you ever seen a race where the lead runner,
called the “rabbit,” started
off running and shocked people when it kept
on running and won the race? Well, some are
afraid that the
current race for president is a little like
that right now.
Many people think that U.S. Sen. John (D-Mass.)
Kerry is really
the candidate who will emerge victorious,
but that Dr. Howard Dean, the former Vermont
started off like a house afire and will eventually
will come on and eventually win.
scenario may well be true, but you couldn't tell
it from Kerry's formal
announcement for president at Patriot's Point,
S.C., recently. To begin with, many pundits scratched
their heads at why
Kerry would announce in South Carolina rather
than in his home state and city of Boston. But
I can understand the strategy
of trying to get a “twofer” by establishing
that he was not just a Northeast regional candidate
and that he could compete
in the South with Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.)
and, not incidentally, Al Sharpton.
is expected to do well in the South and right now,
Edwards is reported
not to be doing so well in the polls there
because the Black vote has not warmed up to him.
Kerry may be concerned that
he could suffer the same fate – that is, to
win or place second in the Northeast primaries
and then come South and
fall flat on his face. So, he is trying to
make nice in South Carolina, hoping that he
can build a beachhead to other areas
in the South.
All of this says
that the Black vote, especially in South Carolina, is key.
It constituted 25 percent of the entire electorate in 2002
and in a Democratic primary, probably constitutes up to 50
percent of the vote. So why would you suppose that Kerry's
speech would include just one line about civil rights and
his prepared text didn't even mention African-Americans.
He extemporaneously offered that discrimination should be
ended with respect to African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians
and Native Americans. The prepared text only mentioned gays
and lesbians. Maybe, it's good that Kerry went South, so
that his staff can understand the necessity for him to appeal
more effectively to the Black vote. This outing just didn't
But I'm still puzzled.
One of the strong themes of Kerry's announcement party was
his connection to the military, establishing his strength
on this issue by invoking his credibility as a genuine war
hero in Vietnam. One of the clearest signals of both his
military theme and his wish to link to the South was to find
former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland sitting on the stage with
him. Cleland was also a highly decorated war hero and a former
colleague of Kerry's in the Senate.
But Kerry's position
on the war is weak. It goes something like this:
believe in the war (so I am protected on the conservative
flank), but by the way, I oppose how Bush is conducting
the post-war arrangements (so I am protected on the liberal
flank). Vagueness on the war has become the sore point
with many activists Democrats. Sure, it is a fact that
Democrats such as Joe Lieberman, Bob Graham, Dick Gephardt
and Kerry all sided with Bush on the war, but now want
to have it both ways. Dean, on the other hand, is getting
a big push because of his clear opposition to the war and
the post-war occupation of Iraq by the United States.
fence straddling seriously undercuts his credibility on
the issue of defense and security with core Democrats.
But then, the gang of four, led by Kerry, are betting that
Dean, the rabbit, burns himself out on issues such as his
opposition to the war and then they (who were handicapped
to win all along) will come on in the finish to win the
who, like Sharpton, also has taken the strongest positions
on race and racism, just keeps on out-running the pack, presenting
the clearest, strongest issues. You'd think the “fab four” would
get it. They do, but then they are just biding their time.
How Blacks react
to this will be important, since the “fab four” have been
the weakest on questions of race overall. Will we take it
and fall in line, hoping to score with the group that is
supposed to contain the eventual winner, or will we have
the courage to push those who have had the correct positions
all the way? I don't know. These days I find that courage
is in pitifully short supply.
was prepared for BlackPressUSA.com.,
before Wesley Clark entered the presidential race.
is the Distinguished Leadership Scholar, director of
the African American Leadership Institute in the Academy
of Leadership and professor of government and politics
at the University of Maryland- College Park. His latest
book is 'White Nationalism, Black Interests' (Wayne State