Relationships can be work. Some of the major ingredients that are needed to make a relationship a success are understanding, communication, compromise, and most important trust. And relationships must be mutually beneficial. You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours. This is the way relationships work, right? Right, but it’s not that simple.
Political relationships have additional challenges. Many variables are at work in a political relationship. Healthy political relationships are hard to maintain because of money, back-door deals, lies, hidden agendas, and personal ambitions. The modern proverb is true: “There are two things in the world you never want to let people see how you make them: laws and sausages.”
Now imagine a relationship between a race of people who have endured slavery, terror, and decades of institutional racism, exemplified by Jim Crow laws, culminating in the current mass incarceration epidemic and a political party who takes their struggle and votes for granted. African Americans seem to be married, for better or worse, to the Democratic Party. Which group has been getting the better and which has been getting the worse?
I am a registered Democrat, and my political party was a tradition passed down to me like eating black-eye-peas on the first day of the year for good luck. Like most black folk I never questioned why I was a Democrat; I was a Democrat by default. My assumption mirrors that of the Party: The Democratic Party expects the Black Vote and even feels it is entitled to it. Therein lies the problem with black folk and the Democratic Party.
The relationship between the Party and its black supporters goes back decades. According to the Washington Post, “No Democratic presidential nominee ha[d] received less than 82 percent of the black vote since Kennedy’s 68 percent in 1960. In the past 80 years, no Republican presidential nominee has done better than Eisenhower’s 39 percent in his 1956 reelection bid.”
The Party’s implicit expectation of forever maintaining the Black Vote is demonstrated by the Democrats appearances in the community right before elections, hot sauce in hand, playing dominoes, and doing the latest dance craze. They show up in our community like that cousin who comes to the family cookout empty handed and leaves with three to-go plates, but instead of leaving with the last of the banana pudding, they left with our political power. Pandering to the black community by the Democratic Party around election time is unfortunately expected and accepted instead of critiqued and questioned.
In the modern era, the Democratic Party has been the party for black folk. Pastor Jesse Jackson, the newly elected Chair of the Oklahoma County Democratic Party, told the Black Wall Street Times via Email:
The history of the Democratic Party and African Americans really has its genesis in the Civil Rights Movement. The party has helped in terms of pushing and passing legislation that made the most difference to black people, i.e. the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the fight for public accommodations, etc.
The Barry Goldwater campaign in 1964 was a clear separation for black people. The choice was clear: a president offering legislation that made life freer and better vs. a man, in Goldwater, who opposed it. We have been the most reliable voting bloc for the party since the Civil Rights Movement, but while we have voted, we have not leveraged our voting power beyond reliably ‘safe’ districts and races. The reality is that the old paradigm no longer exists. This last presidential election exposed great voter diversity within the party.
In 1992, President Bill Clinton ushered in a new era of the Democratic Party. He received 75 percent of the Black Vote, was a strong supporter of affirmative action, and appointed many black folk throughout government, including cabinet positions. With his infectious personality and his “liberal” politics, black folk couldn’t help but like him.
Clinton’s popularity with southern black folk can be traced back to his southern roots. To cement his popularity with black folk, he appeared on “The Arsenio Hall Show,” wearing shades and playing the saxophone. He had us at Arsenio. He earned the nickname of “the first black President.” This ultra-cool southerner’s mesmerizing dance of cultural authenticity put black folks to sleep.
The country seems to have gained unparalleled prosperity during Clinton’s presidency. The U.S. had a balanced budget and no deficit spending, boasting a surplus of an estimated $1.9 billion in 1999. And all this was accomplished with a Republican-controlled Congress.
Despite these facts, Clinton’s policies did not benefit most Americans, including black folk. Under his presidency, NAFTA was passed, destroying unions, causing U.S. job loss, and suppressing wages. Under his presidency the pro-corporate-monopoly mentality was allowed to flourish, causing media to go from being owned by an estimated 50 companies (in 1983) to six corporations in 2012. These six conglomerates control almost everything that we see, read, and hear.
While Clinton convinced Black America of his “blackness” real black folk got poorer during his presidency.
As bad as NAFTA was, the worst legislation of his presidency was his 1994 Crime Bill.
When Clinton left office in 2001, the US had the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. Professor Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” wrote “a rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status — denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement.” This 1994 bill destroyed all the Civil Rights Movement had accomplished.
Alexander also wrote that Clinton “supported the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which produced staggering racial injustice in sentencing and boosted funding for drug-law enforcement.” Factcheck.org found that this “create[d] incentives for states to build prisons and increase sentences, and thereby contributed to increased incarceration.”
The “first black president” claims that his “tough on crime” bill was what America needed at that time to deal with “super predators,” who were “hopped up on crack.”
After the historic passing of the Civil Rights Bill, the Democratic Party’s greatest accomplishment to black folk was the election of the first actually black President. With his election, the Democratic Party thought it had solidified its long-held position as the party of and for black folk.
Obama was a Harvard graduate, with a beautiful wife, and two daughters. I’ll forever remember watching him walk on that Chicago stage with his beautiful family, while tears streamed down my face. I thought, “This was it! Moses had arrived, and he was gonna set his people free, right?!? I mean 40 acres and a mule, right?!? Hope and Change, right?!?”
When evaluating Obama, too many black folks were enamored with symbolism, ignoring substance.
