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Barbs, Brickbats and Picking the Best on the Ballot

November 05, 2000|EARL OFARI HUTCHINSON | Earl Ofari Hutchinson is author of "The Disappearance of Black Leadership" (Middle Passage Press, 2000)

In a recent speech to a group of black ministers in New Orleans, Gore virtually demanded that they vote for him. In the closing days of the race, a parade of black Democrats, athletes, entertainers and trade unionists have begged, cajoled and pleaded with black voters to stampede to the polls to vote for Gore. They get away with this brazen racial condescension because they know that in every election since 1964 blacks have been the most loyal of foot soldiers for the Democrats, and that many blacks panic that a Bush win will spell social and political doom for them. But Gore's record on the big-ticket racial items should leave room to wonder whether he'll be any better.

Apart from a few high-profile speeches to NAACP confabs during the Clinton years, Gore paid the barest of lip service to racial matters. As a member of Congress, he supported a congressional ban on abortion funds for poor women. As vice president, he urged Clinton to sign the landmark legislation that ended welfare as we know it, and he heartily agreed with Clinton's much-publicized plan to end so-called abuses in federal government affirmative action programs.

The price that blacks pay for their blind obedience to Democrats is that they get away with a brand of plantation politics--the Democrats flat-out ignore them or appease them by tossing out a few high-profile appointments, a bit of patronage to black elected officials and a handful of jobs for upwardly mobile black professionals.

For many blacks, there's even an upside to a Bush victory. He will probably boost aid to small businesses, push teacher accountability and school vouchers, expand urban enterprise zones, provide bigger tax breaks and credits for businesses to train and hire the chronically unemployed, and promote school prayer and traditional family values. These are pet Republican themes that black Democrats ridicule but a substantial number of blacks favor.

On the other hand, Bush probably won't embrace racial diversity in his political appointments and will be loathe to confront issues such as racial profiling, police abuse and drug policy reform. This will shake black organizations and leaders from their Clinton-induced lethargy and again force them to wage their own battles to protect civil rights and social programs. But then there's no guarantee that they won't have to do the same if Gore wins.

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