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Grading The Black Politicians On Handling The Lieberman Nomination

Over the last week and the weekend in particular, there was quite a bit of activity among Black political leaders where the nomination of Senator Lieberman as Vice-President was concerned. Today we take a quick snapshot on who said what regarding the Lieberman nomination juxtaposed to the real interests of the Black Electorate.

Rep. Maxine Waters: Grade: A

Immediately after the Lieberman nomination was announced Rep. Waters went to work analyzing Lieberman's voting record and past statements and actions as it pertained to the issues that she believes are of concern to the Black Electorate. In her eyes Lieberman has come up wanting. Rep. Waters says that she is greatly concerned about stances taken by Lieberman on issues of criminal justice, affirmative action and school vouchers. We give Rep. Waters an A not only for doing her homework independent of the Democratic Party spinmeisters but also because she has appeared on national TV to voice her displeasure with Sen. Lieberman on the basis of her assessment of his political positions. Our heart warmed over when she recently told reporters that she is under no obligation to campaign for the ticket. Now, we have seen Rep. Waters take these bold stances against the Party establishment before, only to watch in disappointment as she "adjusts" her position, lowers her voice or simply caves in at the last minute. But so far so good. She is our star pupil this semester.

Rev. Al Sharpton: Grade B-

After initially giving Sen. Lieberman a free pass last week, heaping praise all over the VP candidate, Rev. Sharpton bounced back and made a strong recovery over the weekend reportedly challenging reporters to ask Vice-President Gore " Is there not one Black qualified to become Vice-President?" If Rev. Sharpton had not regained his footing he was in line to receive a D grade. But Sharpton's initial response was not illogical. We understand that Rev. Sharpton would like to become Mayor of New York City in the near future and will need to gain Jewish votes in order to be successful in his efforts. And we know the history of the tense moments between Sharpton and the Jewish community in the 1990s and know that the Reverend factored all of this in when he initially spoke of the nomination in glowing terms. But we definitely expected more from the Black political leader that is closest to the "streets".

However, his response this week to the Lieberman nomination was so good (he must have read our "Al Gore Looks For a Vice-President Blacks Need Not Apply") that although we are disappointed that he did not launch it from the outset, it is enough to put him in the "above average" category. If Rev. Sharpton had made his brilliant critique earlier, it would have put the spotlight where it belongs - on Al Gore and not Sen. Lieberman. After all, Gore did the picking, not Lieberman. Since we know that Rev. Sharpton is not too fond of the Vice-President (unlike Rev. Jackson, Sharpton remembers Al Gore's shameful treatment of Jesse Jackson in the 1988 campaign, particularly his dis in the New York Primary) we expect him to keep the heat on the Gore selection at least for two more days. Hopefully Rev. Sharpton will extend his argument that Vice-President Gore's selection of Sen. Lieberman without consideration of a single Black qualifies as " political racial profiling" beyond this week's convention.

Rev. Jesse Jackson Grade: D+

Well, it was no surprise to see Rev. Jackson "all over" this ticket. He was praising Lieberman at every turn, extolling the virtues of the selection in terms of its great symbolic value for all Americans and in terms of the "barriers" that it lowered for all. Even Lieberman began to quote Rev. Jackson and the words that he received from Rev. Jackson the day of the selection. Then when Rev. Jackson received his Medal of Freedom from the White House, instead of the focus being on Rev. Jackson's years of service to this country, the subsequent press conference had Rev. Jackson fielding question after question about the Lieberman selection. It was as if the press was daring him to say anything critical of Sen. Lieberman.

For all of last week Rev. Jackson picked up the same refrain of support for Sen. Lieberman, only briefly mentioning that Sen. Lieberman's stance toward affirmative action would require some explanation. And of course, unfortunately, Rev. Jackson wasn't vociferously demanding that explanation, as we know he is capable of doing. It definitely looked like Rev. Jackson was running interference in the Black community for Gore on the Lieberman nomination - until this weekend.

On Sunday, Rev. Jackson was asked about comments attributed to Min. Farrakhan regarding Sen. Lieberman's candidacy and many of us were pleasantly surprised that Rev. Jackson did not take the bait. While he did not question the accuracy of the sentiment or words attributed to Minister Farrakhan, Rev. Jackson did speak to the reality that any Jewish candidate should be prepared to answer the concerns of Protestant Christians or Muslims. Rev. Jackson also said that several whites, prior to Minister Farrakhan, had raised concern over Sen. Lieberman's responsiveness to Jewish causes as opposed to the causes of other groups.

