Blacks Shouldn't Bail Democrats Out of Recall Mess

California Governor Gray Davis and Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante have pounded Republican candidate rival Arnold Schwarzenegger for being anti-immigrant, too inexperienced, and for giving no specifics on solving the state's budget mess. The Democrats have been glued to this attack script since Schwarzenegger tossed his hat in the ring to replace Davis in the October 7 recall election. Davis and Bustamante, however, have not attacked Schwarzenegger for saying nothing about Proposition 54. The initiative by University of California Regent Ward Connerly virtually bars all state agencies from collecting any racial data on its forms.

Schwarzenegger's silence on Proposition 54 is understandable. He needs the backing of core conservative Republicans to win. They vote in big numbers, and the overwhelming majority of them back the initiative. If there's deep political risk to Schwarzenegger in opposing Proposition 54, there's none for Davis and Bustamante. Their opposition to it so far has consisted of a casual statement tossed out as an afterthought. This is not enough.

The issues of affirmative action, racial profiling, and now Proposition 54 are the issues that ignite intense fury among blacks, who are the most solid of core Democrats. They make up about ten percent of California voters. In the 2000 presidential election, they gave the Democrats nearly eighty five percent of their vote. They gave Davis more than 80 percent of their vote in 1998 and 2002. This is a far greater percentage than Latinos and labor, the other core Democrats, gave him. Yet Davis and Bustamante bank heavily on these two groups to beat the recall. They have made frequent appearances at labor rallies, and courted Latino voters, but have virtually ignored black voters.

Their failure to aggressively campaign against Proposition 54 typifies the infuriating refusal of top Democrats in California -- and nationally -- to speak out on the issues that directly affect blacks. Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore took much heat from many blacks for spending most of his campaign avoiding appearances in black communities, and or saying little on issues such as urban investment, health care for the uninsured, failing inner-city public schools, racial profiling, affirmative action, the racial disparities in prison sentencing, and the racially-marred drug enforcement policy.

The seven white men vying for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination haven't done much better. They have also said virtually nothing about affirmative action, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, double-digit black unemployment and education reform. They get away with this 'say little and do less' about urban problems by painting nightmare visions to blacks of Bush unleashing an all-out blitz on civil rights, social and education programs. Their message is, "Blindly back a Democrat or else."

Davis and Bustamante have ripped this scared-straight page from the playbook of the top Democrats. They brand Schwarzenegger as evil incarnate and warn that a vote for him means political ruin. But that attack strategy is fraught with peril. In a recent poll, the Center for Joint Political and Economic Studies, a Washington D.C. public policy think tank, found that more blacks than ever openly blast the Democrats for "plantation politics," that is saying and doing as little as possible to promote their interests for fear of being hammered by Republicans as captives of special interests, i.e. minorities, gays, and women. The poll also found that a significant number of blacks call themselves independents, not Democrats.

Then there's the threat that blacks will stay at home on October 7. This happened during the 2002 elections. Many blacks, frustrated and disgusted with the Democrats' perceived indifference to their interests, stayed away from the polls in droves. This cost the Democrats several governorships, and Senate seats in the South.

In the final frantic days of the recall election, if polls show Davis in deep danger of getting the boot, and Schwarzenegger beating out Bustamante, they will pull another favored Democratic trick out the bag. They will make like Bill Clinton and turn up at black churches, preaching, praying, and belting out "We Shall Overcome," to a gospel beat and with a singing swaying congregation.

They'll get Martin Luther King III, and Jesse Jackson and other black leaders to get on the phone and call every minister they can and to issue a vote-for-me-or-else order to blacks. They'll be joined by an endless parade of black Democrats, athletes, entertainers, and trade unionists who will beseech black voters to make a life-and-death stampede to the polls to save the party from extinction by the bad Republicans.

Black voters are unlikely to jump party lines en masse and vote for Schwarzenegger. He simply hasn't said and done enough to generate that kind of excitement. But neither has Davis or Bustamante. And if they expect black voters to help bail the Democrats out of the recall mess, they'll have to do much more than saber-rattle Schwarzenegger.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. Visit his news and opinion Web site: He is the author of "The Crisis in Black and Black" (Middle Passage Press).


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