Nationally and locally, the polls and pundits say, a statistically small but increasing number of blacks will be voting for President Reagan tomorrow. Although I expect Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro to carry the District by 75 to 80 percent, I find this increase in blacks for Reagan a surprising and troubling trend.
Unlike Jews, whose lure to the Republican right can be explained in part by the economic and social success they enjoy and the courting they have received from Reagan, blacks are worse off by every objective measure I've seen, and Reagan has paid almost no attention to black and poor people's concerns.
While there is a general trend of people who are voting with their pocketbooks in mind, a nationwide political poll conducted in August by the Gallup organization for the Joint Center for Political Studies said a lot of unity existed between upscale blacks and poorer blacks. While eschewing dependency, both groups, for example, felt government must help right the imbalance against the poor that exists because of America's long history of discrimination and bias against blacks.
Part of this compassion lies in black reality. Even blacks who have made it can relate to those who have not. Some have relatives and friends who are still experiencing economic hard times. Others, noting the American penchant for "tokenism," feel the programs that have opened doors for them could be shut.
Still others disagree with those who say that affirmative action has failed and the solution is to adopt Reagan's trickle-down philosophy. Some younger blacks know that they, like women and Hispanics, have benefited from these programs and reject Reagan's notion that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Historian John Hope Franklin and psychologist Kenneth Clark contend that three societies now exist in America: the mainstream, the assimilated Americans, and what some now call the "underclass." The absence of dynamic programs to elevate the underclass leaves problems festering like open sores.
Will it be the assimilated Americans who vote their pocketbooks and Ronald Reagan? The Joint Center's Thomas E. Cavanagh said, "We may have a bit of [a] split developing in the professional class -- some trending Republican; others trending toward the black politics of Jesse Jackson. But the Republican Party apparently has been very sophisticated in trying to target young professional blacks -- doing it quietly through direct mail and black media.
On black radio there have been ads trying to bring home the resentment some blacks feel over Jackson's treatment at the convention, over being taken for granted and over there being a need for change."
If Reagan gets more black votes, he also may be benefiting from his incredible luck. Mondale has run a campaign that many blacks have found uninspiring and even disillusioning. He has even made the glaring omission of not bearing down hard on South Africa. This mistake is even larger because apartheid in South Africa is bigger than a racial issue and appeals as a human rights issue to progressive whites.
Reagan also is benefiting from black leadership that has failed to give the masses a vision for the future.
I stand solidly with those who say blacks should never again be the inherited property of the Democrats. But I would hope that they would never reach so blindly to be part of the winning team, to identify with power that they forget the true meaning of political power. Some say that politics is a game, but it also has the power to mean life or death for some people.
Some blacks who will vote Republican are too young, or too ignorant of their history, to remember the police dogs, the marches, the blood and death that resulted in the civil rights bill, the voting rights act, the Supreme Court decision to integrate public schools, and the executive order that outlawed segregation in the armed forces. That is the legacy that has propelled them into the mainstream from which some may now vote their pocketbooks and forget the poor.
Most blacks believe the next four years will be extremely difficult. I do not think it necessarily means that a Republican is insensitive. But Ronald Reagan's policies are antiblack and antipoor. It is one thing to be sophisticated and split a ticket to support a moderate or progressive independent or Republican. It is quite another to kiss the hand that slaps you.