Those big-heart Dems

Jul 28, 2004 at 12:00 am

The Democrats simply love minorities, love ’em. And they can prove it! More than half of all delegates at the Democratic National Convention this week in Boston are minorities. U.S. Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential hopeful, is reportedly spending an unprecedented amount on ads in African-American and Latino media outlets — $2 million for the black media and $1 million for Latino media. Numerous press releases promise that this year’s Democratic Convention will be among the most diverse ever. One press release I received last week shouts in its headline: “2004 Democratic Platform a Victory for African Americans.” Last week, both Kerry and President George Bush spoke at the National Urban League conference in Detroit. Kerry, who spoke a lot about jobs, received a fairly positive response from the overwhelmingly Democratic crowd. Bush managed to score points when he pointed out that the Democrats take the black vote for granted, but aside from that the response wavered somewhere between coolly polite and muted.

If there’s one thing the Democrats want to emphasize, it is their belief that they are the party for all you non-white folks out there. White folks are OK, but the constituency that they really want — and desperately need — to mobilize is the minority community, and the African-American community in particular. This thing is going to go down to the wire in November, and the Democrats already know that more than 90 percent of African-Americans who vote will vote Democratic. They also can’t help but know that blacks don’t tend to vote in large numbers in national elections, so if they stir them up enough — get them really pissed off at the GOP while demonstrating how much they are loved by the Dems — it just might pay off at the polls.

While I have little doubt that a heavy black voter turnout has the potential of delivering John Kerry to the White House, I’m not necessarily convinced that will equal salvation for black folks, but I guess that’s another story. And, yes, I do believe that Bush has to go. The fact that he has appointed a number of minorities such as Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell to high-profile, powerful positions doesn’t at all impress me as evidence that the Bush White House is truly mindful of minority concerns. All it says is that black folks don’t all think alike, and some of them are crazy enough to think Bush is leading the country in the right direction despite all evidence to the contrary. Still, I wish we had some better choices out there but, well, it is what it is.

Anyway, back to the strategy of pissing black folks off at Republicans. One thing that should definitely piss off a lot of black folks is a reminder of what happened during the 2000 presidential election. According to a June 20 article by British columnist Greg Palast in The Observer, there were 1.9 million so-called “spoiled” ballots cast nationwide during that election that were not counted. Out of that 1.9 million, roughly 1 million of those spoiled ballots were cast by African-American voters even though, as Palast points out, blacks only comprise 12 percent of the electorate. (The number of discounted black votes is based on a statistical analysis by Christopher Edley, former U.S. Civil Rights commissioner and now dean of Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley.)

To further demonstrate that black folks were systematically disenfranchised during that election, Palast presented the results of his own investigation of the Florida voting scandal which he conducted for BBC television.

“Florida’s Gadsden County has the highest percentage of black voters in the state,” said Palast, “and the highest spoilage rate. One in eight votes cast there in 2000 was never counted. Many voters wrote in ‘Al Gore.’ Optical reading machines rejected these because ‘Al’ is a stray mark. By contrast, in neighboring Tallahassee, the capital, vote spoilage was nearly zip; every vote counted. The difference? In Tallahassee’s white-majority county, voters placed their ballots directly into optical scanners. If they added a stray mark, they received another ballot with instructions to correct it.”

Palast goes on to say that our “apartheid vote-counting system is far from politically neutral,” and that even though Florida Gov. Jeb Bush had been warned in advance of the racial disparities in his state’s voting system, he did nothing about it. Given a choice between upsetting black folk and upsetting his big brother, this shouldn’t come as a shock. Add to this the fact that most blacks never voted for Jeb anyway, and that Jeb is a popular governor with a hammerlock on his favorite — and much more politically powerful — minority, the Cubans, and it’s easy to see why he didn’t feel compelled to act.

So, sure, I’d say that governor-sanctioned disenfranchisement should get black folks angry. But what should still be questioned, even when it seems most black leaders and organizations are working furiously for Kerry, is whether Kerry will deliver the goods for black folks if he makes it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. What should still be openly questioned is whether blacks and other minorities should be so fearful of Bush’s re-election that they must be cautioned against open criticism of Kerry the closer we get to election time.

I raise this issue because of the way independent candidate Ralph Nader was reportedly treated by some members of the Congressional Black Caucus who met with him so that they could tell him to get the hell out of the race and make way for Kerry. In a very enlightening interview last week on NPR’s “The Tavis Smiley Show,” Nader said that he went to the meeting expecting to present his issues, hopeful of a fruitful debate. Instead, according to Nader, one of the congressmen hurled a racial epithet at him, which he didn’t bother to repeat on the air, while the others made it clear they were not interested in his views on the issues or the presidential race. All they wanted was for him to do as he was told, and anyone who knows anything about Nader ought to know that Nader rarely follows orders.

I’m worried that Nader could pull votes from Kerry and thereby help to re-elect Bush, and I’m not crazy about his accepting the GOP’s help to get on the ballot. But what bothers me more is how black elected officials could pounce on a man whose track record on civil rights, labor, health care, gender and many other issues important to African-Americans dwarfs that of their boy John Kerry. If they are backing Kerry, fine, but Nader deserved more respect than that.

If the Democrats love us minorities so much, then they shouldn’t be so afraid that we’ll jump into somebody else’s bed the minute we hear a better pickup line.

Keith A. Owens is a Detroit writer, editor and musician. E-mail [email protected]