Thursday, June 17, 2004

Bush Shouldn't Write Off the Black Vote

Here is a timely piece by of all people, Juan Williams. I will not go into a lengthy discourse on the issue, other then to say for too long, minorities have been in the pocket of the lib/dems and really are not much better off for having been. - Sailor

June 16, 2004
Bush Shouldn't Write Off the Black Vote
New York Times

ASHINGTON — With the presidential election only a few months away, it is time for President Bush to unleash his secret weapon — his relationship with black and Hispanic voters.

The president is already winning a third of the popular vote among Hispanics, according to a Zogby International poll taken this spring. With advertisements and outreach focused on reforms to allow easier immigration for workers, the president has a good chance to add to his numbers among Hispanics.

But in a close race, the key to re-election rests on the president's ability to increase his percentage of the black vote. Here, he has the chance to make tremendous gains — if only because he now has practically no support among black voters. A May Washington Post/ABC News poll showed the likely Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry, with a 79 percent to 6 percent lead over Mr. Bush among black voters. If the president gets only 6 percent of the black vote this year he will have achieved the near impossible task of getting a lower percentage of black votes than he did in 2000, when he won 8 percent.

But the president has the opportunity to flip the script. With a direct appeal, President Bush could win at least 20 percent of the black vote — and the White House.

How can he attract those votes?

First, the field is open. Compared with previous Democratic campaigns, Mr. Kerry's has done a poor job of reaching out to black voters. As Donna Brazile, Al Gore's campaign manager in 2000, said recently, "Don't expect me to go out and say John Kerry is a great man and a visionary if you're not running ads on African-American or Hispanic cable networks. Fair is fair. So send my dad a postcard, send my sisters a bumper sticker." The Kerry campaign has also been notable for its lack of blacks and Hispanics among the candidate's top advisers. And Mr. Kerry has rarely been identified with issues that compel black voters — notably affirmative action.

Second, it's increasingly clear that blacks are no longer willing to vote as a bloc, automatically lining up with the Democrats. This is particularly true of younger black voters. A 2002 poll by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research group based in Washington, found a shift in the political identification of black voters. For example, 34 percent of 18- to 25-year-old black voters identified themselves as independents. Overall, 24 percent of black Americans of all ages see themselves as independents — a four percentage point increase since the 2000 election. And now 10 percent of blacks call themselves Republican, a six percentage point rise since 2000.

Young black Americans seem ready for a forthright conversation about race and politics. While many older blacks responded with anger to Bill Cosby's recent call for poor black people to take more responsibility for their problems, the young people I encountered were uniformly supportive of Mr. Cosby's words.

It's worth noting that for this group, the president has an issue with considerable appeal: school vouchers. Despite strong opposition from civil rights leaders (and Democrats), 66 percent of blacks and 67 percent of Hispanics favor vouchers, according to a recent Newsweek poll. That is higher than the 54 percent of whites who say they want to see vouchers used to give students access to better schools.

Third, Mr. Bush has a network to make a pitch to black voters — the black church. Despite some bumps along the way, black churches remain generally enthusiastic about the president's faith-based initiative. The president has used his appearances before faith-based groups as a way to communicate with black Americans. It was no surprise that Mr. Bush used a speech to ministers to condemn Senator Trent Lott for expressing kind words about Strom Thurmond's segregationist past.

And then there is the president's top selling point with black voters — his track record of appointing minorities to top positions. There are three black cabinet secretaries in the Bush administration: Alphonso Jackson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development; Rod Paige, secretary of education; and Colin Powell, the secretary of state.

What's more, the administration official most closely identified with the president is a black woman, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser. By giving Ms. Rice and Mr. Powell so much clout, President Bush is miles ahead of any other president, Democrat or Republican, in his treatment of black people. More important, the president, by appointing people of genuine talent and ability, has created a climate where tokenism is rarely part of the debate. After all, Mr. Powell consistently has a higher approval rating for his job performance than any other administration official.

This is the record that President Bush can draw on to win a larger share of the black vote. But he has to want to do it. In private conversations, administration officials make the case that they want the black vote. But it is also clear that they are not planning to work hard to get it — in part because they are still angry over the black response to their efforts in 2000.

Interestingly, the anger predates the post-election sparring in Florida. It has its roots in an ad, run nationally by the N.A.A.C.P., that implied that Mr. Bush, as governor of Texas, did not want to punish the white men who attacked and killed James Byrd Jr., a black man, in Jasper, Tex., in 1998.

The ad distorted a complex situation. As governor, Mr. Bush took the conventional conservative position that hate crimes legislation could lead to a dangerous increase in prosecutorial power. Mr. Bush argued that there were adequate criminal penalties to punish Mr. Byrd's assailants. No matter: the N.A.A.C.P. broadcast its ad. Mr. Bush, who won 30 percent of the black vote and 47 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 1998 gubernatorial campaign, was introduced to minorities as a man willing to stand with white lynch mobs.

If President Bush wants to return to the White House, he needs black Americans to vote for him; in swing states in the South and Midwest, they could make all the difference. To do that, though, the president needs to begin reaching out to black Americans. Fortunately, he has a lot to say.

Juan Williams, senior correspondent for NPR and political analyst for Fox News Channel, is the author of "My Soul Looks Back in Wonder: Voices of the Civil Rights Experience."

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