Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

27 February 2016

Bernie and “Black” Votes


Bernie, they say, needs “black” votes to win, as if votes have color. But it’s true. That truth is as much fortuitous as a reflection of our tortured racial history.

The main reason is that the South bats next. “Super Tuesday’s” primaries involve a lot of big Southern states, including Texas, our second largest state by population. And despite all the horror and terror the South has visited on African-Americans over four centuries, the proportion of them who live in the South is greater than anywhere else. In South Carolina, which votes today, over half of likely Democratic primary voters are African-American.

So so-called “black” votes may determine the direction of the Dems’ primary election. They may even pick the nominee.

Hillary, they say, has them in her pocket. She poses with African-American women for photos, everyone showing a beautiful smile. She wraps herself in the presidency of Barack Obama as if it were our flag. She wants to be African-Americans’ “friend.”

But, like everyone else, African-Americans don’t just need friends. They need allies. Friends can be fickle. They can throw you under the bus, just as Hillary and Bill did, in desperation, playing all the usual tricks of guilt by association against Obama in the primary campaign of 2007-2008.

No, I don’t believe Hillary or Bill is a racist. Not one bit. But they threw their principles of racial equality under the bus in trying to beat Obama to the nomination in 2007. That’s what “friends” can do when the chips are down.

Unlike Hillary, Bernie is a man of principle. He’s more of an intellectual and a wonk. So he may not seem so warm and fuzzy.

But allies are different from friends. They fight for you not out of transient sympathy, but from their core principles.

Bernie has strong core principles, as everyone who’s heard him speak knows. He’s not going to let the plutocrats take African-Americans‘ jobs away, any more than he’s going to let them take jobs away from anyone else. He’s going to fight tooth and nail for subsidized education for African-Americans because they need it even more than whites. He’s going to sympathize with “blacks” because, unfortunately, they are the canaries in our American coal mine. Almost everything that is happening to them today will begin happening to the rest of us, eventually, if our strong trend toward oligarchy and bossism continues. Bernie understands this.

When Bernie complained that a US Senator should be able to criticize even a good president when he disagrees, he may have sounded petulant. But he was right.

I think Obama already has been our best president since JFK, maybe since FDR. I’ve written a whole essay to say why.

But I’ve also disagreed with him at times. I disagreed with his decision not to take public financing for his first campaign. I disagreed strongly with him on allowing the Bush Tax Cuts for the wealthy to continue. I disagreed with his decision to try Khaled Sheikh Mohammed in secret military tribunals, rather than open civilian courts in New York City, the center of his attack. (I thought AG Eric Holder was right.) I disagreed with Obama’s early reliance on coal as a significant energy source, which he has now abandoned.

I was wrong on the first point (campaign financing), but I think I was right on the others. That doesn’t decrease my admiration for President Obama. I know he was not just right, but also effective, on so many things that matter, in spite of the most mindless and relentless opposition against any president that I’ve seen in my 70 years.

But that’s the point. Obama has been and is a man of principle. He’ll bend his principles for the sake of expediency once in a while. Any pol must do that to be effective.

For example, he let us know in May 2007 that he favored single-payer health insurance but thought it politically unattainable. You have to respect that kind of political judgment, especially from a half-“black” man who was smart enough to get elected by clear popular majorities, twice, in a still consummately racist nation.

But I didn’t vote for Obama twice because he was my “friend,” or because he “friended” (a horrible new verb from Facebook) some group of which I was a part. I voted for him because he was the smartest and best candidate, and because the policies he espoused made sense to me.

If African-Americans assess Bernie like that, they will see that he’s their man. He may not profess to be their “friend,” but he will be their strongest ally. He knows what has brought this country low, what has killed the American Dream, and what has made African-Americans the most oppressed of a much-abused people. And he knows how to fix it, beginning with breaking up the big banks and making higher education free to all, so that everyone with talent, including those with dark skin, can take their talent as far as it will go.

He knows that African-Americans have been victims of oppression far more than the rest of us, but he also knows that their trials won’t end until we can change the whole rotten system. He knows that the oligarchs, while not really racists themselves, have consistently used racism to divide and conquer us all, and to maintain their undeserved and unelected power.

If African-Americans realize that they need allies, not just “friends,” and that Bernie is their man, things may really start to change. Real change will not come from glad-handing or politics as usual, or from any “establishment.” The reason why we are all in such a mess is that our “establishment” is bent, and out for itself alone.

Footnote: You might wonder why I respect the President’s decision that single-payer was politically unattainable yet also support Bernie, who’s for single-payer. The President made his political judgment in 2007. If Bernie wins, he’ll take office in 2017, a decade later. More important, so-called “Obamacare,” which we now have, may be the best we can do short of single-payer. The next step is to expand Medicare, first to all the middle-aged but under-65 people who lost their jobs and their homes and are now living shorter lives, and then to the population generally. Obamacare was a big step forward, but we have to keep pushing until we get the same guarantee of adequate health insurance that virtually every other advanced nation enjoys.

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