Bernie and the black vote

An article in last week’s Wall Street Journal suggested that if Bernie Sanders has any chance at all of securing the Democratic nomination, he must win over Black voters in large numbers, and that’s something he hasn’t been able to do thus far. It’s a perplexing problem for a man who has spent his entire adult life fighting for civil rights.

The lack of African American support in this year’s primaries has also baffled the Senator’s leading Black supporters, among them Spike Lee, Sen. Bill Perkins of Harlem, Sen. James Sanders of Queens, Rep. Clem Smith of Missouri, former NAACP head Ben Jealous, Professor Cornel West, New Jersey Senator Corey Booker, and super delegate David Bowen. These and many other influential Black leaders have worked hard to remind their constituents what Bernie has meant to the minority community, but their message has mostly fallen on deaf ears. Despite their efforts, it’s Hillary Clinton, not Bernie, who has sewn up the African American vote in every primary to date, including in States like South Carolina where she out gained Sanders 74 percent to 17 percent.

Political pundits suggest that Hillary enjoys solid support among African Americans because she and her husband have been perceived as civil rights advocates for over two decades. Moreover, the Clintons have been lifelong Democrats, and are politically savvy when it comes to nurturing their liberal base and raising money for fellow Dems. Having said that, however, I believe the main reason for Hillary’s lead over Bernie among Black voters has more to do with political histrionics than it does political history. Simply put, Bernie has rarely sought out the cameras whenever he worked for the African American community, while Hillary has made a career out of public pandering and posturing. Had Bernie been Bill Clinton’s running mate in 1992 and 1996, and had he been skilled at media relations, then Hillary would be the one trailing in Black votes today.

But so much for theories as to why Ms. Clinton enjoys overwhelming minority support. Let’s turn now instead to some facts that Spike Lee and others are desperately trying to drive home to Black voters.

In 1963 Bernie Sanders marched to Washington to hear Dr. King give his historic “I have a Dream” speech. Afterwards, Bernie was inspired to activism, not the kind you talk about, but the kind you actually do. In fact, on one occasion Bernie found himself being assaulted and arrested by Chicago police because he participated in a protest against segregated schools.

In the 1980’s Bernie, as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, opened his State’s first public day care center, reduced electric bills for low-income families, and was responsible for increasing voter participation by 250 percent.

When running for Governor in 1986, Bernie was asked to speak to an annual meeting of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, where Sanders inspired that group to pursue an aggressive political agenda. Then, in 1988 after Jackson announced his candidacy to become America’s first African American President, Bernie invited Rev. Jackson to Vermont, and is credited with handing Jesse a victory in that State’s primary. It was no small feat considering that Vermont’s population is nearly all White.

Yet despite Bernie’s track record on civil rights, Hillary has managed to convince most African American voters that she is their best hope, and she has done so by re-writing history. One example is Clinton claiming that she and President Barack Obama are BFFs. In fact Hillary and Obama were bitter enemies in their 2008 run for the White House. During that campaign Mrs. Clinton repeatedly called into question Obama’s experience and readiness to lead our nation. And when asked why Black voters should choose her over a man of color, Hillary said that it took LBJ to enact Dr. King’s vision. It was Hillary’s way of saying only a White President can enact the Black agenda. At another 2008 rally, Hillary told a mainly White crowd that she, not Obama, had the support of “hard working Americans – White Americans.” (source Sep. 2015) And as if it’s not bad enough that Hillary now pretends to be President Obama’s closest ally, she is also re-writing history when it comes to her stand on important issues. This year she has painted Bernie as a shill for the gun lobby, while stating that she has been consistently for gun control. But back in 2008 Mrs. Clinton was so anti gun control that Obama referred to her as “Annie Oakley”. Now fast forward to 2016 and Hillary is telling her African American supporters that most of the violent crimes committed in New York in 2014 were committed with guns from Vermont. But CNN’s Wolf Blitzer’s fact check revealed that only 1.2 percent of the violent crimes in New York involved guns from Vermont. Also, in addition to lying about crime statistics, Hillary also doesn’t mind pandering to crime victim’s families, such as suggesting that Bernie’s refusal to make gun manufacturers liable for gun deaths is the reason for the Sandy Hook massacre.

It’s no wonder that Wendy Sejour, an African American woman who grew up in inner city New Orleans said, “I’ve never understood the appeal of the Clinton charm with the Black vote.” Ms. Sejour isn’t the only one. Unfortunately, the truth about Bernie’s advocacy and Hillary’s pandering just isn’t resonating with minority voters. Professor West told Bill Maher that once Black folks meet “brother Bernie”, learn about his activism, and listen to his message, they will gravitate to him. But time is running out, and Hillary is within striking distance of the nomination.

If the majority of African Americans start voting for Bernie in the remaining primaries, then Bernie could pull into a virtual tie with Hillary for pledged delegates.

At that point, it would be incumbent upon Hillary’s super delegates to re-think their loyalty to the Party machine, and instead support the man who can best beat Trump or Cruz in November.

While speaking to an African American audience recently about income inequality, Bernie paraphrased Dr. King, saying, “What good does it do to have civil rights and voting rights, if you can’t afford the price of a damn hamburger!” Clearly right now Hillary gets Black votes, but Bernie actually gets Black voters. It’s a shame they don’t get him. !