Democrats should heed Dean comments on African-Americans
June 1, 2005
When Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean speaks on African-American voters and the Democratic Party, his party should listen.
For several decades now, black voters and the Democratic Party have been engaged in an odd dance. Blacks have voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in all recent presidential elections but have received little, if any, attention from the party -- except right before an election. And that consists of little more than showing up to sing in a black church the Sunday before an election.
Dean admitted as much in a recent interview with the Associated Press: "African-Americans are annoyed with the Democratic Party because we ask them for their votes four weeks before the election instead of being in the community now, and that's a mistake I'm trying to fix."
African-American support for the Democratic Party has been significant at the voting booth. Sen. John Kerry received 89 percent of the black vote in 2004. Vice President Al Gore received an astonishing 90 percent. President Clinton gathered more than 80 percent of the black vote during both of his successful campaigns. Even Walter Mondale received 90 percent of the black vote over President Reagan‚s 9 percent in the 1984 presidential election.
Unlike older generations of African-Americans, many of whom were influenced by the civil rights movement, the newer generation has little, if any, reason to feel a strong allegiance to the party.
The Republican Party sees this as an opening. It is now trying to reach out to some parts of black America, primarily by dangling faith-based dollars, promoting an angry stance against gay marriage and homosexuality and incessantly criticizing Democrats.
But even with this strong push, Republicans, just like Democrats, have to answer on the issues.
Even with a growing economy, unemployment among black Americans has soared past 10 percent and is holding steady in this high-digit range.
Republicans are still talking of ending Social Security even though the program has proven to be important for many African-Americans.
And while Bush boasts that more African-Americans than ever are becoming homeowners, the disparity in wealth between whites and blacks has not diminished. The typical black household in the United States in 2002 had a net worth of $5,988 (total assets minus total debt). For white families, the median net worth in 2002 was $88,651, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center that looked at data from the U.S. Census Bureau. White family wealth is more than 14 times the median net worth of black families.
These crucial economic issues provide ample opportunity for either party to show black Americans why it is worthy of support in future elections.
The black vote should never be taken for granted by any party, and judging by the words of Howard Dean, it won't be.
But the vote still must be earned with real deeds, not easy words.
Brian Gilmore is a lawyer and poet with two collections of poetry, including "Jungle Nights and Soda Fountain Rags: A Poem for Duke Ellington and the Duke Ellington Orchestra" (Karibu Books, 2000). He can be reached at email@example.com.