If Black people were choosing sides in the primary based on ideology and issues, Biden would have little appeal and Sanders would win, hands down.
“Only Bernie Sanders offers programs big enough to convince a small portion of Trump’s whites to choose saving their sick mother over stoking their sense of racial superiority.”
Joe Biden’s corpse-like performance at the Miami debate should have caused the immediate interment of his campaign to the graveyard of presidential history. Biden’s longstanding lead in the polls, dating from before he’d even announced his candidacy, was largely due to outsized support among Blacks, who make up between a quarter and fifth of Democratic voters – and 60 percent of the Democratic electorate in South Carolina, the critical “Black” primary state. Kamala Harris masterfully gutted Biden for his opposition to school desegregation, but the stake missed his shriveled white supremacist heart, leaving Biden gasping but un-dead. A Reuters poll conducted in the days after the Miami debacle showed Biden dropping 8 percent among Democrats in general, but that his nationwide Black support was cut in half , “with about two out of 10 saying they backed President Barack Obama’s former vice president, compared with four out of 10 in the June poll.”
In heavily Black South Carolina, however, the CBSNews/YouGov poll still gives Biden 39 percent, versus Bernie Sanders (17 percent), Elizabeth Warren (12 percent), Harris (12 percent) and Pete Buttigieg (5 percent), while the latest Politico/Morning Consult poll show’s Obama’s former vice president pulling 33 percent of the Democratic primary vote, with Sanders at 18 percent, Warren at 14, Harris at 13 and Buttigieg stuck at 5 percent.
“Biden’s Black support was cut in halfafter Miami debate debacle.”
Although the corporate media polls are effectively rigged against Bernie Sanders, Biden’s appeal among Black voters is real and has survived well-publicized reminders that the Delaware politician has spoken affectionately of arch-racists like the late Mississippi senator James Eastland, whose views on Black people was clearly stated at a rally of the White Citizens Council in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956, as quoted in Robert Caro’s Master of the Senate :
“In every stage of the [Montgomery] bus boycott we have been oppressed and degraded because of black, slimy, juicy, unbearably stinking niggers…African flesh-eaters. When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to abolish the Negro race, proper methods should be used. Among these are guns, bows and arrows, slingshots and knives…All whites are created equal with certain rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of dead niggers.”
That’s the kind of company Joe Biden proudly kept in his three decades in the U.S. Senate – sins of political association for which he should forever be shunned and scorned in Black America. But Biden is now packaged as the most “electable” figure in the Democratic Party, and carries with him the symbolic aura of the white man that Barack Obama chose as his running mate. Once again, as in every primary season of the post-civil rights era, the nation’s most left-leaning constituency is willing to discard its own social agenda to support the candidate perceived as having the best shot at defeating the White Man’s Party, the GOP.
Black voting behavior in Democratic primary elections is maddeningly contradictory – but only because it reflects the bizarre contradictions of the Black experience in the world’s most successful white settler state. (It is also maddening to re-explain this phenomenon every election season – yet Black primary voter “conservatism” seems always to catch the Left by surprise.)
“Blacks are willing to discard their own social agenda to support the candidate perceived as having the best shot at defeating the White Man’s Party, the GOP.”
Masses of Black votes can be swayed with symbolic gestures (Kennedy’s phone call to the imprisoned Dr. Martin Luther King’s wife in 1960) and symbolic candidacies (Obama, the more conservative of the top three Democratic presidential hopefuls in 2008). Symbolism holds outsized importance in a nation founded on the incompatible principles of white supremacy and equality among men – a contradiction that is routinely resolved by placing Blacks and despised Others outside of humanity, so that they may be lynched, imprisoned, expelled or simply demonized for fun and profit, at will. (“Send them back! Send them back!”)
In such an endemically dishonest society – ALL of whose foundational assumptions and stories are lies – the language of Power is weighted with symbolism. Historically, much of Black politics has consisted of analysis of white folks’ coded public discourse, to decipher the actual intentions of Power – the misreading of which could be fatal to whole communities. (See 1921 Tulsa Massacre , Red Summer of 1919 .) In an eternally hostile society, “positioning” becomes a principal “strategy” of the Black political class and a staple of the general Black political conversation. For a people that have always been at the bottom of the social and economic barrel, despite periods of incremental gains, symbolic victories are often the only ones that produce pure joy and delight among the masses (Election Day 2008).
A politics of “positioning” favors the interests of the Black upwardly mobile classes, who package their own narrow agenda as the political program of Black people as a whole. It is these “leaders” that take the “seats at the table” of Power when such a positions are made available to Blacks. Their associations with Power, no matter how tenuous, are presented as evidence of Black progress.
“In an eternally hostile society, ‘positioning’ becomes a principal ‘strategy’ of the Black political class and a staple of the general Black political conversation.”
In the United States, the bar that distinguishes friends from enemies of Black people is set low. The Arkansas cracker Bill Clinton only had to play the saxophone on a Black man’s syndicated TV show to get a tentative thumbs up. Simply by not having white supremacy as its organizing principle, the Democrats have in the last half century become the “Black” party, in both the imaginations of Black people and the propaganda of the GOP (as was the fate of the Republicans during Reconstruction – until they discarded the Black freedmen). Juxtaposed with today’s Republicans, the Democrats win Black loyalties by default, as the only electoral option available that is connected to Power.
