In 1984, former UN Ambassador Andrew Young described the inner circle of Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale as “smart a– White boys” who thought they knew everything. Obviously they didn’t, because Mondale lost the general election by a large margin to Ronald Reagan.
Knowing that in a president’s second-term, the party in power usually loses 29 House seats, along with the real possibility of Democrats losing control of the Senate this year, some party leaders are trying to give the appearance they are in control and Democrats will buck that historical voting trend.
In an interview with a group of African American reporters last week, for example, Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, described how much better positioned Democrats are this year compared to past off-year elections. He spoke of the DCCC hiring a diversity director for the first time, adding a national voter training director, creating an Internet platform for vendors of color and allowing resumes to be dropped off in the field.
In other words, he talked about the kind of things smart butt White boys talk about. My fear is that another group of smart butt White boys will lead Democrats down the path of defeat unless the strategists reverse course.
The upcoming mid-term election may be yet another example of Black voters never getting the credit they deserve winning seats for the party but getting an overabundance of blame when Democrats get their heads handed to them.
The Washington Post, carried a story under the headline, “Will black voters be House Democrats’ midterm firewall?” In the story, Israel noted that in 15 of the top 25 districts being targeted by the DCCC, Blacks make up at least 10% of the voting-age population, enough to provide the margin of victory.
“We have a unique challenge in offsetting drop off with African American voters, with Hispanic voters, and with young female voters,” Israel said. “So we’re tackling those challenges head on.”
In the meeting with reporters, Israel mentioned efforts from getting commercials cut by First Lady Michelle Obama to getting Black voters to sign cards committing them to vote in November. As Election Day nears, those cards will be mailed back to prospective voters, hoping that action will get them to turn up at the polls.
The most troubling aspect of the exchange with Israel was that he appears to be putting more faith in such long-shot gimmicks as voter commitment cards than reaching the Black community through the Black Press.
In fact, when pressed on the issue of utilizing Black media, Israel said while there may be some Black media buys: “The vast majority of our budget is spent on one thing—that is buying television time. That’s it.”
That may be ‘it’ for Democrats in November if they think the best way to reach Black voters is to lump them in with everyone else who watches TV. Even if television reaches more Black voters than Black newspapers, radio stations, magazines and Internet sites, it is not as trusted by African Americans as the Black Press.
As a Nielsen study found, “Companies mistakenly believe there are no language barriers, that a general market ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy is an effective way to reach African Americans. Just the opposite is true.”
If ‘smart butt White boys’ are as smart as they think, they would recognize that in the Black community, the messenger is as important as the message. And that is not limited to the Black Press. It also applies to the largely White-controlled 527 organizations established in recent elections that acted as though they knew more about our community than grass root organizations that are on the ground every day, yet continue to struggle for funding.
Democrats face another hurdle: Sixty-seven percent of the Democratic base does not know there is a mid-term election in November, according to polling done for the DCCC by Cornel Belcher, an African American.
In addition, a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in July found: “Currently, 45% of registered voters who plan to support the Republican in their district say they are more enthusiastic about voting than in prior congressional elections. That compares with 37% of those who plan to vote for the Democratic candidate.”
Democrats need to give Blacks something to vote for rather than overly relying on Republican calls for impeachment to motivate the Black base.
According to an analysis of the Black vote by the Associated Press, African Americans voted at a higher rate than Whites in 2008 and 2012. Obviously, having Barack Obama’s name on the ballot was a key factor.
Blacks can vote at high levels again in 2014 if they understand the success or failure Obama’s last two years in office will be determined by who gets elected in November. But if Democrats stubbornly stick to relying on television to reach Black voters, they will lose in 2014 just as ‘smart butt White boys’ lost 30 years ago.