Man Without Qualities

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Trending Away: Young African Americans Out The Gate

The growing disaffection of many African Americans with the Democratic Party has gotten so bad that even the New York Times is belatedly starting to take notice:

[S]ome Democratic strategists fear [what] may be a growing problem: The party is perilously out of touch with a large swath of black voters — those 18 to 35 years old who grew up after the groundbreaking years of the civil rights movement. It is a group too important and complex to ignore, many strategists caution, when analysts are predicting another close election. Democrats have traditionally counted on more than 90 percent of the black vote. Blacks 18 to 35 make up about 40 percent of the black voting-age population, but turnout among young blacks was so low in the 2000 elections that they made up only 2 percent of the entire vote. .... Generations X and Y, reared on hip-hop and the Internet, in a niche-market culture, are proving to be a tougher sell.

While still more closely aligned with Democrats than Republicans on issues like affirmative action and health care, younger blacks are more open to at least exploring initiatives shunned by the Democratic Party, like school vouchers and partial privatization of Social Security, polls show.

Polls also indicate that younger blacks place a higher priority than older African-Americans on issues like racial profiling and protecting civil liberties.

In 2000, 74 percent of African-Americans identified themselves as Democrats. By last year, that number had dropped to 63 percent, according to a recent survey by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research group devoted to African-American issues.

Those shifting away from the Democratic Party are not necessarily becoming Republicans. ... But an increasing number, especially those 18 to 35, are identifying themselves as independents. Some 24 percent of black adults now characterize themselves that way. Among those 35 and under, said David Bositis, a senior researcher at the Joint Center who conducted the survey, the figures are 30 percent to 35 percent, with men leaning more heavily independent than women. ... [E]ven if they are not registered Republicans, younger blacks are more open to supporting Republican candidates and issues than older blacks. .... For Democratic leaders the trends are a worrying sign that their base, as it has traditionally been defined, is not as stable as it used to be. "This is very disconcerting for us going forward," said Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. "It is critical that we do a better job of connecting." .... When Michael L. Steele, a black Republican, ran for lieutenant governor of Maryland with Robert L. Erlich Jr. in 2002, ... [they] not only swung traditionally Democratic white voters, [they] also received 14 percent of the black vote, the largest percentage of African-American votes ever for a Republican ticket in Maryland. In Baltimore, one of the areas deluged with the hip-hop radio spots, the ticket won 30 percent of the black vote.

I have noted previously that the Bush White House is exploiting this Democratic weakness with great subtlety, especially through deployment of Condi Rice and Colin Powell to take the heat in the misconceived Democratic assaults on White House credibility over Iraq. Ms. Rice has just made the associations even clearer:

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice likened Iraq's halting steps toward self-government to black Americans' struggle for civil rights, imploring black journalists Thursday to reject arguments that some people are incapable of democracy.

"We've heard that argument before, and we, more than any, as a people, should be ready to reject it," Rice, who is black, told about 1,200 people at the National Association of Black Journalists convention.

"The view was wrong in 1963 in Birmingham, and it is wrong in 2003 in Baghdad and in the rest of the Middle East," she said.

"We should not let our voice waver in speaking out on the side of people who are seeking freedom," Rice said. "And we must never, ever indulge in the condescending voices who allege that some people in Africa or in the Middle East are just not interested in freedom, they're culturally just not ready for freedom or they just aren't ready for freedom's responsibilities." ....

Rice has faced sharp criticism for allowing Bush to assert in his January State of the Union address that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Africa, and the journalists in Dallas questioned her actions Thursday. Rice and other aides have defended themselves in part by pointing to the fact that doubts about the intelligence appeared in a footnote, written by the State Department, deep in a top-secret National Intelligence Estimate. That footnote was thus not read by Bush, Rice or other top aides, said a senior White House official last month. ....

"The most appalling thing about this whole incident was that it for a two-week period had us discussing whether Saddam Hussein tried to get yellowcake in Africa, when of course the president of the United States did not go to war over whether Saddam Hussein tried to get yellowcake from Africa," she said. ... She never considered resigning, and never talked to Bush about quitting over the incident, she said.

She never considered resigning. Good.

And the cleverest aspect of all this is that Ms. Rice makes points for and about herself, and the desirability of the Republican Party to African Americans, without ever saying a direct word about these issues - just by creating the mis en place for the associations to be made and by being a brilliant example to us all. But the results of African Americans forming opinions of how the Bush Administration views Ms. Rice and Mr. Powell - and, by extension, African Americans generally - will be visible in 2004 and beyond.

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