PBS plays the race card

Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

10/1/2007 12:00:17 AM - Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

On February 3, 2005 I sat on the set of the Tavis Smiley Show. I’ll never forget that day. An article about our organization, the High Impact Leadership Coalition, had been on the front page of the Los Angeles Times just two days before. Black leaders were leaving the Democratic Party’s “plantation” to identify with the Republican Party’s moral agenda. The idea was that the values voters of 2004 were not just old white guys from the South; they were an array of people from the most unlikely neighborhoods and backgrounds.

Excited about the Bush victory in 2004, I saw it as the beginning of a new partnership of the religious right and the black community. Reflecting these views, I penned these words in an article that appeared in the New York Sun Times on election day, November 2004:

“Both parties have largely ignored the black vote until the last six weeks of the campaign. Many black voters feel like the other woman in an affair. They are jostled from place to place and forced to wait in the shadows. Promise after promise is made but very few promises are kept. While both Republican and Democratic parties are married to others, they still tiptoe to her door at midnight.

Loved only for what she can give, the black voter has got to ask, ‘At what price will I sell my love?’

The new black church is helping the black community rise above the devalued lover syndrome by recommending that she end her longstanding, tawdry affair with the Democratic Party. An uncompromising generation of black Christians is emerging. These people are bold enough to dream that they can help create a just and moral America.”

Let’s take a look at the actual transcript of the Tavis Smiley show on Feb 3, 2005:

Tavis: …let me just ask what you think the president's outreach to black America vis-à-vis black churches accomplished in this last election?

Jackson: Well, I think it got him elected…

Tavis: …he jumped from like 9% to 11%, but you argue that got him elected?

Jackson: Well, think about it. Only 60,000 votes made the difference in Ohio. …If he lost Ohio, he lost the race, so, really, they doubled the vote in Ohio, and that made the difference. Now, also Florida, there was a doubling of the black vote, but in those swing states, there was a major difference there, and black Christians voted just like the normative mainstream Christian community, but we didn't get anything in return. We only got the privilege of saying, hey, some of the things we were afraid of may not be acted out. But that's not a positive movement. That's just protecting territory, and we need to advance, I believe, the cause of Christians, but more specifically, black America needs to be taken seriously.”

After the broadcast Tavis mentioned that he had always wanted to produce a political document just like the “Black contract with America on moral values” that I had just discussed on his program. Naturally, he emphasized that his agenda would be broader and much more secular. To my surprise, I was invited a few weeks later to speak at his 2005 State of the Black Union event. The title he used was the Black Contract with America. After the event, he changed the name of his movement and the subsequent New York Times best selling book to The Covenant With Black America.

The idea that black voters may need to rethink their politics is an idea whose time has come. Smiley is a liberal, there is no doubt about that; and I am an evangelical conservative; but we both agree that African American votes must be sought after. We both agree that blacks should not vote simply based on party lines.

The Republican front-runners snubbed Tavis Smiley by not attending his debate last week. Unfortunately, they did the same thing to the Spanish language network Univision last June - only Duncan Hunter showed up.

Republicans front runners’ distance from minority debates plays into the hands of those that make a living from stereotyping them. The stakes are too high for conservatives to play color by the numbers politics. The’08 election is not just about the presidency; it’s about the congress also.

Frank Luntz, a leading Republican pollster told MSNBC that snubbing Smiley, “undermined much of the progress George W. Bush had made in attracting minority voters in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. Hispanics and African-Americans account for about a fifth of the electorate.” Saturday’s MSNBC piece was entitled, “Republicans shown up by no-show” written by Andrew Ward.

The GOP front runners are provoking a disturbing question, “Is the big tent shrinking to a pup tent?” Joe Gandelmann wrote this query in an article entitled Is the GOP Writing off Hispanic and Black Voters.

It is interesting that the Hispanic vote in 2004 was 40% for George W. Bush in 2004, an all time high for Republican Presidential candidates and the Hispanic vote dipped to 29% in the 2006 election.

As I sat in audience at Morgan State, I couldn’t help but notice that at least 40% or more of the attendees were White. The questions were well reasoned and professionally delivered. I also observed that some of the biggest applause lines went to Tancredo, Paul, and Keyes. None of their views match the common black political stereotypes.

I could not help but ask, “What were the front runners afraid of?” Missing that debate make the job of blacks and Hispanics who are working for major political realignment all the more difficult.

Real change always requires risk and rethinking long standing positions and beliefs. The average person believes that the black community will always vote for Democratic candidates solely on the basis of personal, economic reasons. This is a shallow generalization that takes into account neither the sophistication or spirituality of the contemporary black voter.