However, we still remain disappointed in Rev. Jackson on two fronts. First, he still seems unwilling to voice his strong disagreements with Lieberman on key issues that Rev. Jackson has championed over the years, unlike Rep. Waters. Secondly, it was Rev. Jackson, who two years ago, argued that "a Black should be on that ticket in 2000". He said this on national TV. Yet, today, he has some sort of amnesia that doesn't allow him to recall that Gore ignored Jackson on this front and did not even consider a Black for the ticket. We expect so much more from a man who has invested so much in the civil rights movement and the Democratic Party.

Rep. Charles Rangel. Grade: D

OK. We understand that the Harlem Congressman is poised to become the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee if the Democrats take back control of the House. We understand that Rep. Rangel is now being sought out as much by insurance companies and corporations as he is by his residents on 125th street. But Rep. Rangel has to do better on the Gore selection than he has thus far. In televised appearance after televised appearance since last week, Rep. Rangel heaps praise on Sen. Lieberman, ignoring his record on affirmative action, school vouchers and criminal justice issues. And Rep. Rangel never loses an opportunity to turn the discussion away from the policies of the Connecticut Senator and on to an "us vs. them", Democrat vs. Republican comparison.

This tactic obscures the larger issue of what Lieberman's nomination will mean to the lives of everyday Black Americans who Rangel does represent.

Furthermore, it was Rep. Rangel who at last year's Congressional Black Caucus convention told an audience that he was going to tell Mr. And Mrs. Clinton that he and Blacks were not pleased with the manner in which the administration was treating Rev. Jackson. He told the audience that Rev. Jackson has great value to many of us and we want him to be shown respect and treated according to that value. He also indicated that the administration should actually do something for Rev. Jackson to demonstrate that appreciation.

We hope that Rep. Rangel didn't have the Medal of Freedom in mind.

Even if he didn't want the position, we can confidently state that Rev. Jackson was worthy of vice-presidential consideration by Democratic Party standards and should have received it from Gore. After all, even Michael Dukakis had a symbolic meeting with Rev. Jackson in 1988 out of respect for the constituency that Jackson represented.

Rep. Rangel performed the worst when it came to the sentiments and comments incorrectly attributed to Minister Farrakhan. Without even asking for clarification or declining comment on what it was alleged the Minister said, Rangel jumps head-first into a condemnation of Minister Farrakhan's involvement in politics, here is the brief exchange between Rangel and a person who called into CNN's Late Edition:

CALLER: Hello, I was wondering if Rangel would say that Louis Farrakhan is not welcome in the Democratic Party given his recent and past anti-Semitic remarks.

RANGEL: Louis Farrakhan and anyone like him should not be welcome in the Democratic or the Republican Party, and I think that the nomination of Joe Lieberman is not for the Jewish people, but for a stronger America.

Rangel didn't even know what Minister Farrakhan had said "recently" but commented anyway. We would have given Rangel an "F" had it not been for the great answer he gave to a question from the show's host Wolf Blitzer. Rangel reportedly responded in the following manner when questioned about the great "scourge" of Black anti-Semitism:

"The problem we have (is) that we have professional Jewish people who make a living out of searching out anti-Semitism," said the congressman. "And they find it easier to reach out and to get some black that's out of step with the rest of the black community, and to point that out as being black anti-Semitism, when they know throughout our country we have anti-Semitism coming from whites that are more powerful and do more damage, but they don't single them out."

Rep. Rangel's answer should become a talking point for all Black leaders who seem to get nervous and begin to bow and scratch whenever they are accused of being anti-Semites.

Hopefully Rangel will be honest about Sen. Lieberman's record juxtaposed to the interests of the Black electorate; raise the fact that a Black should have been considered for the VP slot, particularly Rev. Jackson ; and find out for himself, with no filters, what Min. Farrakhan said about Sen. Lieberman.

The weighted average of the class is a "C" but there is still room for improvement - this is only the first semester.

Cedric Muhammad

Tuesday, August 15, 2000

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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

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