E-Letter To DeWayne Wickham and USA Today Re: The Black Electorate's "Economic Vote"

As usual, I read your recent column "Racial, ideological issues split black, white voters" with great interest. I was pleased to see that one of the most significant members of Black America's fourth estate had placed his fingers more closely on the pulse of Black America. Your attention to the impact that the Black electorate's cultural and civic sentiments have on its vote is to be commended - especially in the wake of the commentary, opinions, and rhetoric being offered as explanations of Black voting patterns in last Tuesday's elections.

The most important part of your column, to me, was the following:

Whites, by a wide margin, believe that ''world affairs'' are more important than the nation's troubled economy (35% to 18%). But the Joint Center's 2002 poll found that just as many African-Americans (23%) think the economy is the most important issue facing the nation as do those black folks who believe it is world affairs.

Why the difference?

With overall unemployment on the rise, but the black unemployment rate nearly double that of whites, the sense of economic well-being among African-Americans has dropped more sharply during the past two years than among whites. Forty-five percent of the black respondents to the Joint Center's poll said they were ''better off'' financially in 2000. This year, just 18.9% of African-Americans said they are better off financially. The decline in whites who said they were better off was less precipitous, falling from 27% in 2000 to 15.9% this year.

A slightly higher percentage of blacks than whites said they are better off today because ''it's easier to improve your position when you're starting from a lower income base, as blacks do,'' said David Bositis, the Joint Center's senior political analyst, who conducted the poll

Interesting stuff, Mr. Wickham. You then wrote:

This growing sense of economic disparity is likely to stanch the slow ideological shift to the right among African-Americans and produce more pressures from black politicians and civil-rights groups for government action to even out the nation's economic playing field.

It is this paragraph that I think tells so much about why the Black community is in the condition that it is. You are correct to note the "growing sense of economic disparity" as significant. You may know that I wrote, nearly 19 months ago, about this economic disparity and how it proved the superficiality of the "Clinton boom," where Blacks were concerned. But I think your conclusion as to what this "growing sense of disparity" will lead to is incorrect. This is because you view the impact of what is taking place in a dynamic Black civil society in terms of the static two-party political system.

There really is no "slow ideological shift to the right" as you describe. Blacks have always been "conservative," as most political observers define that term. Just as Blacks have always been "liberal." The only difference between Blacks today, and say, those twenty years ago is the degree to which they "hate" a sitting Republican President. Today, it is President Bush (43), yesterday it was President Reagan. What you and many observers are crediting to a growing shift of ideology among Blacks is really nothing more than the fruit of a slow but growing sagacity and proficiency in the use of symbolism among Republicans, in their marketing efforts toward the Black electorate. President Bush's consistent willingness to employ the more recent Democratic Party strategy (Republicans first executed the strategy in the 19th century) of Black political appointments, cermonial photo-ops, and crafted speeches to Black audiences is paying a small dividend in convincing Blacks to not vote in fear of Republicans, as John Judis astutely described in a recent New Republic column. It is a strategy that Robert Ehrlich used in the Maryland gubernatorial race and one that Jim Talent successfully executed in the Missouri Senate race. Democrats are failing, in slow increments, in their tactic of persuading and frightening Blacks into voting against Republicans rather than voting for Democrats. This, along with high polling numbers for Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice, among Blacks, should not be confused with any substantive ideological shift. However, I do believe that the net result, could be a partisan shift.

I write that to frame my view that the Black electorate's worsening economic condition does not take place in the confines of a neat two-party playing field. While I do agree with your view that pressures will increase among Black civil rights leaders and professional Black Democrats about the need for government action to alleviate poverty, I also am convinced that the growing disparity that Blacks are feeling will eventually result in a competition for the Black vote that will spread beyond the confines and jurisdiction of the Black political establishment's monorail lobbying and the existing two-party duopoly. This is already happening rather quickly, on the local and state levels.


Politically and economically speaking, there is an enormous difference between anti-poverty and economic growth. The Black electorate has always wanted anti-poverty and economic growth, but because its business and political establishment placed civil rights at the front of its agenda, and the said establishment and agenda became absorbed by the Democratic Party - almost totally - the cry for economic growth which could only be satisfied, in the current environment, across party lines, has been morphed and merged into an anti-poverty agenda to be lead by the Democratic Party's White liberal intellectual wing.

Rev. Jesse Jackson uses the right language when he argues that Blacks need "access to capital," but Rev. Jackson's loyalty to, or compromise with the political establishment, prevents him from advocating the type of fiscal, monetary, and regulatory policies that would ensure access to capital for Blacks, beyond set-aside programs, government grants, discrimination settlements, and affirmative action programs. His economic mind knows better than his political body behaves - like many of us in Black America.

What you have identified as this growing sensitivity to economic disparity among Blacks cannot be adequately satisfied by a single political Party, in the current environment. The old maxim goes that one cannot solve problems with the same level of thinking that one was at when the problem was created. With this guiding principle, we can deduct that the American political and financial establishment, Black leaders, and the Black electorate are all candidates to embrace and borrow new ideas, policies and programs in juxtaposition to the worsening economic condition of Black America. The worse the situation becomes, the more likely a new paradigm will emerge with a critical mass to solve the problems that remain on the shelf, courtesy of failed and false leadership of bygone and current eras.

Certainly, Blacks will recognize the merit of government programs that style themselves as economic stimulants, but in greater numbers, Black voters and leaders will embrace and recognize, as viable remedies for the alleviation of their acute economic pain 1) the importance of tax cuts 2) stability in the value of the U.S. dollar and its liquid supply as maintained by the Federal Reserve 3) reparations for slavery 4) more radical forms of economic protest and boycott that will compliment a broader national movement against corporate greed and racial discrimination, and the mismatch of human and financial capital that results from it 5) proactive Black nationalist and pan-African economic development. Things, I believe, will eventually take a violent turn unless the political and financial establishment have a meeting of the minds with the Black electorate's pain; need for redress and repair; and its more progressive and less compromised leadership.

The government programs will most likely come from the Democrats, the reduction in tax burdens and stable monetary policy most probably from Republicans, and the offer of reparations can be expected to come foremost from political Independents. But I have already written of a scenario, for my clients, by which reparations comes from a conservative Republican, tax cuts and sound monetary policy from a White liberal Democrat, and tax cuts from a Political Independent. None of this would take place as a result of an acceleration or deceleration of any shift in political ideology among Blacks, but rather, as a result of an unbridled competition for the Black vote across partisan lines, enabled by Black political and spiritual leaders increasingly leaving the Democratic Party plantation and speaking more forthrightly about the condition of the Black community. Civil rights leaders, Black politicians and their agreement with the two-party system, shall not withstand the chain reaction caused by the Black electorate's worsening economic condition.

I hope that your nimble mind and pen will continue exploring the dynamics of this issue, which I think will be one of the more important of the decade.

Sincerely - Your Brother,

Cedric Muhammad

Cedric Muhammad

Tuesday, November 12, 2002