Black Agenda Report
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
October 21, 2015
“Black voters cannot be counted on to support the most progressive presidential candidates available at the polls.”
Bernie Sanders’ surging campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination seems destined to be shipwrecked on the shoals of the Black Belt – where primaries in South Carolina (February 27), Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia (Super Tuesday, March 1), Mississippi (March 8), and North Carolina will be decided by Black voters. In 2008, Blacks made up absolute majorities of Democratic primary voters in Alabama (51 percent), Georgia (52 percent), and South Carolina (55 percent). In the Black belt, the Democratic Party is, at its core, a Black party, the GOP is the White Man’s Party, and whites willing to vote Democratic constitute a “Third Force” – a “swing vote” that is too small to swing much of anything in the Deep South but can provide the margin for Democratic general election victories in states like Virginia and North Carolina.
It is paradoxical that the nominal “socialist” senator from Vermont, who identifies rhetorically with Scandinavian notions of social democracy, will likely be derailed by a Black voting bloc that social demographer Michael C. Dawson describes as most resembling “Swedish Social Democrats.” At this point, Hilllary Clinton’s most solid support comes from Black Democrats. It is a stain and a shame that must be explained.
The entire history of modern polling, and every competent analysis of voting patterns, shows that African Americans are the most leftish constituency in the nation, especially on the central issues of economic redistribution, criminal justice reform, and war and peace. Yet, Black voters cannot be counted on to support the most progressive presidential candidates available at the polls, whether they be the dubious Sen. Sanders – whose only role before he folds his tent and pledges eternal loyalty to Hillary Clinton is to cause her to lie to the people more extravagantly – or the genuinely progressive Green Party candidacies of Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney and, currently, Jill Stein, who is running on a “Power to the People” platform.
“A calculus of fear.”
Generally speaking, Black voters support national parties and tickets that they perceive as the more “friendly” to Blacks – and, most importantly, that they believe can win. It is a calculus of fear. Certainly since Emancipation, there has always been a self-styled White Man’s Party – formerly the Democrats, now the Republicans – paired with a less overtly anti-Black national rival. In the main, African Americans cast their votes in national elections seeking protection from the Greater Evil, rather than voting their line-item policy preferences, or even considering the platforms of parties that challenge the duopoly system. Believing they cannot take the risk of voting in accordance with the historical Black political consensus – which is significantly to the left of white Democrats, including Bernie Sanders – or of splitting the Black vote, they lock themselves in the duopoly trap, where an ossified and corrupt Black Democratic leadership keeps vigil. Three generations after the fall of de jure apartheid, the institutional hegemony of the Democratic Party in Black America is all but complete, effectively straight-jacketing Black civil society’s ability to politically express itself through the electoral process – certainly on the national level.
Candidate Barack Obama, himself, was only able to tap the deep reservoirs of Black nationalism after his 2008 primary victory in lily-white Iowa signaled to Blacks that he could actually win the nomination, at which point Hillary Clinton’s rank-and-file Black support collapsed. Fear dictates that Black people withhold support from perceived losers, including Black ones, in national elections.
An African American politics of fear, plus the imperative to electoral unity, combined with extraordinary Democratic Party penetration of Black civil society, renders Black voters an unreliable constituency for progressive politics at the national level. (The relatively radical historical Black political consensus does find some expression at the local level where, for example, Ras Baraka and the late Chokwe Lumumba won control of city halls in Newark, New Jersey, and Jackson, Mississippi, respectively, and New York City councilman and former Black Panther Charles Barron won a majority of the Black vote in a run for Congress.)
“They lock themselves in the duopoly trap, where an ossified and corrupt Black Democratic leadership keeps vigil.”
With Bernie Sanders making few inroads with the Black vote, corporate pundits have begun to describe both African Americans and Latinos as “traditional” and “more conservative” sectors of the Democratic Party – a ridiculous conclusion that cedes progressive politics to white left-liberals. (Publications like The Nation also believe in this fantasy.) Back in 2005, the directors of the Bay Area Center for Voting Research operated under the assumption that white liberal bastions like San Francisco, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, were the most “progressive” cities in the nation. They were shocked when the center’s own survey revealed:
“The list of America’s most liberal cities reads like a who’s who of prominent African American communities. Gary, Washington D.C., Newark, Flint, Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Birmingham have long had prominent black populations. While most black voters have consistently supported Democrats since the 1960s, it is the white liberals that have slowly withered away over the decades, leaving African Americans as the sole standard bearers for the left…. The great political divide in America today is not red vs. blue, north vs. south, coastal vs. interior, or even rich vs. poor—it is now clearly black vs. white.”
The same Bay Area researchers did another survey of where “the Left” actually lives, in late 2013, with similar results. Of the top 20 “Most Liberal” cities of 100,000 population or more cited, 8 had Black majorities (Detroit, MI, Gary, IN, Newark, NJ, Flint, MI, Cleveland, OH, Baltimore, MD, Birmingham, AL, and St. Louis, MO); 8 were majority Black and Latino (Washington, DC, Oakland, CA, Inglewood, CA, Hartford, CT, Paterson, NJ, New Haven, CT, Chicago, IL, Philadelphia, PA), and only 4 were majority white (Berkeley, CA, Cambridge, MA, San Francisco, CA, and Seattle, WA).
“Fear dictates that Black people withhold support from perceived losers, including Black ones, in national elections.”
The advent of the First Black Presidency has warped African American political behavior and perceptions since 2008, including on issues of war and peace. In an August, 2013, Washington Post-ABC poll, Blacks registered stronger support than whites for a bombing campaign against Syria. Only a minority of all races supported Obama’s threatened air strikes, but Blacks had never before in history given pollsters more warlike responses than white respondents. This sad episode is a consequence of the imperative to Black unity – the urge to circle the wagons around the Black family in the White House. It would be wrong, however, to conclude that two terms of Barack Obama has wrought some fundamental change in the historical Black consensus on war and peace. In February, 2003, only weeks before President Bush sent his armies into Irag, Zogby pollsters asked the question: “Would you support or oppose a war against Iraq if it meant the death of thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties?” As reported in The Black Commentator:
“A solid majority of white men answered in the affirmative, as did more than a third of white women. Only seven percent of African Americans favored a war that would kill thousands. Hispanics lost some of their bloodlust when confronted with the prospect of mass Iraqi civilian casualties; only 16 percent are willing to support such an outcome.”
The worldviews of groups within the same nation could not be more different. Only a marginal 7 percent of African Americans were willing to kill thousands of Iraqi civilians, while majorities of white men, and more than a third of white women, had no problem with slaughtering Iraqi innocents. Latinos were twice as indifferent to Arab lives as Blacks. The Black statistics reflect fundamental values that cannot be uprooted by two terms of – anybody in the White House.
But, we are left with the quandary: Blacks are the most leftish U.S. constituency, indispensable to any progressive movement, the ethnicity in greatest need of transformational change, and the group most willing, at the rank and file level, to do physical battle with the security forces of the powers-that-be. Yet, they cannot be depended on to behave as progressives in national elections, opting instead to rely on corporate, warmongering Democrats to fend off the White Man’s Party – the Republicans.
Such behavior amounts to a negation of national Black electoral power – which is the highest irony, since Black practitioners of Democratic Party politics claim to be playing a game of exquisite sophistication. The reality is, they have all but neutered Black people as a progressive force – in the electoral arena. But, that’s only a small piece of politics. The movement must be built in the streets, where the Black radical tradition – the searing soul of the historical Black political consensus – can be expressed in all its wondrous, furious, world-shaking beauty.