Why Condi Rice and Colin Powell Can't Help Bush Win With Blacks
by Dr. Molefi Kete Asante
(First Published in City Press, August, 2004)
Of the two main political parties in the United States, the Democratic Party is the most progressive and generally the most liberal. The Republican Party remains the bastion of conservative and right wing politics.
There has been a metamorphosis of the American political landscape since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency. He was the first Democratic president to win the hearts of the black population. Prior to Roosevelt, blacks tended to vote, when they could, for the Republican Party because it was seen as the party of Abraham Lincoln. Since Roosevelt’s “New Deal” the African American population has become more solidly Democratic.
There is no indication that the upcoming American election will change that fact. George Bush, even with several African Americans in his cabinet, will not be able to change the perception in the mind of African Americans that the Republican Party does not like black people, poor people, women, African nations, progressive groups, environmental groups, workers, or those fighting for their freedom and liberty.
It is an ironic thing that with two of the most powerful blacks ever in an American government the African American people are disgusted with the Republicans. Both have responsibilities for foreign policy and yet neither Colin Powell nor Condelezza Rice has been distinguished in African policy. You do not hear their voices on Congo-Rwanda, Darfur, Cote D’Ivoire, Liberia, and so forth, and if you hear their voices on anything affecting oppressed people it is cast in the normal threats of the right wing. Powell, I must confess, has been a little more forthcoming than Rice on some of the issues. They tell me that there is a softer side to him. If that is true, then the Republicans better use it because the black voter is fired up to go all out against Bush.
The only thing that the Republicans can do that might change the social and political landscape of blacks voting for the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, is to announce that Colin Powell would be the Vice Presidential candidate for the Republicans. If that happened, blacks would split their vote because there are enough blacks who want to believe Colin Powell has a different agenda than Bush and Condelezza Rice that they would go for him. I am not one of those blacks. I believe that Powell is as much a part of the war-faring club that occupies the American government as any of the others in Bush’s cabinet. It is true that Powell is not Condelezza Rice, either in spirit nor in soul. He, at least, recognizes and accepts with delight his African origin and heritage. But neither Rice nor Powell will figure in Bush’s election debacle with the African American public.
The evidence is in and the conclusions reached. This American election will be one of the most partisan in history and the black people of the country are leading the charge.
The African American people vote 80% to 90% for the Democratic Party in every election. Thus, the defining ethnic characteristic of the American Democratic Party is its strong African American base. No other ethnic community in the United States is as liberal and progressive as the African American community. It is the rock solid base from which all Democratic Party politics must flow.
African Americans are more solidly liberal than the next ethnic-religious community, the Jewish community. Where the Jews give a majority of their votes to the Democratic Party they are more likely to vote Republican than African Americans. In fact, the Jewish vote hovers around 55% to 65% Democratic. The Latino vote, meaning those who speak Spanish, tends to be pro-Democratic by a slight margin largely held back by a strong conservative vote pattern of the anti-Castro Cubans who settled mostly in Florida.
Election time 2004 will pit John Kerry, a Democrat, against George Bush, the incumbent president, a Republican. In the past four presidential elections more whites have voted Republican than Democratic. Whenever Democrats have been elected president, as in the case of Carter and Clinton, it has been the black population that has voted overwhelmingly Democratic to give the Democratic candidate the election. This is one reason the debacle in Florida during the last presidential election in 2000 still retains so much emotion for the African American community.
There is a sense that African Americans were robbed in Florida. Many thousands of blacks were disenfranchised in Florida because the Supreme Court refused to allow all of the votes to be counted. It was a moment of crisis in a democratic system and the Democratic candidate, Al Gore, with magnanimity did not pressure the situation as many had hoped.
Nevertheless, in the Florida situation, African Americans were the people most affected by the crisis. The NAACP, the largest civil rights organization, said that black voters were harassed, directed to polling places outside of their communities, and prevented from voting when they showed up at the polling places.
It seemed that the Florida election administrators were not about to allow black voters to decide the election in 2004. Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida, is George Bush’s brother and the word on the street, that is, among the common people, was that Jeb Bush was not about to allow his brother to lose the election in his state. There is no way to know what Jeb Bush did or did not do, but one thing is for certain, George Bush is campaigning in Florida like it is the one state he must win in 2004. I can guarantee my readers that the black voters of Florida, like black voters throughout the United States, will come out to vote in record numbers during this election season.
I cannot think of a presidential campaign in the United States that has brought out as many partisans as this one. African Americans are fed up. We have joined this election year sooner and with more determination to unseat the incumbent than ever in history. I believe there are several reasons for this attitude on the part of the African American population. In the first place, people believe that the Republicans, and especially the last three Republican administrations, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and now George W. Bush, have played political games with the African American people. They have not taken our liberation struggle for the past three hundred years seriously. When there was an opportunity to appoint a person to the Supreme Court who stood for Civil Rights and Justice, the former President Bush gave us Clarence Thomas, an intellectual weakling and a man who has voted against African American, African, and women in at least twenty court cases. Thomas is more conservative and reactionary than the whites on the Supreme Court.
I bring Clarence Thomas up because Condelezza Rice is much like Clarence Thomas. Both grew up with negative attitudes about Africa, African Americans, and themselves. They were often isolated in white schools, brought up in home that had little appreciation of the long, noble heritage of Africa in America, and they were whispered to by whites that they were not like the rest of us.
The masses of black voters say of Condelezza Rice, “Thanks to the ancestors, she is not like the rest of us!” George Bush’s favorite black is part of his problem with the black community. You cannot convince black America that the Republicans are serious about us when all they can do is to find “Negroes,” and I am using that term in the negative way the youth on the street use it, who will say anything to please white people or to serve their interests.
People are also pumped up to vote against Bush in the black community because they believe that he has demagogued the issue of religion, like he is more religious than John Kerry, because he prays to a Protestant God. Religion has never stopped people from deciding to harm other people. The thousands of people who were the victims of the show of force called “Shock and Awe” in Baghdad could have attested to the fact that Bush’s religion did not keep him from dropping hundreds of bombs on innocent people.
In a couple of months the American nation will elect a president and the results of the election will be extremely important for African Americans. To be sure, the election will be closely followed by people around the world. I expect the Republicans will energize their base by appealing to the fears of the upper middle classes that they will have to pay more taxes because the Democrats will want to do things for people like provide health care and social welfare.
Yet a lot of optimism exists because of John Kerry and his vice presidential candidate John Edwards, but the African American population has been looking for more creative, bold, and challenging statements from Kerry. We want to see him speak more on issues affecting Africa, liberation of the oppressed, and economic relations between Africa and the United States. He has come around to a degree since the Democratic National Convention but he will need to do even more to demonstrate that he understands that the strength of his core voters is what will get him elected.
Soon the only ritual left in the American nation’s season of politics will be the election itself. The campaign speeches, the conventions, and the television advertising campaigns will be over and the voters will go into the polling places to cast their votes. I can guarantee you that the turnout at the polls will be quite high this year because the electorate has already taken sides, and black Americans have already sided with the Democrats.
Molefi Kete Asante is one of the most published contemporary scholars, having written more than sixty books and three hundred articles.