with which they are unfamiliar. Their anxiety boils down to a misplaced fear that they will be strangers in their own land.

Their misapprehensions are stoked and amplified by the right-wing media axis, which has spent years defining undocumented workers as barbarians at the gate and all people of color as suspect. Even as support grows in mainstream America for legalizing undocumented immigrants, the pit bulls of the right continue to denounce any attempt at comprehensive immigration reform as an unjustified “amnesty” to lawbreakers.

Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, the magazine founded by William Buckley, says so. So does former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, now head of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Rush Limbaugh, as usual, doesn’t attempt subtlety as he argues that conservative voters would lose all political clout if undocumented immigrants gain citizenship: “There are legitimate fears that … Republicans/conservatives are gonna end up … outnumbered.”

If Limbaugh conflates conservatives with his listeners, he’s right. But they are dwindling, anyway. The Limbaugh audience, like the GOP primary voter, skews older. Looking toward voting patterns 10 to 20 years from now, Republican strategists have fretted over the party’s failure to appeal to younger voters.

One of the ways in which the GOP alienates younger Americans is with its harsh rhetoric and unwelcoming policies toward those who crossed the border illegally. According to a 2009 Washington Post/ABC News poll, 73 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 support giving them a path toward legal status.

Younger Americans have grown up in a more diverse nation, so they are far less likely to see those with darker skin and different accents as a threat. But there are good reasons for older white Americans to welcome immigrants, too — whether or not they entered the country with legal documents.

Without them, the United States would be doomed to the kind of demographic “bust” that countries from Japan to Russia are experiencing, with birth rates so low that the population is not reproducing itself. That has all sorts of dire economic consequences.

For one thing, there aren’t enough younger workers to support all the retirees. Japan’s long-running economic malaise has several causes, but its aging population — exacerbated by its hostility to immigrants — is surely one of them.

Whatever the long-term problems with our Social Security and Medicare programs, they’d be far worse without the Latinos, Asians and Africans who have revitalized rundown neighborhoods, invigorated popular culture and shared in the American Dream. As Brookings Institution demographer William Frey told The New York Times, the new census figures make “more vivid than ever the fact that we will be reliant on younger minorities and immigrants for our future demographic and economic growth.”

Their vitality ought to be welcomed.

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, June 15, 2013

June 17, 2013 Posted by | Immigration | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sleight Of Hands”: A Contradictory RNC Message On Race And Diversity

In the wake of their 2012 election defeats, the Republican Party hasn’t been willing to change much, but GOP officials have at least been willing to acknowledge their demographic problem. The party’s core group of supporters is old, right-wing, and white, which isn’t a recipe for success in a modern, increasingly diverse nation.

Whatever their other faults, Republican leaders realize the current trends are unsustainable for them, and at least rhetorically, seem eager to bring in new supporters. With that in mind, Reince Priebus traveled to Atlanta yesterday to do some outreach.

During a stop in Atlanta to talk with black voters Thursday, Priebus said the answer is more about framing than about substance.

“I think freedom and liberty is a fresh idea,” he said after a closed-door session with about two dozen black business and civic leaders. “I think it’s always a revolutionary idea. I don’t think there’s anything we need to fix as far as our principles and our policies.” […]

The priority, Priebus said, will be investing time in the African-American community. “I don’t think you can show up a few months before the election,” he said.

What’s wrong with this? Nothing, really. I’m not convinced repackaging a stale and ineffective Republican agenda can be sold as “fresh,” but I think it’s entirely worthwhile for the RNC chairman to reach out to African Americans, listen to concerns from the community, and make a meaningful investment that doesn’t start “a few months before the election.”

In fact, it’s worth noting that we’ve seen this before. In 2005, as part of a similar outreach effort, then-RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman gave a terrific speech at an NAACP convention, in which he conceded that the Republican Party made a conscious decision not to “reach out” to black voters, instead choosing to “benefit politically from racial polarization.” Mehlman admitted that his party was “wrong.”

Five years later, then-RNC Chairman Michael Steele conceded his party was wrong to pursue a deliberately racially-divisive “Southern Strategy” for four decades, but he hoped Republicans would start to put things right going forward.

And now Priebus wants to undo some of the damage, too. But in his case, there’s a catch.

With one hand, the current chairman of the Republican National Committee is reaching out to the African-American community. With his other hand, Priebus is also working on new voting restrictions that disenfranchise — you guessed it — the African-American community.

