THE FUNDAMENTAL relationship between blacks and the Democratic Party must be renegotiated. No longer can blacks allow Democrats to take them and their votes for granted. Power and responsibility must be shared fully, or the delicate balance of the traditional Democratic coalition will be destroyed.
This is clear to most blacks but some Democrats seem not to have gotten the message. That is one reason why it would be a good idea to run a black candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984. Such a move will force the Democrats now (and the Republicans later) to have a greater appreciation of the black vote and its potential positive contribution to party politics and the nation.
The idea of running a black for president is a hot topic among black leaders and is exciting the black masses across the country, because so many of them are unhappy with the current arrangements. Now it is all too common to hear white Democrats telling blacks what is best for them, while reminding blacks that they have nowhere to go outside the Democratic Party.
For Democrats, race is increasingly becoming a litmus test of their party's true intentions. In the last year black Democrats have won primaries in South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, California, and Chicago, yet significant numbers of white Democratic leaders and voters have chosen to support white Republicans over those black Democrats. If black people and their leaders support Democrats without regard to race but others cannot reciprocate, then the character and viability of the party must be called into question.
With regard to a black presidential candidacy, there are four critical questions to be considered. Why run? What would such a candidacy require? What would be the advantages? What are the arguments against such a candidacy?
Why run? Blacks have their backs against the wall. They are increasingly distressed by the erosion of past gains and the rapidly deteriorating conditions within black and poor communities. As black leaders have attempted to remedy these problems through the Democratic Party -- of which black voters have been the most loyal and disciplined followers -- too often they have been ignored or treated with disrespect. Mounting a serious presidential candidacy is one way of insisting that black leaders play significant roles and help to shape policy and programs for the party.
Presently, many Democrats are looking at 1984 and wondering how they can win back the swing voters who went for Jimmy Carter in 1976 but preferred Ronald Reagan in 1980. This ambition has led some Democrats to the strategy formally outlined by Hamilton Jordan and Bert Lance. They have advised Democrats to deemphasize issues of primary concern to blacks, Hispanics, women and peace activists to give highest priority to recruiting the southern white conservative vote.
This amounts to pursuing the old Republican strategy in the South, and it is the wrong way to go. To win a meaningful victory in 1984, the Democrats must reach large numbers of the 75 million adult Americans who voted for no candidate in 1980, but went fishing instead. That huge group -- 46 percent of the adult population -- could be the key to building a new progressive coalition that would put the Democrats back in the White House and in control of the Senate.
Eighteen million eligible black voters can be the cornerstone of a new "coalition of the rejected" (the real silent majority) that can create new political options 1984. The coalition would draw also on six million Hispanics, six million young people graduating from high school this year and next, women, more than half a million Native Americans, 20 to 40 million poor whites, and those white liberals and moderates who would respond to an appeal to moral decency and enlightened economic self-interest.
But no such coalition can be built if Democrats pursue the Jordan-Lance strategy. Instead of shying away from issues that would appeal to America's most needy and deserving citizens -- issues like a plan for full employment, affirmative action that gives genuine opportunities to women, Hispanics and blacks, and strong enforcement of the voting rights act to make democracy real for everyone -- a successful Democratic candidate should be emphasizing them. A black candidate in the '84 Democratic primaries could show the way.
A black candidate does not mean an exclusive black agenda, but an inclusive agenda that grows out of the black experience in American life. Life viewed from a black perspective encompasses much more of America's interests and people than life viewed from the white middle class male perspective -- the vantage point of our current leadership.
Rep. Shirley Chisolm (D-N.Y.) ran a serious campaign for president in 1976, but she did not enjoy the organized support of a broad coalition of organizations and groups. In 1984 we need an institutionally sponsored candidate who can argue not only the obvious economic issues, but also speak out against the corporate rape of black and Hispanic Americans, against bloated military budgets, and against the cynical diplomacy that fosters alliances with corrupt and oppressive foreign governments like South Africa's. Such a candidate could speak out consistently for human rights -- the same rights for Polish workers, the blacks of southern Africa, the peoples of the Middle East, the Caribbean and Latin America.
We must measure all human rights by one yardstick, and take into account the emerging world order. The U.S. contains only six percent of the world's population. Most of the world is black, brown, red and yellow, and poor. Much as we'd like everone else to be like us, they're not -- most people in the world don't speak English; most are not Christians. But they all are members of the human family.
Most current leadership either has trouble understanding that, does not want to understand, or has emotional problems adjusting to these realities. We must adjust from being superior over the world to being equivalent with it -- and sometimes dependent on it.
