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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Smith: Democrats and Black men

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Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has consistently trailed incumbent Brian Kemp in the rematch of their 2018 contest, which Kemp won by just 55,000 votes. Kemp’s consistent lead might be somewhat surprising given that he provoked former President Donald Trump’s ire. Kemp refused to participate in Trump’s scheme to try to overturn Georgia’s 2020 presidential election results. That hurt his standing among Republicans.

Further, Abrams is generally beloved among Democrats due to her grassroots voter registration efforts that culminated in Georgia electing two Democratic senators — one Black and one Jewish — in 2020.

However, by Abrams’ own admission, the difference this year is that Black men are not supporting her in high enough numbers. What gives?

As I’ve written previously, Democrats are in trouble when it comes to Black voters in general — and Black men in particular. That party is notorious (and not in a good way) for swooping into Black churches, civic organizations and neighborhoods during the last few weeks or even days before an election. To compound matters, they don’t spend nearly enough money on Black media, pollsters or political consultants.

This sad fact is that Democrats have long taken the Black vote for granted. That puts African Americans in a difficult position because the Republican Party isn’t a viable alternative for the vast majority of us due to its obstinate stance against racial equality, especially the right to vote.

Another issue is that Black men, especially those who are Gen X or older, are generally not as progressive as white Democrats. Also, there is evidence from 2020 exit polls that a fair percentage of younger Black men were drawn to Trump’s economic message and his willingness to buck the establishment.

In recent years, the Democratic Party has given lip service to the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). But, I’m old enough to remember Republicans trying to brand themselves as “the big tent party.” Of course, they have long since abandoned that risible claim. They’re even quick to label as “RINOs” their fellow travelers who don’t reflexively toe the party line (especially when it comes to Trump). But is the Democratic Party substantively better?

Democrats claim to be the party of “tolerance.” The problem is that too many of them aren’t tolerant, especially when it comes to political thought that diverges from party orthodoxy. While the Republican Party has shifted too far to the right, the Democratic Party is lurching evermore leftward. This is breeding an ethos of ever more rigid fealty to an ever more specific set of progressive ideals — and biases.

I vividly remember leaving President Barack Obama’s first inaugural address. A woman who was within earshot lamented the fact that the new president asked a Christian minister to pray during the ceremony. It was odd to me that this person wasn’t content to revel in Obama’s historic victory; she was focused on the fact that not all Democrats are Christian. This is the mirror image of Republican narrowmindedness, and it is becoming more common.

There isn’t much daylight between being upset that Obama might be Muslim and being upset that he is openly Christian. While the Republican Party should be criticized for what it is, the Democratic Party should be criticized for not being what it pretends to be. In short, the Democratic Party is becoming less democratic.

This leads me back to the Abrams campaign, the 2020 midterms and the 2024 presidential election. The fact that Donald Trump fared better among Black men in 2020 than he did in 2016 should have been a wake-up call for Democrats. It wasn’t, and that’s a big problem vis-à-vis their attempts to maintain power. (Incidentally, much the same is true for Latino voters, who are proving to be anything but a monolith.) This will become even clearer when Republicans nominate a “Trump-light” candidate for president.

Most Blacks agree with President Biden and the Democratic Party in supporting the Ukrainian war effort, fighting climate change and opposition to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. Yet, the party must begin to exhibit a greater zeal for the specific interests of Black voters — without whose support they would not be in power.

Democratic leaders need to take a long look at themselves and make some dramatic changes. A hyper focus on abortion, combined with not enough focus on racial justice, voting rights and economic issues will continue to cost them Black support. Fortunately for that party, there is still time to make a course correction.

Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com.

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