Bitter Truth For Black Politicians in McKinney Defeat

The first ballots had barely been counted in Georgia's 4th District Congressional race between five-term incumbent Cynthia McKinney and challenger Denise Majette, when McKinney's supporters screamed foul. They claimed that hordes of white Republicans crossed over to vote for Majette and that Jewish groups bankrolled her. McKinney's shoot-from-the-lip style, perceived pro-Palestinian tilt, her criticism of Bush's war on terrorism, and her grandstand offer to take Saudi money for black causes, certainly made her an inviting target for Jewish groups and Republican conservatives. But blaming her defeat solely on politically malevolent outsiders skirts the bitter truth that more and more blacks are rejecting old-style, narrowly race-based politics. Majette did not beat McKinney by a razor thin margin. She trounced her. Blacks make up nearly half of the voters in her district. If McKinney had captured the solid black vote that her supporters claimed she would get, it would have pushed her over the top, or at the very least, made the election much closer than it was.

McKinney's bombast on the Middle East, her assault on Bush's war on terrorism, and grandstand offer to take Saudi money was yet another troubling sign of the penchant of many black elected officials to grab at showy, chic issues to get attention rather than presenting quiet, thoughtful solutions to the problems of poverty, failing public schools, crime, gang and drug violence, and the near pandemic of HIV/AIDS that has taken a massive toll on middle class and poor blacks. These are the bread and butter issues that black voters want and demand that their elected officials pay attention to. And they are getting more conservative. A recent poll by Black America's Political Action Committee, a Washington D.C. based political advocacy group, found that more blacks than ever say that President Bush is doing a good job. But even more ominous for black Democrats, a near majority of blacks lambasted the Democrats for taking them for granted.

Many do exactly that. Many black politicians make little or no effort to inform and involve black voters on vital legislation and political actions that directly impact on black communities. Their all-consuming passion is to elect more black Democrats to office and make sure that those in office stay there. They are accustomed to the unchallenged and unquestioned brandishing of power. They jealously hoard what they view as their sacred right to make all final decisions on proposing laws and supporting public policy they deem important for blacks. But more often than not those laws and policies do not boost the interests of middle and working class blacks.

Two perfect examples of this are the issues of crime and violence, and failing public schools. Polls show that more blacks than ever back the death penalty, three strikes, and mandatory drug sentencing laws. The reason is simple. They are the biggest victims of gangs, drugs and violence. In recent court decisions upholding school vouchers, black parents led the charge for school vouchers. They see them as their children's ticket out of grossly underserved and under performing public schools. Yet, civil rights leaders and nearly all black Democrats relentlessly oppose vouchers, and talk almost exclusively about police abuse and the racism in the criminal justice system, rather than black-on-black crime and creating opportunities for the black poor in schools outside the ghetto. The leaders and the politicians and working class blacks talk two different languages on these and other issues.

The political disconnect of black politicians such as McKinney from black voters has caused their free fall from important state and national offices. In the past two years they have lost mayoral races to whites in the majority or near majority black cities of Baltimore and Oakland. The number of black state legislators has plummeted in the California legislature in the past decade. They have lost dozens of local and municipal offices nationwide. But they haven't learned very much from their slide. When Alabama Democratic Congressman Earl Hilliard lost his primary election bid earlier this year, his backers claimed Jewish groups targeted him because he called for a Palestinian state. Again, it was simply much easier to blame his defeat on outsiders rather than to admit that he failed his constituents, and they wanted change.

The bitter truth is that guilt-tainted racial appeals by black politicians for black solidarity and voter registration caravans and buses into black neighborhoods are not going to make blacks dash to the polls to vote for politicians who wage media-grabbing empty fights over issues that many black voters regard as remote and foreign to their needs and interests. But many will rush to the polls to vote for someone they think can better deliver the goods. The voter turnout in Georgia's 4th Congressional district was the highest of any major race in that state, and many black voters rushed to vote for Majette. To them, she, not McKinney, represented that someone who can best represent them.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of the "Crisis in Black and Black." Email him at


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