Leverage Rainbow Politics in 2008

Submitted by George Friday on Tue, 02/12/2008 - 20:41.

By Ron Walters

As the specter of a Presidential candidacy by Hillary Clinton in the 2008 election grows, and as her positions on various issues tack to the ideological right or the confused "centrist" territory of both left and right, occupied within the Democratic party by the Democratic Leadership Council, I have begun to wonder what would prevent Blacks from jumping on her bandwagon without a careful process of political bargaining.

Blacks can be tricked because the attraction of the first black or the first woman to do this or that seemingly fits into the legacy of civil rights, a syndrome that can be disastrous if it turns out wrong. This was the case with Clarence Thomas, who many blacks supported initially because he was a black person vying for the Supreme Court. Now I am told that many blacks in Ohio are lining up to vote for Ken Blackwell, the black Secretary of State who is running for Governor, but who in the 2004 election was the chief architect of the suppression of the black vote.

Rainbow politics in the 1980s existed as a vehicle for leverage that prevented blacks from merely giving away political power without anything in return. Given the fact that in the 2004 election cycle, especially in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma the black vote for George Bush increased due to the special emphasis placed on opposition to gay-rights, Rainbow politics need clearly to refocus on the primary of issue politics rather than personalities. Personality politics is dangerous because it can lead to following individuals, whether Clinton, Gore, Kerry, or Edwards, who lack clarity and strength in their commitment to not just the interests of particular liberal groups within the Democratic Party coalition, but to the overarching liberal democratic policy/issue framework that created the coalition in the first place.

In short, afraid to be liberals in an age of "centrist" politics, Democratic Party leaders have settled for the best of a bad situation, splitting the difference all too often. This pattern has to be confronted and changed through creating a counter-force that is able to exercise political leverage to contest the rightward shift of the party's policy/issue orientation.

In addition, now that Hispanics have begun to mobilize, they will constitute a growing part of the Democratic coalition and are poised, because of the threatened criminalization of undocumented workers by Republicans, to vote Democrat or their independent interests in a stronger progressive coalition. Between 1998 and 2002, the Hispanic vote turnout rate grew by 10% to 30%, and if this occurs again in the 2006 elections, they will about match the turnout rate of Blacks. If this occurs, they will also be poised to expand their vote in 2008 beyond the 6% of the electorate they now occupy.

Rainbow Lines

One plausible method for developing this counter-force comes with the recent news that Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., Rev. Al Sharpton and others are planning to determine whether a "Rainbow Line" for candidates who agree with a progressive agenda to run on might be created in many states. Some states require that a political party be formed, others have onerous petition requirements for individuals who are not Democrats or Republicans to qualify for the ballot, but nearly all states are controlled by the two parties which makes it extremely difficult for others to gain ballot access. In this respect, the 2006 elections may be used to evaluate the process.

Nevertheless, third parties have arisen often with a force that allowed George Wallace to position 10 million votes between the two parties in 1968 and for Ross Perot to do the same with 20 million votes in 1992. In both cases these parties had political consequences in that Democratic Vice President Hubert Humphrey was prevented from being elected president in 1968 and George H. W. Bush was prevented from being elected in 1992. If a local progressive candidate wants to run for president as a favorite son from a state a line would be provided for that person to run on, but this requires fielding an organization which has the capacity to meet the state requirement for ballot access. In many places the Green party would be sufficient, but the Green party has not been black enough or aggressive enough to attract the attention of many black voters. In this political season, popular discontent with the administration of George Bush is alive and well. It has driven his favorable rating into the bushes, creating a political shadow over the 2008 election and giving some analysts the feeling that the landscape may be ripe again for not only Democrats but for a Ross Perot moment as well. During the 1992 election, Perot appeared on the Larry King Show one evening to announce that he would run for president if people would get behind his effort in the requisite number of states, and the rest is history. This discontent did not attract black voters who saw, instead, the possibility of a Democratic party renewal in Bill Clinton as the beneficiary of a split electorate. Yet the emergence of a dark horse candidate with the potential to attract millions of votes could make leverage politics very inviting.

In 1992, the field was left open to Clinton who promptly dissed Black leaders such as Rev. Jackson by attacking rap singer Sister Souljah at his convention during the campaign, proving that he could be tough on blacks. Becoming President, he was still tough, leading passage of the Crime Control Act of 1994 which is partly responsible for the fact that nearly half of everyone locked up in America is black; the 1996 Welfare "reform" Act which has contributed mightily to new pressure on low-income, single-headed families, and weakened Affirmative Action in federal contracting. Yet, there was little black protest of these actions, and he was re-elected in 1996 with a resounding black vote. Today he is received in Harlem and all over America by stomping, wall-shaking black crowds as though he were Frederick Douglass or Martin Luther King, Jr. or, at the very least, the daddy of Black politics.

Issues and Agenda

The idea of creating a line for progressive candidates to run on creates simultaneously the opportunity for negotiations about issues.

The creation of lines should be accompanied by, of course, a Rainbow conference in 2008 which develops a more cohesive set of issues into an agenda and which establishes the discipline that rewards anyone who wants to become a candidate to follow this program. The Convention leadership then becomes the drivers of the campaign and the force which helps to manage the process of leverage in the states and with the national Democratic and Republican leadership. In some states, it may be an advantage to accede to Republican positions where they are to the left of those offered by Democrats.

Despite the good things that Bill Clinton also did for the Black community, his posture - and that of Hilary - as the leader of our politics must be ruthlessly severed, not the least because it continues to keep that politics tethered to an impotent politics which takes the power of the black vote for granted. Most important, this sentiment continues to contribute to a savior mentality that robs blacks from achieving the next stage of political efficacy which is to develop both a theory of politics and the political machinery with which to implement it.

Developing lines, or initiative campaigns in some states, will focus progressive politics on issues, on an agenda, rather than a person. It may therefore be a more effective politics in getting something for those who need politics most, if the Tsunami of an anti-Republican backlash comes to fruition. If the threat of an anti-Republican Tsunami becomes a reality, then the existence of Rainbow Lines in various states becomes an even more powerful bargaining tool for progressive voters and their constituencies. The threatened split of the Democratic Party will give splinter Republicans confidence that they might be successful, and if a third force arises within the Republican Party, Democrats will need a united party to win. But even if these scenarios do not occur, this is the kind of thinking that must occur. The next stage of Rainbow politics is to concentrate not just on mass turnout, but on how to use that turnout with political efficacy to impact the program of whoever is in power.