Sunday, August 31, 2008

Palin’s Job: Fire Up and Keep Firing Up Pro-Lifers

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Republican presidential contender John McCain is if anything a good listener. The instant he heard the loud squeals from Republican pro-life hawks that his campaign would be DOA if he dared tried to shove former Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge or maverick Senator Joe Lieberman on the ticket, he back pedaled fast. Both are moderates on abortion. And that made them anathema to the hawks.
We’ll never know whether McCain’s brief float of their names as GOP VP possibilities was a trial balloon, a deft feint, or just loose talk. But it did set things up nicely for Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Despite much talk from McCain’s camp and the pro and con pundit chatter touting her as being fresh, young, a reformer, anti-GOP establishment and an ingenious pick, or slamming her as a political school girl novice, and a disastrous pick, the fact is Palin’s on the ticket to assuage the pro-life hawks. But more importantly to fire up the millions of men and women voters who demand that a GOP presidential candidate firmly oppose abortion. That’s the price for their vote.
The polls that show that the abortion issue languishes on the far back burner in the 2008 election badly miss this. Several major polls since 2003 have shown that while the abortion question at times has slid lower on the public’s issues radar scope, it never slipped entirely off it. Americans have been almost evenly divided between those who call themselves pro-choice and pro-life. In the five presidential elections between 1984 and 2000 the majority of voters who said that abortion was a major issue for them backed the GOP candidate. Pro-life leaning voters were more likely to dash to the polls to back the GOP candidate.

A Gallup Poll Values and Belief survey in May measured the effect of pro and anti-abortion sentiment on the presidential race. It found that the pro life voter edge translated out to about a 2 to 3 percent bump up for the GOP presidential candidate.
In a runaway election for either the Democratic or GOP presidential candidate that percent wouldn’t mean much. In a tight down to the wire election that percentage jump could be huge. The 2008 election appears to be just that; a squeaker win for either Obama or McCain. The Gallup Values survey also found one other thing that Team McCain almost certainly picked up on and that’s even when voters say abortion is only a minor concern, or one of many issues, that changes as Election Day gets nearer. It found a measurable jump in those who suddenly said that they do care where a candidate stands on abortion. The big majority of those for whom it matters label themselves pro-life.
Palin is a made-in-heaven choice to rev them up. Even amidst the heavy pot shots and ridicule at her non existent foreign policy and national security resume, the GOP cash tills have started to ring loudly. The Republican National Committee gleefully said that millions poured in within hours after McCain picked Palin.

The dilemma for Democrat’s is how to defuse the pro-life hot box. The obvious counter is to fire up pro choice advocates. They also number in the millions, and an aroused, impassioned plea to them and their march to the polls potentially could give Obama the bump up he needs from the pro choice side. NARAL-Pro Choice America and NOW wasted no time in lambasting McCain and Palin. They called his picking her a cynical ploy and smoking gun proof that he’s a rigid extremist on abortion. The big question though is will the blasts do more to fire up pro choice or pro life men and women voters?
A too bare fisted, down and dirty hit against her for her hard nosed pro-life stance could backfire in another way. Many might see this as tantamount to witness badgering. In criminal court trials, DA’s and defense attorneys always tread carefully with a witness who is a middle-class or working class mother. Beating up on them could stir juror sympathy for them and cost them a case. Palin is not only a tough politician but to some the epitome of the struggling American mother. Millions of struggling working class mothers could identify with her no matter what their views on abortion.
The pro-choice groups, though, had no choice but to quickly go on the attack. Palin has drawn a harder line on the abortion issue than any other presidential ticket candidate in the past two decades and that includes W. Bush. He showed a slight tinge of flexibility by at least saying that he opposed abortion except in instances of rape and incest and when a mother's life is in danger. Palin opposes abortion even on those grounds.
It matters little where one stands on abortion or Palin. Plopping her on the GOP presidential ticket assured that abortion won’t stay on the backburner much longer this election.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How the GOP Can Keep the White House, How the Democrats Can Take it Back (Middle Passage Press, August 2008).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Obama’s Acceptance Speech Refutes Post Civil Rights Myth

