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E-Letter To and Neal Lavon Re: "Joe Lieberman in Black and white"

Your piece "Joe Lieberman in black and white" in many respects is one of the better pieces that I have seen this week. Though you unnecessarily and incorrectly focus on the much talked-about "Black anti-Semitism" your piece does cover most of the relevant political points in the controversy over Vice-President Gore's selection of Sen. Lieberman as his running mate. However, although your piece mentions me and a point that I made to Armstrong Williams in an interview, it doesn't capture why I said that Gore could lose a very significant percentage of the Black vote.

As I stressed to Armstrong Williams, traditional Black Democrats that were disappointed by the Lieberman selection are not going to go anywhere. They will whine and complain a bit but the end result will not be a departure from support of the Gore-Lieberman ticket. These Democrats will support the ticket. You could see the beginning of the backtracking of Black political leaders in their opposition to Lieberman yesterday. All it took was one meeting with Lieberman where he had to only say one thing: "I support affirmative action". With that one phrase, he calmed the storm inside of the Black political establishment which is too afraid of losing access to the White House and key power centers inside of the Party establishment to push any further. Their about-face comes as no surprise.

What Gore and Lieberman have to be concerned about are the 1.7 million new voters who registered and voted nearly 90% Democratic in the 1996 presidential election. These are not "real" or traditional Democrats. This is the Million Man March crowd that is looking to become more active in their communities and Black civil society but which is not committed to party politics as the traditional Democrats are. This group's support for the Democratic Party is soft and can be loosened by a few things.

None of which has anything to do with Sen. Lieberman. This is the point that I made to Armstrong Williams that doesn't come across too clearly in his quote of me.

The first of three factors that I see impacting these "soft" Democrats is Ralph Nader's candidacy. For once, Blacks have a legitimate alternative to the left of the Democratic candidate. This was not the case in 1996 or in 1992. Ross Perot did have appeal to some Blacks but he was to the right of President Clinton and had little or no track record working in the Black community. And because of this, he could not confront the stranglehold that the Democratic Party has on the Black vote.

This is not the case with Ralph Nader, who is known among Black audiences and who offers one of the best critiques of what has gone wrong for Blacks in the last 8 years of Clinton-Gore. As far as I can tell, no politician Black or White, has a better articulation of the shortcomings of Clinton-Gore on economic issues, criminal justice issues and health issues. As a result I see Nader getting anywhere from 5 to 15% of the Black vote.

The second reason is Gov. George W. Bush. What many political analysts and commentators don't realize is that Blacks already have major points of agreement with Republicans on many issues. That has never been the problem. The challenge for Blacks that agree with the Republican Party on tax, education and even abortion issues has been swallowing all of the divisive personalities and rhetoric that permeate the GOP's ranks, as well as the reality that an extreme group that Blacks believe is racist, has always seemed to find a home in the Republican Party.

Gov. Bush has modestly but successfully begun to allay these fears. It is a long process but his advocacy of "compassionate conservatism", embrace of popular Black preachers like Bishop T.D. Jakes, and "hiding" of the extreme wing and divisive personalities in the Republican Party will pay off in November. Gov. Bush clearly is not repeating the mistakes of the Dole-Kemp ticket in this regard.

Rev. Jackson surely recognizes this. Why do you think that in his speech at the Democratic convention last night he had to remind Blacks that the GOP is the Party of Helms, Delay and Thurmond? He knows that the image of those personalities is noticeably absent from Gov. Bush's campaign. Not to mention that two of the most unpopular Republicans of all-time, among Blacks - Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani are now off of the scene. It is hard to maximize Black turnout without these two polarizing figures.

Under these circumstances, Bush could get anywhere from ten to twenty percent of the Black Vote.

The third and most unpredictable factor is Minister Farrakhan who intends to direct some serious political traffic this election and who did the most to generate the emergence of the 1.7 million "soft" Democrats. He is the wildcard in all of this. All professional Democratic advisors know that if Minister Farrakhan had endorsed a candidate in 1996 the outcome could have been different and at the very least, his endorsement of a non-Democrat would have knocked significant numbers off of that 1.7 million who primarily went for Clinton.

The potential of Minister Farrakhan endorsing either Gov. Bush or Ralph Nader is an absolute nightmare for Gore's ace consultant Bob Shrum and the Team Gore strategists. The Minister has indicated that it is possible that he may endorse a presidential candidate near the time of his Million Family March on October 16th. And there are significant points of agreement between the Minister and both Nader and Bush not to mention Pat Buchanan who appears to be making a mess of things in the Reform Party.

Minister Farrakhan also has major points of agreement with the Gore-Lieberman ticket and has already said as much, but it is doubtful that forces inside of the Democratic Party establishment, led by Robert Strauss and a few other lobbyists will permit the Gore-Lieberman ticket to embrace a political agenda or movement, led in part, by Minister Farrakhan.

The Minister's advocacy of a National Agenda presents a quandary for the Gore-Lieberman ticket because aspects of the Agenda express points of agreement with all four major political candidates -making it possible that independent of the words and actions of Buchanan, Bush, Nader and Gore - he could very well endorse any of the four candidates.

In all of the controversy over what Minister Farrakhan did and did not say over the weekend, reporters missed the issues that he said he was interested in: affirmative action, vouchers, reparations, a pro-life stance on abortion, a U.S. foreign policy that was fair to Africa and Muslim and Arab nations as well as the cleaning up of the entertainment industry. What do you call a man who supports all of these things? How do you handle him? Especially with his incredible ability to articulate and mobilize human beings, in such large numbers? You can call him an "anti-Semite" all day long, that smokescreen will not scare Black people away from him - including the "soft" Democrats that could determine the outcome of this election.

So Neal, don't give too much credit to the selection of Sen. Lieberman if as much as a combined 30% of the Black vote goes to Nader and Bush. In just one day look at how the Black Political Establishment has caved in to the desires of the Party establishment. The "Lieberman effect" diminishes every day for these loyal Democrats.

Take your eyes off of the Black political establishment and keep them on the 1.7 million Blacks whose support for the Democratic Party in the 1996 election was weak at best. And while your eyes are on them keep your ears to the street and listen to the rumblings of an even larger number of Blacks that are totally independent and may register to vote this year. The streets don't lie...


Cedric Muhammad

Wednesday, August 16, 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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