Fighting dirty for the black vote

Posted: Mar 04, 2005 12:00 AM

Donna Brazile is uneasy. She has noticed something highly threatening to her party, and she's sounding the alarm. In a column for Roll Call newspaper, Brazile, Al Gore's campaign manager, warns her fellow Democrats that Republicans are seeking to make inroads into the African-American vote. "Once they (black voters) start listening to Republicans, some may even like what they hear." Egad.

 Brazile notes that in "many key states, including Ohio, Florida and Michigan, the GOP increased its percentage of the black vote by making a modest investment of resources, reaching out consistently to ministers and polarizing the black community with divisive wedge issues such as same-sex marriage."

 Leaving aside Brazile's interpretation (who is polarizing, those who push gay marriage or those who push back?), the numbers are certainly intriguing. While Republicans gained a relatively modest 3 percentage points in the overall black vote between 2000 and 2004, going from 8 percent to 11 percent, the party's performance in several large states was more substantial. In Texas, the GOP won 15 percent; in California, 18 percent; and in Ohio, 16 percent.

 From Donna Brazile's perspective, this is frightening. Her disquiet was not eased when she attended Tavis Smiley's forum in Atlanta last month called "The State of the Black Union 2005." This year, wrote Brazile, "in addition to debating the predictable myriad of national issues, we found ourselves discussing new players in the dialogue -- blacks who lean Republican."

 Brazile is saying out loud what Democrats have been quietly worried about for many years now. As I point out in my new book, "Do-Gooders": "It is a plain fact of American political life today that Democrats are completely dependent on black votes. The day African-Americans stop casting 80 percent to 95 percent of their votes for Democrats is the day Democrats stop winning elections. ... In the year 2000, George W. Bush won 54 percent of the white vote and 31 percent of the Hispanic vote. But Al Gore won 90 percent of the black vote and thus topped Bush in the total popular vote." Democrats at the national level consistently win fewer than 50 percent of white votes.

 The Democrats' answer to this lopsided equation has been to stoke racial animosity and distrust wherever possible. The more that African-Americans can be made to feel targeted, victimized and despised, the easier it is for Democrats to pose as their friends and champions. We have thus witnessed countless episodes over the past decade and a half when liberals have invented racist incidents.

 Brazile herself contributed to this myth-making when she declared that the results of the 2000 election in Florida represented "a systematic disenfranchisement of people of color and poor people," adding that "in disproportionately black areas, people faced dogs, guns, and were required to have three forms of ID."

 This is pure fiction. So were Democrats' claims that George W. Bush somehow condoned the dragging murder of James Byrd in Texas, or that Judge Charles Pickering was soft on the KKK, or that black churches in the South were targets of a racist arson conspiracy.

 Democrats have been hoping to prevent Republicans from speaking to African-Americans by creating the equivalent of radio jamming. They've spewed so much falsehood and emotion into the air that they hope Republicans cannot be heard over the din.

 But the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman, together with the ambitious President George Bush, are attempting to penetrate that barrier. By seeking out black ministers like Bishop Eddie Long and others, they are saying: "Give us a chance, and we'll give you a choice. A choice in education ... a choice to own a business, a choice to own a home."

 Republicans have made this pitch before without notable success. But it does seem that Mehlman has more of a sense for the music with black audiences. Appearing at the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Mehlman told his audience of business owners that "the party of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass is not complete without more African-American support and participation."

 The expanding black middle and upper classes ought to be fertile ground for the Republican message of entrepreneurship, traditional families and improved education. But Democrats have fought dirty for this constituency, and the smart money is on more of the same in the future.