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Even if Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama didn’t utter Martin Luther King Jr.’s name once in his Democratic presidential acceptance speech, the legacy of King and the civil rights movement would hang heavy over Denver’s Invesco Field. Obama’s meticulously scripted decision to break convention tradition and give his acceptance speech in an open air site on the 45th anniversary of the March on Washington dispels the myth that Obama is a post civil rights generation African-American politician.
To his credit Obama never bought into the myth. It would be hard for him to anyway. He has frequently praised King and the civil right movement, and has said that he has read and studied closely King’s writings and speeches. But even if he hadn’t read a word of King’s speeches, Obama is not just the symbolic embodiment of the civil rights struggle, but an embodiment of the still unfinished business of the civil rights movement. That’s with one added caveat and a risk. The caveat is that the civil rights challenges that King faced and that he so eloquently spoke of in his I Have a Dream speech 45 years ago are even more complex forty five years after the March on Washington. The risk is the great temptation to see Obama’s historic candidacy as the end not the continuation of the civil rights battles.
The checklist of problems that King faced and Obama now faces include astronomically high unemployment among young blacks, gaping racial disparities in the criminal justice system, resegregation of neighborhoods and schools, rampant housing discrimination, racial glass ceilings in corporate hiring and promotions, black family instability among the black poor, police abuse, racial profiling, and racially motivated hate crimes.
There are challenges that King didn’t have to deal with or were barely issues a half century ago. One of these is that race problems in America are no longer exclusively a black and white problem. That’s because blacks are no longer America’s top minority. Latinos are. Immigration reform, English Only, and the fight for political empowerment are the new civil rights concerns.
Obama also faces a glaring problem that King had only begun to wrestle with in his last days. That's the plight of the urban black poor. As America unraveled in the 1960s in the anarchy of urban riots, campus takeovers, and anti-war street battles, the civil rights movement and its leaders fell apart, too. Many of them fell victim to their own success and failure. When they broke down the racially restricted doors of corporations, government agencies, and universities, middle class blacks, not the poor, rushed headlong through them. More than four decades later there are now two black Americas. The fat, rich, and comfortable black America of Oprah Winfrey, Robert Johnson, Bill Cosby, Condoleezza Rice, Denzil Washington and the legions of millionaire black athletes and entertainers, businesspersons and professionals. They have grabbed a big slice of America's pie.
The black America of the poor is fragmented and politically rudderless. Lacking competitive technical skills and professional training, and shunned by many middle-class black leaders, they have been shoved even further to the outer margins of American society. The chronic problems of gang, and drug violence, family breakdown, police abuse, the soaring incarceration rate of young black males, the mounting devastation of HIV and AIDS disease in black communities, abysmally failing inner city public schools have made things even worse for them.
Then there’s the political rise of, and influence of black conservatives, the black evangelicals, and the rancorous internal fights among blacks over gay marriage, gay rights, and abortion have tormented, perplexed, and forced civil rights leaders, who are mostly liberal Democrats to confront their own gender and political biases. They have tried to strike a halting, tenuous balance between their liberalism and the social conservatism of many blacks.
In his drive for the White House Obama has had to walk a tight line between those who demand that he say and do more about civil rights, and those who watch hawk like for any hint that an Obama White House will tilt toward minorities. That would have rendered his campaign DOA on arrival.
Obama’s decision to peg his acceptance speech to the anniversary of the March on Washington is not mere showy campaign symbolism. It stands as a fitting tribute to the civil rights movement that challenged the nation to make King’s dream of justice and equality a reality. Obama faced that challenge as a community organizer, civil rights attorney, during his stints in the Illinois legislature and in the Senate. He’ll face that same challenge in the White House. And that can hardly be called post civil rights.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How the GOP Can Keep the White House, How the Democrats Can Take it Back (Middle Passage Press, August 2008).

