Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Black Voters and a Postmortem for the 2016 Bernie Sanders Presidential Campaign

We are now in the third day of the June fundraiser here at Indomitable/WARN/We are Respectable Negroes. It is one of two fundraisers that I conduct annually. The other is in December.

I would like to thank all of the kind folks who have thrown some money into the virtual collection bowl. It is much appreciated. As you know, I am not compensated for my work here or the podcast. Both are labors of love, labors that I learn and benefit from in ways that I cannot easily express. If you can, are able, and will please do throw some pennies, gold, silver, into the Paypal logo on the right hand side bar or by clicking on this link.


The final nail is in the coffin; the screws have tightened the lid shut; cue up the band. With her primary wins yesterday, the inevitable was made into the certain, Hillary Clinton is the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate. As Brother Dr. King famously said, "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice". I am unsure if his grand vision is 1) true and 2) an accurate way of describing Hillary Clinton's ascent to power, but the fact that a woman is now the presidential candidate for one of the United States' institutional political parties is a victory. In that one regard, America has finally caught up with the rest of the world .

The Democrats will now have to consolidate and make peace between the various camps within the party. Defeat is never sweet...except when it is. Romantics will understand. Bernie Sanders and his supporters will now conduct a political postmortem. What could the campaign had done better? Were there opportunities missed? Was Bernie Sanders somehow hoodwinked or "robbed" of the Democratic nomination?

In these analyses, there will be finger pointing, consternation, anger, and blame thrown about. Some of this has been foreshadowed in the spirited conversations online and elsewhere about the role of race and class in the left-progressive coalition. These conversations are not new in America. Historically, they have often taken the form of, "why are black and brown folks, as a population, not as active in left radical politics as their policy preferences (as measured by public opinion) would seem to indicate?"

During this 2016 Democratic presidential primary season, the more immediate form of this question has been focused on generational cleavages within the black and brown community. Younger black and Latino voters (and young people in general) were more likely to support Bernie Sanders than the other Democratic candidates. Many black professional activists and members of the intelligentsia also supported Bernie Sanders. Yet, a fire and enthusiasm for Sanders' campaign did not seem to spread to black voters en masse. They continued with their stalwart support of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.

Eric Foner, one of the United States' leading historians, had a very sharp and insightful piece that tried to explain this phenomenon. It can be read in full at this link. Professor Foner also has a great interview with Laura Flanders about the radical tradition in black politics, Reconstruction, and racism in the post civil rights era.

A key conclusion of Foner's recent essay:
Of course, significant changes have taken place in the past half-century. But for black Carolinians, the challenge today seems to be holding on to gains that are under assault rather than seeking further progress. It is not surprising that voters in this situation prefer a familiar candidate who seems to promise progress, even if incremental, rather than a lesser-known insurgent from a virtually all-white state with a sweeping but seemingly utopian agenda. 
Black voters, moreover, are extremely protective of President Obama. They recognize, more viscerally than many whites, how much of the invective hurled at the president has a racist tinge. No white president has been forced to produce his birth certificate to demonstrate his citizenship or been interrupted during a State of the Union address and accused of lying. When Obama is called “lazy” or a “food-stamp president,” the language, among blacks, evokes stereotypes deeply rooted in America’s racial past. To some extent, when blacks vote for Clinton they are casting one last ballot for Obama. 
Given all of the above, black support for Clinton is understandable. Sanders has done a remarkable thing in propelling economic inequality to the center stage of political discourse, thereby galvanizing support among young white voters, and some young blacks. But older African Americans have known about inequality for a long, long time.
Whatever the outcome of this election, one lesson of our history is clear: No progressive movement in this country can succeed without a significant base of support in the black community.
At whose feet do you think the defeat of Bernie Sanders will be laid? Where should Sanders and his movement go from here?  Will Sander's defeat cause of a greater fissure between white liberals and progressives and African-Americans and other people of color?

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