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J. PHARAOH DOSS

In 1985 a collection of essays was published called, “The New Black Vote: Politics and Power in Four American Cities.” The volume’s editor declared the rise of the Black electorate as one of the most important phenomena of the 1980s, which encouraged a contributor to the collection to predict, “No longer will any White liberal Democratic candidate take the Black vote for granted.”

But a book reviewer responded to this prediction. He wrote, “Yet, I suspect that in the aftermath of the last presidential election that question will be re-phrased by working politicians as: “Can any liberal Democratic candidate take the White electorate for granted?” The backdrop of the reviewer’s sarcasm was the embarrassing defeat of Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale to incumbent Republican president Ronald Reagan. Mondale only received 40 percent of the popular vote, carried only one state (Minnesota, his home state, and the District of Columbia), and was defeated in the electoral college by the historic margin of 525 to 13.

The only favorable statistic for Mondale was that he received 90 percent of the Black vote. Those numbers were anticipated by both parties based on past presidential election returns. Black support for the Democratic nominee ranged from 85 percent in 1968 to 94 percent in 1980. Contrary to the pronouncement in the book “The New Black Vote” the only phenomena revealed by these voting patterns were that one major party can take the “Black vote” for granted and the other can ignore it. (Unfortunately, at this time, the party doing the ignoring won the presidency by a landslide and proved it didn’t need the Black vote at all.)

During the 1988 presidential race the NAACP held their 79th annual convention in Washington. Here, Benjamin Hooks, executive director of the NAACP, warned the Democratic party that it doesn’t have a lock on the Black vote and urged Republicans to compete more vigorously for the Black vote. Hooks told Republicans they were making a terrible mistake by ignoring the Black vote.

Despite the NAACP’s warning to the Democratic Party weeks before the election a New York Times article was published about Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee for president. The headline said, “Dukakis said to ignore Black vote.” This article focused on last-minute efforts by the Dukakis campaign to galvanize a Black turnout. The article said, “In recent days, Mr. Dukakis has been on television news programs, visiting Black churches in Harlem and Chicago and singing with the congregations, an image that recalled the last days of the 1980 campaign, when President Jimmy Carter went to Black churches in Newark in a vain attempt to stave off the Reagan victory in that state…Black politicians in New Jersey said the impression that their tactics left was that the Black vote would always be there for the Democratic candidates who could always energize it with a song.” Black mayor James Sharpe of Newark complained that the Dukakis campaign took the Black vote for granted while chasing so-called Reagan Democrats.

Dukakis still received 89 percent of the Black vote and lost the presidential race. But Mayor Sharpe was wrong. Dukakis’ campaign didn’t take the Black vote for granted like the book “The New Black Vote” predicted. They ignored it like their counterparts because it was ignorable. It was a non-competitive constituency because the Republican Party surrendered the Black voting block to the Democrats after the 1984 results.

Now, in 2018, after another embarrassing loss for the Democratic presidential nominee the Democratic National Committee held their first fundraiser outside of Washington. This event was held in Georgia and the crowd was predominately-Black. According to one publication the aim of this event was to promote a new generation of Black leaders. Here, DNC chairman Tom Perez apologized for taking the Black vote for granted and promised it will never happen again. It was reported that applause broke out and heads nodded in appreciation before Perez could finish being sorry. Unfortunately, this new generation of Black leaders ignored the fact that the DNC chairman took for granted their acceptance of the apology.

(J. Pharaoh Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)

 

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