Giving an honest critique of the Obama presidency is like talking back to your parents or drinking almost all of the red Kool-Aid and leaving just a drop in the pitcher.
No one president should be above examination, but to most black folk, critiquing Obama is a capital offense punishable by revocation of your “Black Card,” and name calling. Names like “sell-out,” and “hater,” lead to being told that you have a “crab in the basket mentality” and my favorite, “You ain’t say nothing when Bush was president.”
Despite these criticisms…substance should always trump symbolism.
I understand the appeal of Symbolism. Symbolism lets you feel proud when you see Obama, swag on high, walking across the White House lawn. Symbolism makes you puff your chest with pride when you hear him articulate responses, in a composed, unapologetic manner, withstanding the blatant disrespect that he endured under his entire presidency. Symbolism makes you angry when you hear the constant negative statements about Michelle Obama’s appearance.
Obama has earned our respect because he gracefully endured contempt on a level that may never be seen again. But what is the legacy of Obama’s presidency based on its legislative substance?
From Oklahoma County, Jackson told the Black Wall Street Times, “President Obama was the culmination of a dream that many thought that they would never see. That’s why his election was so emotional to so many, especially among older African Americans. But there was a sense that finally, we made it, and that caused many black people to take a sigh of relief and celebration, and many stopped doing the work that had moved our community forward. They stopped because now they had a man in the White House that would fix it. Whatever we thought ‘it’ was.”
The Democratic Party and President Obama dropped the ball. This was their opportunity to pass legislation that could have benefited Black America, but instead of help for Main Street, the wolves on Wall Street received a bailout, while ten million working-class homes were lost. The Democrats, under Obama’s leadership, sacrificed homeowners to banks as policy.
It would be one thing if Obama faced blatant and calculated obstruction from a Republican-controlled Congress, but the Democrats had filibuster-proof control Congress from 2009 until 2011. Obama could have used this majority to push a single-payer healthcare bill, but instead, he gave us the Affordable Care Act, a national form of Massachusetts’s health care program, which was instituted in 2006 by then-Governor Mitt Romney.
Now the Affordable Care Act is in danger of being completely repealed.
Obama followed Clinton’s lead down deregulation road. Obama claimed that new steps to deregulate Wall Street would be more specific and sensible, which would make them more beneficial to the American people through job growth. Ironically, he appointed the same people who profited off of the recession to regulate their former employers.
Robert Scheer, author of the “Great American Stick Up: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street” said, “President Obama, and the party he heads, failed to hold the financial elite that created this mess [-] responsible. The key issue is not big government or onerous regulation but rather transparency and fraud prevention. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spearheaded the marketing of an alternative narrative, as successful as it was devious, by Republican candidates that held regulation—rather than deregulation—responsible for the mess.”
President Obama bought this narrative and then attempted to sell it to the American people without blinking.
Finally, the Democratic Party and Obama’s pro-monopoly policies crushed rural America, including the Rust Belt. And these areas would become the linchpin of Trump’s winning coalition.
Was it Obama’s responsibility to explicitly help black folk? If the answer is “yes,” then why didn’t he?
Huffington Post Pollster shows that the Democratic Party now has a favorable rating of 38.8 percent; compared to Donald Trump’s favorability rating of 45.1 percent. A study published in April indicates that if the election were held again, Secretary Hillary Clinton would lose to Donald Trump, again. The Democratic Party is less popular with Americans than the misogynistic, egotistical, bigoted, inept, serial liar, who is our president.
Emails, published by WikiLeaks, revealed that the Democratic National Committee, chaired by Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, showed bias for Secretary Clinton during the 2016 primary. This long-suspected, now-proven bias landed the DNC in hot water.
The Committee is being sued by supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders for violating the DNC’s own bylaws by favoring one candidate. During the court proceedings, which are ongoing in federal court in Florida, the DNC has argued neutrality is a “discretionary rule” that didn’t need to be adopted. The Party seems to be taking the mature stance of “It’s my club[,] and I’ll break the rules if I feel like it.”
With the rise of the Progressive Wing within the Democratic Party led by Sanders, black folk, are now, realizing that the “I’m with Her” and other slogans from establishment Democrats aren’t identifying our individual needs or the needs of our community. Issues that the Progressive Wing bring to the table, Medicare for all, free college tuition, overhauling the criminal justice system, and ending mass incarceration, speak more to our community than anything the Democratic Party has presented in the last 50 years.
The Democratic Party’s deep-seated loyalty to its corporate donors and Wall Street will be the downfall of the party. The Party supports Wall Street, even though it is diametrically opposed to the working people of America. In today’s political climate, where people are “woke” and are no longer tuning into corporate media for their news, Democrats can no longer go about business-as-usual and expect the Party to survive.
Midterm elections are on the horizon, and with groups, like Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress, seeking to unseat insufficiently progressive Democrats in the 2018 primary, the Democratic Party is at an ideological crossroads. Will the Party take up the mantle with Sanders to fight for progressive change, or will the party continue with their failed corporate-donor-driven strategy?
If black Americans are to move forward within the Democratic Party, then we must ensure that we are not forgotten, taken for granted, and ignored any longer.
We need to have a voice, like Nina Turner’s, which can speak directly and concisely about our needs and challenges. Decision time for black folks has come: Stay with the Democratic Party or forge ahead independently? Stay or go; we must choose wisely.