Even if we put aside how detrimental the Republican policy agenda would be to minority communities, there’s an important disconnect between what Priebus is asking for (the support of African-American voters) and what Priebus is doing (encouraging the most sweeping voting restrictions since Jim Crow).

I don’t imagine the RNC chairman will be eager to talk about this during his so-called “listening tour,” but I hope some of the folks he encounters ask him about the recent war on voting. Deliberately long voting lines? Unnecessary voter-ID laws? Bogus allegations of voter fraud? A scheme to rig the electoral college? Efforts to weaken the Voting Rights Act? All of these have two things in common: (1) they disproportionately and adversely affect the African-American community; and (2) they’re all supported, encouraged, and celebrated by today’s Republican Party.

Let’s make this easy for Reince Priebus: can you explain the contradiction of asking for African-American votes while simultaneously endorsing measures to make it harder for African Americans to vote.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 8, 2013

February 9, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“White Districts And White Sensibilities”: The Real Problem Republicans Have, They Don’t Want To Change Their Policies

You may have heard that in the incoming Congress, white men will constitute a minority of the Democratic caucus for the first time. That’s an interesting fact, but it’s only part of the story. At National Journal, Ron Brownstein and Scott Bland have a long, Brownsteinian look at how “the parties glare across a deep racial chasm” not only in the members of Congress themselves, but in the people they represent. “Republicans now hold 187 of the 259 districts (72 percent) in which whites exceed their national share of the voting-age population. Democrats hold 129 of the 176 seats (73 percent) in which minorities exceed their national share of the voting-age population. From another angle, 80 percent of Republicans represent districts more heavily white than the national average; 64 percent of House Democrats represent seats more heavily nonwhite than the national average.”

The implications for the GOP of the fact that most of their members represent mostly white districts are profound, touching on the continuous interaction between individuals and policy. Politicians are shaped by their political environments and the things they have to do to win, and the fact that most GOP members represent overwhelmingly white districts means that as they rise through the ranks, the time they’re going to have to spend talking to and listening to non-white people is going to be limited. Brownstein and Bland talked to some of the few Republicans who represent more diverse districts:

But even some House Republicans from racially diverse districts worry that many of their colleagues representing more monolithically white areas aren’t doing enough to court minorities. “Honestly, I don’t believe they are,” says Rep. Joe Heck, who won reelection in a diverse district outside Las Vegas.

Heck says he’s established beachheads among minority voters by working first with ethnic chambers of commerce. “For me, meeting with the members of the chamber was a door to building relationships with members of those communities,” he says. Then he hired aides to coordinate outreach to Hispanic and Asian constituents; during his campaign, he organized coalitions in those communities. “When I’m home in the district, we would do entire outreach days, visiting multiple Hispanic businesses, even ones outside of my district.”

As it happens, Joe Heck is an extremely conservative Republican. But he does all that outreach because he has no choice. And over time, that will make him more understanding of, and sensitive to, the concerns of people who aren’t white. It means that he’ll have a better awareness of the things that piss Hispanics off, and learning how not to piss different kinds of people off—with both substance and symbolism—is a big part of politics. This is important for both sides, and with a variety of constituencies. For instance, one of the first things you learn working on a Democratic campaign is that every piece of printed material you produce, from brochures to door hangers, has to have on it the tiny union “bug” that shows it was printed at a union shop. If it doesn’t, you can be damn sure you’ll get some angry phone calls from union members and representatives, because they notice. Republicans have I’s to be dotted and T’s to be crossed for their own constituencies as well. But somebody coming up through Republican politics in an overwhelmingly white district won’t have to learn, for instance, what pisses off Hispanics. So when they talk about immigration their speech is peppered with terms like “illegal aliens” that Hispanics find, well, alienating.

The advantage Democrats have is that nobody has to teach them how to talk to white people, because you learn that no matter where you live. It’s the same reason colleges don’t offer courses in White History or White Literature—you’re already learning it. Yes, there are subgroups of whites whom you can fail to understand, but it’s a lot less likely that you’re going to alienate them and end up losing the White House because of it.

So the real problem Republicans have isn’t that they don’t want to recruit minorities, because they do. They don’t want to change their policies to do it, of course, but they’re pleased as punch when they find someone like Tim Scott or Ted Cruz, a real-live minority who also happens to be rabidly right-wing, whom they can hold up as an example. Their problem is that they don’t know how to attract minority voters, because where most of them come from, they don’t have to.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January, 15, 2013

January 16, 2013 Posted by | Ideologues, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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