Michael Barone's advice for us to wait until a bona-fide black candidate comes along to run for president is a well-known recipe for gradualism which suggests that black politics should be pure in form while ignoring other presidential candidacies that are mounted essentially to bargain for single issues, the vice presidency or other political objectives.
Why blacks can't wait for a "bona fide" candidate is obvious: racism will mitigate such a normal strategy for some time, but right now the Reagan program is having a devastating impact upon black life. Given the reaction to this, which may find many blacks tempted to vote for any credible Democratic presidential candidate, it is unwise for blacks to continue to play "hope and trust" politics with the major candidates while black votes play a critical role in electing them to office. Hoping and trusting the Democratic Party nominee will champion black causes has often resulted in actually wasting the black vote by leaving the connection between the vote and public policy ambiguous.
The initial objective of a black presidential candidacy would be to acquire a series of firm political commitments to a black agenda from the nominee of the Democratic Party in exchange for electoral support.
The strategy is logically aimed at the Democrats because in the last two decades black voter turnout has consistently been in the 80 to 90 percent range for Democratic candidates, and has constituted 20 to 25 percent of the party's total national vote.
In order to solidify this base for the purpose of bargaining, a black candidate might run in a selected number (15-20) of primaries in 1984 to attract a pool of black and white delegates to the convention committed to a bargaining strategy. Indeed, my own scientific surveys show that in 1980, 40 percent of white Democrats said they were willing to support a black person for national office.
Second, the concentration of the black electorate inside the Democratic Party has been a strength but also a source of vulnerability. For example, blacks were caught between the intraparty pressures of Kennedy and Carter in 1980 and were unable to make strong policy demands for lack of a political center of gravity.
In addition the majority of blacks supported Jimmy Carter, but they were shocked when he arrived at the convention to claim victory and promptly repudiated a platform plank committing him to a $5 billion jobs program. If a 1984 nominee is as unresponsive, then blacks would retain a credible option to punish him in the general election.
The black presidential candidacy may add to the credibility of the electoral process. The effect of this might be to duplicate the striking increase of 200,000 black voters registered in Chicago for the mayoral campaign of Harold Washington, and stimulate a national increase in black voter participation. The downward trend in black voter turnout reached a low of 40 percent of the 18 million eligible voters in 1980.
A tactical advantage to the strategy is that it does not require the black candidate to "win" in the traditional sense, nor does it require the support of all blacks to be effective. But the candidacy must be serious in both the primaries and the general election for the bargaining to work.
Then, a political advantage is that through such a candidacy, black interests will be put on a par with others as they are projected to the nation as important issues.
Blacks are often in the position of hoping and trusting that the questions that affect them, often overlooked by the press and the major candidates, will be raised in the course of the election debate as an incentive to participation. Also, the more effective organization of black interests will allow for more effective coalitions with other groups having compatible interests.
Some who have attempted to destroy the credibility of this strategy have pointed out that a black presidential candidacy would potentially take votes away from candidates considered "friendly" to blacks, possibly denying victory to them. But even now, or at any point in the political process, these friends have the option to commit themselves to the black agenda--if they are truly friends.
In any case, the larger point is that blacks should develop the ability to reward "true blue" friends and to punish "fair weather" friends and outright enemies. Blacks are simply elevating the discussion of commitments to a public level because private bargaining among friends has proven to be highly unreliable.
Finally, one notes Barone's highly erroneous assumption that this strategy is put forward because blacks "do not know what they want." But apparently this reaction is surfacing because the strategy is perceived to have grown considerably beyond the Rev. Jesse Jackson in scope and interest. Indeed, the professional way in which more than 30 national black leaders have gone about considering the technical aspects of the problem implied in such a candidacy before making a final decision, suggests a seriousness that has made some people nervous and others finally proud.