Thursday, September 28, 2006

MD - Another Race Getting Caught up in Race

There is a certain ambivalence in Black political discourse that tends to occassionally bother us all, regardless of political affiliation, ideological leaning or background. It's how we define our politics through the lense of our racial experience and cultural identity - although we have, through movements, protest, law suits and legislation, fiercely objected to the notion that we should be perceived solely through the color of our skin. That's a tough dilemma that's hard to shake, especially when considering that the extent of our political empowerment is critically shaped by how well we can position ourselves in the body politic.

It's easy for folks to claim that we have reached the political Promise Land and risen to a moment where African Americans can be effectively and compassionately represented by an elected official of any racial or ethnic persuasion, particularly a White one. But, let's not kid ourselves. The experience gap is more than just that - it's a gulf. Ultimately, African Americans will not experience any sort of tangible or sustainable political or economic power until they have littered the City Halls, State Assemblies, Congressional Chambers and White Houses with their authoritative presence. That will then lead to lasting and universal respect.

We write this because we're certain the mainstream, White-dominated public policy and political establishment grows tired of this "Black political" talk. Watch what happens in VA as voters, pundits and campaigns alike will grow all "M****a'ed" and "N****r'ed" out, and more issue focused. MD - much like VA - is now becoming a state gripped by "race" talk in what will definitely be a hotly contested and dramatic Senate race between two very qualified and viable candidates that seem to defy the universe of American political conventions: A White Democrat and a Black Republican. How the Earth spins its axis on that one. Many Black Democrats (who dominate the Black political scene in that state) are scrambling to place their bets and endorsements, obviously conflicted between party allegiance and cultural affinity. We've talked quite a bit about Black voters in the state (we think Steele will get 40% of that bloc come November - seriously). But, let's take a look at White voters in that state, the predominant bloc (it's hard to gauge Latino, Asian and other immigrant voting blocs at this stage)

There are a few ways this could play out according to the mood swings of White voters that day ...

Scenario 1: Former NAACP head, Congressman and now MD Senate primary loser Kweisi Mfume (D) made a good point during his somewhat tepid endorsement of Dem nominee Rep. Ben Cardin (D) as reported by the Washington Post: "The Democratic nominees for the top four jobs, he noted, look no different than the ticket 50 years ago". White voters in MD may be growing very weary and possibly resentful of all this talk about qualified Black politicos getting passed over - it implies what White Northerners are always in denial about: their sloppy racial attitudes. So, if Democrats are not careful in the clumsy bum rush to court Black voters, they might end up losing predominant White voters who pick GOP nominee Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R) in a show of support for diversity. We don't really think like that.

Scenario 2: Or: White voters might be getting tired of all this talk about "Black people" and what "Black voters deserve," encouraging them to simply vote Republican out of an intrinsic fear that Democrats will give up too much political clout to heavily Black Baltimore and Prince George's County. Cardin's camp has gotten all the Black political endorsements it needs at this point. It may be tactically prudent to now move on and get to the business of campaigning the rest of the state.

Scenario 3: Democrats, so worried about losing Black voters in the state, appear to concentrate most of their efforts in the heavily African American parts of the state - at the risk of ignoring other parts of the state. Republicans could be banking on that, privately driving the "Black talk" as a political diversion tactic. Cardin's camp (recently pressed about racial insensitivity within its campaign leadership) may privately take Steele's Reticence Level among White voters for granted, thinking they will automatically vote for the old White guy. That assumption could turn on them if they don't take a look at the Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) 2002 playbook.

Scenario 4: As we get closer to Election Day, these races will become more and more localized. Democrats shouldn't simply assume that the geo-political climate and bad Presidential approval ratings will translate into automatic gains for them. Ultimately, voters want to actually see what you can do for them or have done. How you vote on Iraq may not be the only thing that gets you in the cut.


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