candidacy for President of the United States is now history.
Ambassador Braun, the first African American woman to serve in
the U.S. Senate, used her time on the campaign trail to champion
issues such as pay equity, single payer health care and economic
development. Although her voice and beautiful smile will be
missed, African American voters still have a lot of quality
candidates to choose from in the coming primary season. With
Carol on the
sidelines and many of the White Democrats competing for support,
civil rights activist Al Sharpton must begin to refocus his
energies on winning over undecided African American voters.
is no question that the Democratic Party cannot win without
the support of African
American voters in 2004, and African-Americans cannot affect
the issues most important to them if they do not participate
in changing the direction in which this nation is headed. African-Americans
are the most loyal block of voters the Democratic Party has,
supporting it in numbers that far exceed their percentage of
the U.S. electorate. Just look at the numbers. In 1996, Bill
Clinton trailed Bob Dole among whites 46 to 43 percent, but got
84 percent of the African American vote and won the election
handily. In 2000, Al Gore won an historic 90 percent of the African
American vote, which was critical to his success in the popular
vote. Given the increased polarization of the electorate and
the disappearing “swing voter” in 2004, African-American voters
are more important than ever.
African American voters
have especially forceful reasons to turn out to vote against
George W. Bush in 2004. Chief among these is the high unemployment
numbers the African-American community has faced over the past
3 years. Corporate earnings may be back up, but the unemployment
rate for African-Americans rose to over eleven percent this fall.
African-Americans have been particularly affected by job losses
in the manufacturing sector, meaning that they will face an even
tougher struggle finding new jobs. By reconnecting with its core
economic values, the Democratic Party can speak credibly to the
failed economic policies of this President.
are acutely aware of the conservative part of Bush’s agenda, but
are left to wonder where the compassionate part went. Like the
banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq several months
ago, the Bush White House is good at crafting images, but not
so good at providing the substance behind them. The tax cuts – Bush’s
sole economic policy – have certainly not helped African-Americans.
During the last round of tax cuts, half of all American families
received less than $100 in the mail, a disproportionate number
of them African-American. Those Americans in the top one percent
of households received more benefits than the bottom 84 percent
combined. Bush’s rhetoric of optimism in the American economy
has not reduced the record deficits he has caused, and even if
GDP growth continues, Bush has still saddled future generations
with massive debt. African-Americans already face a tough time
getting financing to purchase homes, and more deficit spending
inevitably means higher interest rates, hurting African American
families even more.
The Democrats running
for President are all proposing ways to establish tax fairness
and restore fiscal sanity by at least repealing tax cuts for
the wealthiest Americans. In an era in which all segments of
American society should unite behind common causes, many American
corporations have betrayed the nation, through fraud, deceit,
and greed. To many Americans, especially working Americans, Bush
himself is symbolic of the corporate greed and cronyism that
has undermined trust in the fairness of America. African-Americans,
acutely aware of the inequalities in the U.S. economy, must help
change the direction in which this country is headed.
in five African-Americans has no health insurance. The costs
for those who do have health
insurance continue to rise. African-Americans, more than ever,
must ensure that America’s political leaders take action on this
ever-growing problem. African-Americans have good reason to
challenge other domestic policy failures of the Bush administration.
In 2000, Bush promised America that he’d reform education as
we knew it. His “No Child Left Behind” initiative did saddle
states and local school district with unfunded mandates and strict
testing standards, but Bush never provided the resources. Bush
imposed new burdens upon states and local school districts and
then failed to provide the promised resources to make sure that
they could give every child the quality education she deserves.
What the Bush Administration has offered is more than 8 billion
dollars less than what Congress authorized for NCLB. African-American
children, a majority of whom often attends overcrowded classes
in dilapidated buildings, deserve better. Their parents take
a back seat to no one – Republicans or Democrats – in supporting
high standards and accountability. They want highly qualified
teachers in their children’s classroom and a bright light focused
on how their children are doing. But African-Americans know
that real, effective reform can’t be done – as the Bush Administration
is attempting to do – on the cheap. Democrats, who have always
championed education, must remind African-American voters that
they will push real efforts to support and improve our public
American voters, many of whom did not support war against Iraq,
must also question
the President’s record on foreign policy. They are right to question
the President’s failure to have a plan to rebuild in Iraq and
the inexcusable lack of an exit strategy there, and to wonder
why America has alienated itself from the rest of the world.
who believe the Republican Party can make a genuine appeal
to African Americans
and other minorities cannot overlook this President’s record
on race – from the appointment of conservative judges who are
not strong defenders of important civil and voting rights remedies
of past discrimination, to its failure to invest in America’s
urban centers. Still, Democratic candidates must show African-Americans
that they stand for equality and opportunity in America.
outcome of the 2004 election is going to be especially close.
As the 2002 midterm
elections indicated, even slight increases in African-American
turn out can be a deciding factor in who wins elections. Yet
there may be a tendency by some in the Democratic Party to want
to ignore appeals to African American voters in urban areas and
the South, and instead go after coveted white suburban types.
While Democrats clearly need to attract white voters to win,
ignoring the African-American community virtually guarantees
yet another Democratic loss. African American voters stood with
Bill Clinton – most especially through the darkest days of the
impeachment scandal – because African American voters believed
with conviction that Bill Clinton stood with them. At the same
time, Clinton was able to reach out to white and suburban voters.
The choice is not mutually exclusive; the Democratic Party can
reach out to all Americans in 2004.
The way in which Democrats
reach out to African American voters in 2004 is critically important.
Drive-by campaigning, in which candidates spend months courting
white voters and independents and then spend the last two weeks
courting African American voters, is simply not acceptable. Democrats
must reach out to African American voters and community leaders
now and engage them not just for their votes but to get their
opinions about how our future should be shaped. Registering and
turning out African American voters is simply vital to the success
of the Democratic Party in 2004.
numerous battle ground states – including Missouri, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee,
and Florida – African American turn out is critical for Democratic
victory. Voter outreach to African-Americans in 2004 must be
done at the grassroots, retail level. Reengaging African American
voters will depend on a sophisticated coordination of the presidential
campaigns, state parties, local activists and grassroots community
leaders. There is definitely a strong case for defeating George
W. Bush in 2004. Democrats must work especially hard to sell
that case – and to listen to the interests of voters on whom
their success depends. The Democratic Party must use its national
leaders who are credible champions of issues African-Americans
care about to spread the word in 2004.
Democratic victory can be achieved if every vote is being counted.
demand that states comply with the new Help America Vote Act
(“HAVA”) and ensure that minorities are not systematically disenfranchised
in 2004. As 2000 indicated, states have a variety of methods
of doing just that – by purging voter roles, by discriminatory
distribution of antiquated voting machines, and by intimidating
voters at the polls. There must be a vigorous voter education
campaign, training of poll watchers, and an army of lawyers ready
to monitor the elections to ensure that African-Americans are
not denied their constitutional rights in 2004.
the New Hampshire primary behind us, African American must
be ready to take center
stage in South Carolina, Missouri, Delaware, Michigan and Virginia. After
all, these contests take place during Black History Month. This
is our moment to make history.
Brazile is a Democratic strategist and former Campaign Manager
for Vice President Al Gore.