Schwarzenegger Bashing Bad Option for African-Americans

The moment Arnold Schwarzenegger hinted that he might run for California governor, black leaders and black Democrats unleashed virtual holy war against him. They accused him of being a Nazi sympathizer, a racist, and a rightwing stalking horse for President Bush. There was not a shred of evidence that any of this was true. But that didn't matter. Arnie is foreign-born, made his wealth and fame as a white macho action hero, and is a Republican. The overwhelming majority of California blacks are liberal, Democrats. This was enough to stoke fear and panic among them. Now that action hero Arnold is Governor Arnold that fear and panic has geometrically soared. Even after his crushing victory, some civil rights leaders threatened lawsuits, and a black Congressperson called for a recall against him.

But blacks have three options with Governor Arnold. They can continue to bash, saber rattle, and spread more false political rumors about him, ignore him, or reach out him, and demand that he reach back. The first two options are silly, childish, and ultimately politically damaging.

They guarantee a repeat of the racial freeze out of the Reagan years. Black leaders and President Reagan declared each persona non grata. This cost blacks dearly. Republican conservatives launched a withering assault on affirmative action, slashed and burned social and education programs, and pandered to the Party's most rabid, ultra-conservative elements. The anti-Republican stealth warfare cemented the belief among blacks that the Republican Party is an insular, bigoted party eternally hostile to their interests. Black leaders dug their heels in and called any black that made any attempt to politically bridge build to Republicans a racial traitor.

The third option is to avoid this disastrous mistake and challenge and engage Schwarzenegger on crucial policy issues. The reality is that he will be in office for at least three years. And there are compelling things about him, his election, and his tenure in Sacramento that make this option practical. While the much-reviled former Republican governor Pete Wilson was a principal Schwarzenegger advisor, and he surrounded himself with Wilson operatives, Schwarzenegger claims to be pro-gun control, pro-choice, and pro-gay rights, and he defied conservative Republicans and opposed Ward Connerly's Racial Privacy Initiative. Wilson was none of these things and probably would have championed Connerly's initiative. Schwarzenegger's social issue moderation was a cold slap to core Republican principles, and policies chiseled in stone by successive Republican governors stretching back to Reagan in the 1960s. Schwarzenegger has also given no sign that he is a rabid opponent of affirmative action, and greater civil liberties protections.

Also, an encouraging number of black voters were not straightjacketed by mind-numbing obedience to the Democrats. Nearly twenty percent of black voters ignored the drum beat, frantic plea of civil rights leaders and black Democrats to savage Schwarzenegger, and backed him. More than 20 percent voted for the recall of Gray Davis. The number of Latinos and Asians that supported Schwarzenegger was much higher. His victory was hardly a victory solely of and by white, conservative Republican males.

In state and national politics, the willingness of a huge segment of Latinos to spread their vote around among Republicans and Democrats has paid some big dividends. They have pushed the Republicans to stress health care, education, minority business, and education programs and to knock-off the immigrant bashing, increase funding for bi-lingual education programs, champion greater Latino political representation, and vastly increase spending on outreach programs to corral more Latino voters.

Schwarzenegger boomed at his election night victory celebration that he would be the governor of all the people. He says that he will fight special interests, devise a state saving budget, and repeal the hated car tax, but if he really means what he says about being the people's champion he will also deal with the other issues that blacks demand that state officials address.

They include substantial aid to small business, greater funding to improve inner city public education, vastly expand urban enterprise zones, provide bigger tax breaks and credits for businesses to train and hire the hard core unemployed, close the digital divide in technology and computer access and training between the middle-class and the minority poor, and confront the thorny issues of racial profiling, drug policy reform, and the three strikes law. He must also make political appointments that reflect the diversity of California.

Then there's the HIV/AIDS crisis. It has reached near epidemic proportions in some black communities. Schwarzenegger should also follow Bush's lead and increase funding for AIDS prevention, treatment, and education programs. California voters gave Governor Arnold a big mandate to govern the state.

Though black voters did not play a decisive role in giving him that mandate, they still must lay their agenda squarely on his table. But they can't do that by bashing him or pretending he doesn't exist.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.

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