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Whites Fading Fast But Blacks Could Fade Too

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

There were two eye catching things buried in the new Census Bureau projection that America will no longer be a white man’s country in 2042. One is that blacks also will fade in numbers or at least their numbers won’t get much bigger. The other is that the number of Hispanics will soar. They will make up about thirty percent of the country’s population then. That means that not only will America not be a white majority country, it will almost certainly be a bi-lingual nation. In many cities Spanish will as likely be heard on the streets, in schools and workplaces as English. The seismic demographic revolution is already happening in many urban neighborhoods. There been huge growth in Latino owned businesses, media ownership, and employment dominance in retail and manufacturing industries. In years to come the economic shake-up will be colossal in entire areas of the country.

The biggest shake-up will be in politics. That’s the one place that can cause the greatest potential for angst for blacks.

In 2000, the 23 million blacks eligible to vote dwarfed the 13 million eligible Latino voters, even though Latinos had by then virtually reached parity with blacks in the population. More than one-third of the Latino population was less than 18 years old. Forty percent of Latinos who were of eligible voting age were non-citizens. Only 5 percent of blacks that were of voting age were non-citizens.

Those numbers have radically changed. Since the 2000 election the number of Latinos of voting age and who are citizens has jumped. Beyond just eligibility, there are now an estimated 15 million Latino registered voters. That compares more favorably with the 15 million black voters in the 2004 election.

The surge in registered voters is not the only shift that has changed ethnic politics in America. In past elections, the majority of the Latino vote was concentrated in California, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. In the 2006 national elections, helped by the sharp increase in the number of legal and illegal immigrants in the Midwest and Northeastern states, the Latino vote will have national impact.

In the next couple of months, presumptive presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain will dump millions into Spanish language ads, pitches, and pleas for votes on Spanish language stations. When, not if, Democrats and Republicans cut an immigration reform deal, one of its features almost certainly will include some form of legalization plan that within a few years will turn thousands more Latino immigrants into vote-casting American citizens. Democrats and Republicans will pour even more time, money, and personnel into courting Latino voters. The potential political gain from a massive outreach effort to Latinos is far greater than putting the same resources into courting black voters.

It's sound political reasoning. That effort worked for Republicans in 2004, when Bush got nearly 40 percent of the Latino vote. The Democrats, meanwhile, maintain a solid lock on the black vote. In every election since 1964, blacks have given more than 80 to 90 percent of their votes to the Democrats. They will give even more of their vote to Obama this election.
With the tantalizing prospect of a small but nonetheless important segment of newly enfranchised Latino voters voting Republican, there's no political incentive for Republicans to try to do more to get the black vote. That even includes its relentless pursuit of the black evangelicals. Hispanic evangelical churches have an estimated 20 million members and those numbers are growing yearly. According to a survey by the Hispanic Churches in American Public Life project, the majority of Latino evangelicals are conservative, pro-family, anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage. Latino evangelicals are GOP-friendly and they have political clout. They got several mainstream evangelical groups to back the Senate compromise immigration reform bill. And while the National Association of Evangelicals stopped short of backing the Senate bill, it still urged "humane" immigration reform.

The leap in Latino voting strength and the likely prospect that Democrats and Republicans can bump up the number of voters from the rising number of legal and illegal immigrants comes at a bad time for black politicians. Though the number of black elected officials has held steady in state offices and in Congress, their spectacular growth of prior years has flattened out. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies reported after the 2004 elections only a marginal increase in the number of black elected officials. And that was mostly in a handful of Deep South states and Illinois.

