Jewish World Review July 17, 2000 / 14 Tamuz, 5760
How dare you, George?
CAN YOU IMAGINE the dramatic change that would occur in the landscape
of presidential politics if Republicans could just persuade a small
portion of the black population to break ranks with the Democratic
Party? Al Gore can.
Democratic presidential candidates are completely dependent on
landslide majorities from black voters. In 1992, President Bush garnered
only 12 percent of the black vote and in 1996, Dole managed 14 percent.
Today most polls show Gore getting the support of more than 80 percent
of black voters.
That's why Gore is more than a bit nervous that Bush accepted the
NAACP's invitation to speak at their annual convention. The last two
Republican presidential candidates declined.
Hillary Clinton appeared uneasy about Bush's territorial
encroachment, too. When addressing the convention, she cautioned those
present to be wary of Bush's empty words. In fact Hillary and Al must
have conspired about this because they mouthed nearly identical talking
points. Hillary said, "Watch what they do, not what they say." Gore
said, "his words are not matched by his deeds."
They are worried because Bush is making good on his promise to fight
Al Gore for every last vote. He's honoring his pledge not to write off
the black vote just because Republicans have had difficulty with it in
Al and Hillary are also worried because Bush comes off as a person
who really does care about the plight of blacks. It won't be easy for
Democrats to paint the compassionate conservative as an uncaring racist.
Bush, by the way, did provide some evidence to back up his words. "And I
am especially proud of this fact: that African-American fourth graders
in the state of Texas have better math skills than any other students --
in any state in the United States of America."
Bush's words have them worried as well. It is instructive to compare
Bush's NAACP speech to Gore's. While Bush discussed a greater federal
role in some policy areas than most Republicans have in the past, he
stressed themes of opportunity instead of federal handouts.
Bush talked about advancing racial harmony and economic opportunity.
He invoked a few of his now-familiar slogans, which smack of free
enterprise rather than socialism. "The purpose of prosperity is to
ensure the American dream touches every willing heart." The emphasis is
on "willing." To Bush, the American dream obviously involves freedom,
opportunity and achievement, not transfer payments and security.
Bush's other slogan is also more than lofty rhetoric. "I will
confront another form of bias: the soft bigotry of low expectations."
Whether or not Gore realizes it, his agenda of treating the federal
government as a glorified candy store is all about the bigotry of low
expectations. When he makes the outlandish promise that every child in
America will have full health care within the next four years; when he
virtually pledges to make affirmative action a permanent institution in
America, he's telling blacks that he has low expectations of them.
Bush's message was more about empowering blacks than promising them
endless federal initiatives in exchange for their votes. He advocated
accountability and competition in education with vouchers and school
choice while Gore vowed to protect government-subsidized incompetence in
For his part, Gore resorted to his familiar scare-mongering and
race-baiting tactics. He said that Republicans wanted to block
statistical census counting because they didn't want all blacks to be
counted. Inexplicably, he implied that hate crime legislation would
"stamp out the sparks of hatred." He railed about the Confederate flag.
He said the "far right" wanted to stack the court with justices who
would threaten civil rights and civil liberties. (I couldn't help but
wonder whether he was thinking about the Fourth Amendment rights of
Elian Gonzalez's Miami relatives or the Branch Davidians of Waco,
Maybe I'm naive, but I keep hoping this kind of pandering and
patronizing will one day wear thin among substantial numbers of black
voters. It's hard for me to imagine that some NAACP members didn't
either bristle or snicker when Gore said, "I have made more trips to
Africa than I've made to Asia."
Who knows? Bush just may be making some inroads into traditional
Democratic territory. Can you really blame Al and Hillary for being a
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