A black candidate should have positions on all the major issues of the day, and not permit other politicians and the news media to determine what issues are "appropriate" for black politicians to raise.
As things stand now, these issues will not be in the forefront of Democratic debates in 1984. So we must devise our own vehicle to carry these issues to the country. We cannot ride to freedom in Pharoah's chariot.
A black candidate should run to gain political victories, but that is not the only justification for making this effort. A serious black candidate will help us gain collective self-respect and recognition. This is particularly important in terms of young blacks -- and fully one fourth of the eligible black voters in 1984 will be 18-24. Those young people have no heros among the other candidates for the Democratic nomination, and are unlikely to participate in 1984 unless they see an exciting new reason to do so. The best reason would be an effective black candidate.
Bargainers without bases are beggars, not brokers. Primaries are the process for organizing and mobilizing interest groups. Various states (e.g., New York), labor (e.g., the AFL- CIO and the NEA), women and other groups are currently organizing politically to further their own interests, hedging against a candidate who moves to lock up the nomination early, and against a brokered convention. They want their interests protected.
Blacks are not adequately represented and do not have enough influence in any of these other constituencies to trust the protection of their interests to anyone else. Thus, blacks and other rejected interest groups must create their own protection.
Let me emphasize that I am not urging blacks to pursue a "separatist" black agenda. What's good for black people is good for everybody -- jobs, growth, dignity for all, world peace and human rights. But what is perceived by some Democrats to be good for them -- a strategy along Jordan-Lance lines designed to allow them to squeak back into power in '84 -- is not good for blacks.
To use a football analogy, we are now in the exhibition season looking at various game strategies and assessing the players on the field. During the primaries we will play the regular season, and at the convention we will conduct the Super Bowl. But, if you do not think and plan in advance, and then do not play during the regular season, you cannot participate or even get a good seat at the Super Bowl. Blacks must begin playing early, or they will end up basking in someone else's glory or crying in someone else's beer.
It is not enough just for our conference (the Democrats) to win; our team (blacks and the rejected) must also win. And for our team to win, everyone must help prepare the game plan (party policy) and be in the huddle when the plays (the platform) are called. The Democratic Party cannot make policy and write the platform without the serious involvement of blacks at every level, and then ask blacks merely to sit in the stands and enthusiastically cheer the conference representative to victory (by voting Democratic in the general election).
Blacks now cast 20 percent of the national Democratic vote, but they have no share in the proprietorship of the party. Investors without equity are not guaranteed a share of the profits.
What would a successful black candidacy require? It requires the masses, machinery and money.
A black candidate must have the ability to galvanize the masses and to define, interpret, and defend the national interest generally -- and the interests of black, non-white, poor and rejected people specifically.
I have endorsed the idea of holding issues conferences -- perhaps 30 of them -- around the country to help define the agenda for a campaign to win back the disaffected voters of America. These conferences should focus on local and national issues to maximize the number of people involved and broaden the base of the coalition.
A black candidate must also be able to attract adequate and broadly based financial support, although the ability to match the spending of other candidates would not be necessary. In Chicago, Jane Byrne raised $11 million, young Richard Daley raised $4 million, but Rep. Harold Washington -- with less than $1 million in his campaign chest -- defeated them both.
Washington's example in the recent Chicago primary is important in another way. He demonstrated the advantage of a united bloc of votes in a crowded field. Blacks represent 20 percent of the Democratic electorate. If there are eight Democratic candidates in 1984, any candidate who can gain 20 percent of the delegates would have tremendous influence at the convention. And a black candidate who builds the sort of coalition described above could well get that many delegates or more.
It is even important that we make the case that a black candidate really could win. We certainly should not be defeatist -- it's not up to us to announce what we cannot do.
But the by-products of a black candidacy would justify the campaign. A credible and attractive candidacy would move the issues of social justice, war and peace, hurt and healing (at home and abroad) to the top of the national agenda. It would excite, maybe even electrify, the black, the young, the rejected and unrepresented masses, increasing their voter registration and political participation. For example, if black voter registration went from its current 10 million to 14 million, black participation could go from the 7 million of 1980 to 14 million in 1984. This would have major ramifications for both blacks and the Democratic Party -- and we're not even counting increased poor white, Hispanic, youth, or other voter registration that such a candidacy would surely stimulate.
An increase in voter registration and political participalack peoption would have a profound impact on the status quo of the Democratic Pary during the primaries, but it would also eventually have an impact on the Republican Party and the nation in the general election. Eighteen million eligible and 12 to 14 million active black voters, inspired by a live option, could not be ignored.
