Mutiny and the Gore
By Dr. Lenora Fulani
The results of the New Hampshire primary made a loud statement about the present and future significance of the independent voter. Independents want political reform. We want the establishment held accountable for their misdeeds. And we're becoming an important factor in the new alignments shaping state and national politics.
It was New
that threw the Republican establishment into a tailspin. The interesting
question is how much the reform uprising will hold up in states like South
Carolina and on Titanic
Tuesday, when the
establishment will be more influential.
Bill Bradley, in my opinion, does not pose a serious threat to Al Gore. He's likely to be deluged by the Clinton/Gore machine in future contests. John McCain, on the other hand, has a potentially more viable insurgency because of the unstable state of the Republican Party. Rank and file Republicans are exceedingly unhappy with the party establishment on several counts.
First, the GOP establishment -- personified by George W. Bush – allowed itself to be run ragged over the last five years by the party's combative conservative wing. A significant portion of rank and file Republicans are angry with that. George Bush may be trying to distance himself from traditional conservatism to combat this problem, but he can't distance himself from the party establishment. He is the establishment. While the social conservative bloc in the party has alienated many at the grassroots, it is the establishment's record of allowing them to recklessly rule the party that has average Republicans up in arms.
Many rank and file Republicans are unhappy with how the party leadership handled the impeachment drama -- feeling that the Republican leadership’s overplayed hand misread the sentiment of the majority of Americans and turned Bill Clinton into a sympathetic figure. The failure of the Gingrich Congress to deliver the anti-corruption clauses of the Contract with America is another sticking point. Many Republicans feel they were sold a bill of goods on political reform concerns like term limits and campaign finance. McCain is perfectly positioned to take advantage of this particular "credibility gap" in his party.
The Republican rank and file are also concerned that leading party figures are leaving -- like Pat Buchanan, for example -- who while personally commanding only a minor constituency has now injured the party by going independent and airing its corrupt, collusive, anti-democratic special interest laundry in public. All of this adds up to a scenario where a John McCain mutiny could spell disaster for "Captain" Bush.
Sixty-one percent of New Hampshire independents that voted in the Republican primary went for McCain, compared to 19% for Bush. Independents will be a factor in South Carolina on February 19th, as well as in Georgia, Missouri, Ohio and California, all of which go to the polls March 7.
The revolt of the rank and file Republican and the pro-reform independent could combine to put McCain over the top. While Bradley scored well in New Hampshire, the Democratic Party internal situation is less volatile. The rank and file is more satisfied with the Democratic establishment largely because Bill Clinton has held onto the White House for eight years. Party activists have been heavily cultivated by the Clinton/Gore organization and they would like to keep the White House because of the job and patronage benefits this affords them. This is an environment that benefits Gore, the virtual incumbent.
Dr. Ron Walters, the black political scientist and past advisor to Jesse Jackson, writes in a recent article on the black vote and Al Gore that Democratic Party candidates like Gore do basically the same routine every cycle - they "go left" in the primary appealing to the party's core constituencies, blacks, women, labor and other minorities --and in the general election they go after the white more "center of the road" vote. Gore is smack in the midst of this game plan and it seems to be keeping black voters and other traditional Democratic constituents fairly pacified.
Many people have asked me whether Bradley has the capacity to appeal to black voters. I don't think Bradley has the capacity to sustain an appeal of any kind much beyond what happened in New Hampshire, including to black voters. He plans to give a major address on the confederate flag controversy in South Carolina, in an effort to make an appeal to black voters nationally. Ironically, though, Bradley has some real vulnerability with respect to the black vote including, as Walters points out, the fact that he doesn't have a connection to the South, which Gore does. There has always been an affinity among black voters for white southerners, even if they are only vaguely liberal. It's no accident that Clinton and Gore, both white southerners, were handpicked to spearhead the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) bid for power. It helped lock in African American voters to the DLC-led coalition.
Last week I was on a panel with South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn who is also the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. I asked him to join with the 50 Swarthmore College students who had signed my petition to the Commission on Presidential Debates calling for a democratic change in the criteria for inclusion -- a change that would open up the debates to include qualified independents. Congressman Clyburn refused. It's a shame that so many black Democrats are into symbolic stands on civil rights like the South Carolina flag fight but won't support the new civil rights agenda restructuring the two party system. Walters also writes about the fear factor, that is the fear of a right-wing takeover that binds the black community to the Democratic Party. This is something that black Democrats and left-wing Democrats appeal to constantly.
This can only be overcome by pointing out to black America that it's a problem to be so totally determined by fear that it limits our ability to play politics in a way that advances our political position. My message to the black community as I began my Black History Month speaking tour at Yale University last week is that black people have got to move beyond that fear to create independent on-the-ground coalitions with other voting blocs -- most particularly with white voters -- and not let the Democratic Party manipulate black voters forever. I'm counting on younger black Americans -- nearly half of whom now identify as independent -- to lead the way.
The results of New Hampshire and just about every poll to come down the pike in recent months indicate that a huge multi-constituency pro-reform independent cauldron is simmering. It may shoot John McCain to the Republican nomination. It may propel the Reform Party to a seat in the presidential debates in the fall. It may cost the Democratic Party some of the black vote. It will certainly force every presidential candidate to woo independents in November. And for independents, the critical challenge is remaining independent of the wooing.
For comments guest contributor Dr. Lenora B. Fulani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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