Ultimately, a strategy of positioning does not confront Power, but hopes to infiltrate and influence the powerful. The Black practitioners of the strategy point to their positions “at the table” as proof of its effectiveness, and that they are dutifully “representing” the Black masses – a circular reasoning that lots of Black folks see through, but despair of an alternative.
“Positioning” relative to Power is a formula for perpetual weakness, since those with real power can change the rules of engagement as necessary, forcing the weak to scramble for a new “position.” In 2005, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi prevented her party from holding hearings on Katrina and forbade Black Caucus members from attending Republican hearings on the disaster, fearing that too close an identification with Blacks would ruin the party’s chances for recapturing the House in 2006. With the exception of Atlanta’s Cynthia McKinney, Black Democrats did as ordered, sacrificing African American interests for the sake of the party’s perceived need to downplay its huge Black presence. For the Black Caucus, strategic positioning means Democratsuber alles.
“Democrats win Black loyalties by default, as the only electoral option available that is connected to Power.”
Barack Obama had to prove that he could win in lily white Iowa before a majority of Black voters and the bulk of Black elected officials would support his presidential bid. In the binary corporate electoral arrangement that governs the United States, Black people approach each primary season pondering which Democratic candidate is best equipped to defeat the White Man’s Party. Polls and studies have long showed that Blacks are the most left-leaning constituency in the nation on issues of socio-economic justice and peace, but that’s not how Black Democrats vote in national primaries, where they tend to support whoever they believe can beat the Republican. “Electability” trumps and displaces ideology. Given the role that money plays in the U.S. electoral game, Black primary voters intent on choosing an “electable” Democrat will support the corporate candidate – not because these voters are “centrist” or corporate-minded, but because their overarching priority is beating the GOP. Thus, during Democratic primary season, many Black voters will seem to have no worldview or mission except as soldiers of the Democratic Party.
Unlike during the 2016 primary contest, Black people are now broadly aware that Bernie Sanders is the Democrat whose politics most closely resembles their own.
Unlike during the 2016 primary contest, Black people are now broadly aware that Bernie Sanders is the Democrat whose politics most closely resembles their own. Polls conducted in 2017 ranked Sanders the most popular politician in the nation, including among Blacks – the only politician, according to Newsweek, “who a majority of voters like.” Democrats were aware that polls showed Sanders would have beaten Trump, and by a significantly larger margin than had been predicted for Hillary Clinton. As the new primary season approached, the corporate media conspired (yes, that’s the appropriate term) to destroy Sanders’ image of electability and to label his signature issues -- supported by supermajorities of Democrats, and by even larger proportions of Blacks – as radical baggage that will tilt the election to Trump. The narrative has succeeded in frightening Black voters, who see defeat of Trump as an existential issue, superseding all others.
Sanders is correct in sticking to his broad attack on concentrated wealth, rather than mimicking Harris , Buttigieg , and now Biden’s “Black targeted” campaign promises. Black people already support Sanders signature proposals, and see him as the consummate reformer. They don’t need pandering; they have understood the evils of the rule of the rich all their lives. Black people need to believe Sanders can beat Trump.
“Black people already support Sanders signature proposals, and see him as the consummate reformer.”
“Sanders led the pack, with 72 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters viewing him favorably. Former Vice President Joe Biden followed at 69 percent. Rounding off the top half of the pack were Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 59 percent, Sen. Kamala Harris at 54 percent, and Sen. Cory Booker at 44 percent.”
Prior to his near-death debate experience, Biden was on top, with 80 percent favorability among Democrats. If Black people were choosing sides in the primary based on ideology and issues, Biden would have little appeal and Sanders would win, hands down. And if racial symbolism were as potent today as in 2008, Kamala Harris would be doing far better among Blacks. More than at any time since Ronald Reagan’s white nationalist victory in 1980, Blacks see the electability of the Democrat as the paramount consideration. For many, fear is the prime political motivator – but Black fear of Trump should not be mistaken for conservatism. (Nor should white liberal hysteria be equated with “resistance” to Trump’s core policies, whose nexus is the boardroom, not the border.)
“If racial symbolism were as potent today as in 2008, Kamala Harris would be doing far better among Blacks.”
Electability is actually Sanders’ greatest asset. Trump’s hold on power is dependent on a slim slice of votes in Pennsylvania and the midwestern states he won in 2016 – less than 100,00 votes. (He must also duplicate the GOP’s even larger Black voter suppression schemes.) But polls show Trump is likely to do even better in Michigan and Wisconsin, this time around. Trump’s supporters are pleased with his racist style of rule. Only Bernie Sanders offers programs big enough, with immediate impact on struggling families, to convince a small portion of these whites to choose saving their sick mother over stoking their sense of racial superiority. If only a few percent of Trump’s blue collar whites in two or three states can be peeled away, the Orange presidency is doomed. Sanders is the only candidate that can do it, and therefore the only electable Democrat.
Black people can readily understand that logic, which also frees them to vote their own, leftish hopes rather than their fears.
That’s why the corporate Democrats would rather lose with Biden (or Harris and the rest) than win with Sanders. Because the Lords of Capital will not permit one of their governing parties to be captured by opponents of endless austerity and war – the only program the ruling class has to offer in the 21st century.
Black Agenda Report
Glen Ford is Executive Editor Black Agenda Report; co-founder, America's Black Forum (TV); former White House, Capitol Hill, State Department correspondent; and is a Certified Elder of the Black Journalism Tribe.