There is some evidence that mainstream Democrats are already de-emphasizing traditional black issues. Obama and McCain have been virtually mute on miserably failing inner city schools, soaring black unemployment, prison incarceration, and the HIV/AIDS crisis that has torn black communities.
The new population reality is that immigration, both legal and illegal, has drastically changed Americas' ethnic and political landscape. Whites may be fading fast as the majority the great fear is that blacks could fade just as fast in numbers and more importantly political clout too.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

McCain and Obama Make Reparations a Campaign Taboo

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and his Republican rival John McCain don’t agree on much. But there’s one thing that they not only agree on, but have made a campaign taboo, and that’s reparations. Obama flatly opposes it, and has repeated his opposition to it every time he’s asked the question about compensation for slavery. McCain doesn’t even bother taking a public position on reparations. In fact, it’s such a foregone conclusion that he would oppose it no one has even bothered to ask him about it on the campaign trail.

The candidates sprint from the issue like the plague for reasons that make good political sense. They both read the opinion polls. A CNN/USA Today poll taken after blacks filed two well-publicized reparations lawsuits in 2002 found that seventy-five percent of Americans said that corporations should not pay reparations for slavery, and a whopping ninety percent said the government should not pay reparations. Informal public opinion surveys show that whites, non-blacks, and many blacks still think that reparations is a bad idea. National Urban League officials won’t even discuss reparations. For them the issue is simply too racially charged and polarizing. The NAACP doesn’t oppose reparations, but it’s an issue that NAACP officials rarely broach in any of their public pronouncements. The few times it comes up they give the politically safe answer that Obama gave when asked about it and that’s that the government should do more to create jobs and educational opportunities for the black poor.

Still, reparations advocates have grabbed at every argument in the book to dent the wall of public resistance to reparations. They insist that black billionaires, corporate presidents, superstar athletes and entertainers won’t et a dime of reparations money, that it will go to programs to aid the black poor, that it won’t guilt trip all whites, and that Japanese-Americans and Holocaust survivors have gotten reparations for the atrocities against them. These arguments fall on deaf ears. The reparations movement just can’t remove the public imprint that it is a movement exclusively of, by, and for blacks.

Despite countless speeches pleading for racial brotherhood and interracial cooperation by Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders, that same tag was imprinted on the civil rights movement in the early 1960s. It took national shock and revulsion over Southern mobs beating, maiming, and killing white civil rights workers, and the massive presence of thousands of white students in Southern backwater towns before the civil rights movement gained widespread public and especially political acceptance as an authentic movement to change laws and public policy that would benefit labor, women, minorities, and even whites.

The reparations movement does not possess the inherent racial egalitarianism of the civil rights movement. It is ensnared by its racial isolationism. The focus is solely to compensate the descendants of black slaves for the wrong of slavery, and whipsaw whites for present-day racism. Most whites almost certainly applaud the fight to improve failing inner city public schools, health care, provide better housing and health care, and to battle drugs and the near pandemic scourge HIV/AIDS affliction among blacks. But they also believe that these are social ills that slam other minorities, the poor, and marginally employed working class whites nearly as hard. Reparations advocates make no mention of this.

As a consequence, reparations comes off as a hustle and scam to most whites that will flush their hard earned tax dollars down a black hole with nothing in return for them. In a time of soaring budget deficits, corporate meltdowns, the stock downslide, and the looming peril of massive layoffs that batter middle-class workers, reparations seems more than ever a frivolous issue that is politically divisive and racially polarizing.

That’s the last thing Obama needs during the campaign. He’s walking on the most fragile racial egg shells, and even the faintest hint that he has made race an issue in his campaign would do mortal damage to his election chances. He got a frightening glimpse of that when McCain jumped all over him for his off hand comment that he doesn’t look like all those other presidents on dollar bills. Unfortunately, any mention of reparations instantly smacks of race.

Despite the colossal resistance to reparations, Obama has made, and McCain if he so chose, could make the argument that it’s in the interest of government and business to pump more funds into specific projects such as AIDS/HIV education and prevention, remedial education, job skills and training, drug and alcohol counseling and rehabilitation, computer access and literacy training programs. They will boost the black poor, not gut public revenues. This will not finger all whites as culpable for slavery.

Obama won’t do that, and McCain can’t do that. And even though the reparations question will from time to time continue to crop up, count on the candidates to keep it a campaign taboo.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).