During the debates, blacks would no longer be in the "kitchen cabinet" passing notes from the trailer to the candidates on stage, but would be on the stage arguing the nation's agenda from a different perspective. Six to ten new black congresspersons could be a by-product. Psychologically, it would help bring to an end ideas and feelings of black inferiority and white superiority. There are blacks capable of being president of the United States. Locally, a black candidacy would enhance the power of black elected officials and delegates. It would mean positive change for blacks in the media, because major news organizations would have to hire and rely more heavily on black journalists to cover such a story; and the media would have to pay more attention to black voters and their concerns.
A black candidacy would change the nature of primaries, the debates, the convention, and a new administration. Indeed, it would change the face (no pun intended) of American politics. In other words, for blacks there is more at stake than just who will be President.
What are some of the objections? One is that a black candidacy would appeal only to black voters. Not true. A black candidate who advances the issues of concern to Hispanics, women, the poor, and whites who are interested in social justice, should be able to attract them, too. Blacks have had experience with running and winning in areas that do not have majority black populations (for example, Tom Bradley as mayor of Los Angeles and Alan Wheat and Ron Dellums as congressmen from Missouri and California, respectively). Clearly, these victories could only have occurred because black candidates had community-wide appeal.
Black leaders in other fields of endeavor have been able to attract more than just black support. In athletics, art, science, literature, and the media, blacks have pulled down curtains of resistance and operated beyond the ethnic domain. Now, in politics (and in corporate life) blacks must overcome the restraining forces and do the same.
There is no reason why a black presidential candidate who emphasizes an economy in crisis, massive unemployment, excessive concentrations of wealth, tax reform, war and peace, guns instead of butter -- just to mention a few -- would not have broad appeal. These are all general concerns of national importance which happen to overlap with particular interests of blacks.
Recently, I was in Iowa, where I was impressed with the interest that whites showed and their willingness to see the direct relationship between rural white farmers and urban black consumers. We talked about what the food stamp program represented for both groups -- money, market and nutrition. So much of America can be tied together in this way if leadership has the intelligence, the courage, and the will to do so. Thus, beyond ethnicity, a black candidate's campaign should reflect ethics, economics and excellence.
Another argument has been that a black candidacy would split the Democratic Party and hurt the party's chances of regaining the White House in 1984. Some say a black candidacy will divide the South. Yet, no one points to former Florida Governor Reubin Askew, Arkansas Senator Dale Bumpers, or South Carolina's Ernest Hollings -- all of whom are active or potential candidates who have a southern base -- and says that these campaigns are divisive.
Should we not measure all of the campaigns by the same standard? How could a black candidacy that stimulates increased Democratic registration and participation be described by Democrats as negative? The very suggestion that a black candidacy would be divisive implies that blacks should passively "go quietly along with the prograeopm," by waiting and not pushing too hard. Blacks should reject all such arguments out of hand.
The contention that a black candidacy would split the progressive forces and allow a candidate less sympathetic to the concerns of progressives to capture the nomination is not valid either.
That is a static view of the possible political options. In fact, if blacks can demonstrate their political skills and influence in the primary season, any Democrat that ends up with the nomination will have to pay close attention to the concerns of blacks. Those who believe that a black candidacy would be divisive assume that leading Democrats who have been sympathetic to black concerns will remain so without aggressive political activity, and that other candidates who have been less sympathetic in the past would be able to remain relatively unsympathetic if they won the Democratic nomination. But no Democratic candidate could remain indifferent to issues of concern to blacks -- politics no longer permits such indifference.
Consider the examples of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Nominally, Kennedy was the more "liberal," but in the final analysis, Johnson turned out to be very supportive of blacks and the rejected. Johnson was not a static politician -- he grew as the black vote and human rights struggle presented him with new political options.
On the other hand, in the recent Chicago mayoral primary, the two politicians in the Democratic Party who are considered the most progressive, Walter F. Mondale and Edward M. Kennedy, not only failed to endorse and work for the most progressive candidate forrmayor, Rep. Washington, but endorsed and worked for his opponents.
Moreoever, their contempt, disrespect, or disconnection from blacks and Hispanics was so great that they dived into a primary election in a city that is 42 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic without even consulting the three black congresspersons; State Comptroller Roland Burris, the largest vote-getter in the state in the November election; Richard Hatcher (in neighboring Gary, Ind.), the vice chairperson and highest ranking black at the Democratic National Committee; or local or national black and Hispanic leaders.
Before 1965, when blacks and Hispanics had no political straps or boots, the suggestion to pick yourself up by your own bootstraps was simply cruel. But now that 24 million blacks and Hispanics do have potential political straps and boots (with feet in them), they ought to lace them up and -- for their own betterment, and for the enrichment of the entire nation -- run.