Is Dean the Blackest White Candidate We Can Find?
It's a given that black candidates are unelectable. So who's the most black-friendly white candidate the Democrats have to offer?
Byting News: Is Dean the Blackest White Candidate We Can Find?
By Tanu T. Henry, Africana.com, September 15, 2003
The past several months of Democratic campaigning were a frustrating spectacle, as most of the putative frontrunners attempted to sound "presidential" while steering clear of any direct criticism of President George W. Bush's increasingly disastrous international and domestic policies. Reticence on the parts of Kerry, Lieberman, Gephardt et al. backfired though, having the unintended consequence of clearing the way for a vocal outsider candidate to move to the front of the pack; the last few weeks have seen the insiders chasing a new frontrunner: Vermont Governor Howard Dean.
At last week's Congressional Black Caucus-hosted debate all nine democratic candidates finally unleashed their inner outsider, speaking in a nearly united voice of criticism against Bush's bumbling of the economy and Iraq. Enlivened, perhaps, by the outsider-ish setting (Morgan State's never been googled this much in its history), the candidates expressed varying points of views on issues from universal healthcare to improved education and, finally, provided what the democratic party needs most: a blast of humor.
Through it all, Dean played it pitch-perfect, ranging from plainspoken sincerity to taunting schoolboy wit. He parried Ed Gordon's question about his ability to connect with black voters with a nice barb ( http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/july-dec03/debate_9-10.html) -- "Well, if the percentage of minorities that's in your state has anything to do with how you can connect with African American voters, then Trent Lott would be Martin Luther King."
He even, as Slate's William Saletan pointed out ( http://slate.msn.com/id/2088124/), turned Joe Lieberman's patented moral disapproval bit against him ("I'm disappointed, Joe," he said, pulling a long face when Lieberman questioned his commitment to Israel).
Thursday, Dean asked former NATO commander and, Wesley Clark, the guy Democrats all over strongly believe could be Bush's toughest challenge, to be his running mate. With Dean's irreverence and Clark's military credentials, the two would form a formidable tag team, maybe even one capable of winning election come November 2004. ( http://www.voanews.com/article.cfm?objectID=123EF57E-EFAD-4C18-A0FE19D4A3011F76)
It's quite easy to predict the political vector of a Dean political argument during any debate. But the backlash has begun. ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles) First, his overstated claim in the last debate that he is the only white candidate who can talk frankly about race in front of white audiences made his fellow (white) democrats yelp in protest.
"Governor Dean is trying to use positioning on race as a means of defining himself against his Democratic colleagues," said Jennifer Palmieri, John Edwards's spokeswoman. ( http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2003/09/11/rivals_dispute_dean_on_race_issue_claim/) "[Race] shouldn't be used as a political football."
And then House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi criticized Dean in a public letter for advocating that the United States take a neutral position in negotiations between Israel and Palestine. ( http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/politics/20030911-0146-dean-israel.html) "On the contrary, in these difficult times we must reaffirm our unyielding commitment to Israel's survival and raise our voices against all forms of terrorism and incitement," wrote Pelosi. While Pelosi's concerns about the state of Israel are understandable, Dean's insistence that only impartiality can make the United States a "credible" go-between in the Middle East conflict follows a smarter line of reasoning.
And what of the Democratic field's actual black candidates? Al Sharpton -- the Democrat's necessary extreme left bandleader -- fired stinging witticisms that made the wisecracks of Bob Graham ("Osama Been Forgotten") and the rhyming two-liners of Dick Gephardt ("Like father, like son, one term and he's gone") seem like political horseplay.
Don't come to our debate and disrupt it, Sharpton demanded of supporters of Libertarian presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche, who heckled candidates while they tried to answer questions. Sharpton even threatened to have members of his National Action Network tame the protesters, a comment that drew criticisms from conservative commentators, including Rush Limbaugh, the next day for its "thuggery" and lack of presidential tact. ( http://rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_091003/content/stop_the_tape_2.guest.html)
Dennis Kucinich and Carol Mosely Braun win applause for their charm and convincing sincerity. Kucinich votes his conscience in congress as in his opposition to the war in Iraq. And he's bound to be popular among poor and minority voters for surviving and overcoming enough financial and familial setbacks to rival any poor inner city black or Hispanic kid while he was growing up. Braun, for her part, wins with moving and inspiring rhetoric about her dad's devoted military service overseas even when segregation was legal at home. But both candidates should save us some time, themselves some money, and the DNC some platform space and drop out. It's clear that their honesty and intelligence won't win them the race.
For now, Dean comfortably leads the in the polls. Kerry is the clear second choice followed closely by Edwards, Gephardt and Graham. The process of elimination over the next few months will be exciting to watch -- reality TV at its realest. But it will also interesting to see how the lively and embracive discussion of race and civil rights tones down once the democratic choice begins to debate George Bush.
About the Author: Tanu T. Henry is staff writer at Africana
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