Don’t pass the popcorn just yet, and don’t necessarily slough this off as just another quixotic alternate-party pipe dream either. Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson wants to increase the political leverage of black voters, telling CNBC yesterday that bloc voting has led them into a dead end when dealing with both parties on a historical basis. “Had African American interests been embraced by one or two of the dominant parties,” Johnson argued, “we wouldn’t have the tremendous social, economic, racial issues that we have now.”
Johnson’s solution? Transform Black Lives Matter into a political party that would force both parties to negotiate with the bloc:
BET founder Robert Johnson is calling on the Black Lives Matter movement to form an independent political party. “I think it’s time that African Americans form an independent party, not be an appendage of one party or ignored by the other party.” pic.twitter.com/WBIyfbxAVx
— CNBC (@CNBC) June 23, 2020
Biden’s suggestion in May that “you ain’t Black” if you vote for Trump instead of him demonstrates that Black voters are too often taken for granted, Johnson said. Biden later apologized for the remark, saying “I shouldn’t have been so cavalier.”
“That someone could be so presumptuousness, that you have to vote for a Democrat or otherwise you’re not identified as Black, that is the principal reason why we need a Black party, independent, to change that kind of behavior,” said Johnson, who became the first Black billionaire in the U.S. when he sold BET to Viacom in 2001. He’s no longer on the Forbes billionaires list. …
Johnson, who has previously called on the U.S. government to provide reparations for slavery, said the independent political party would stand for things “principally focused on the interests” of Black Americans.
Last week, Johnson sent a letter to “Black Lives Matter Leaders and Supporters,” suggesting that “Black Lives Matter (BLM) consider establishing a formal independent political party. The party could be founded on the principle articulated by the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971.” He described the Congressional Black Caucus’ founding principle as Blacks having “no permanent friends, no permanent enemies … just permanent interests.’”
Republicans might cheer this as a way to split the Democratic Party and reduce it to permanent minority status. Shorn of its most loyal voting bloc — deliberately, as far as Johnson is concerned — Democrats would no longer be competitive against Republicans. If the BLM Party ran its own slate of candidates and black voters remained loyal to it, Republicans would not just own the White House but likely both chambers of Congress and most gubernatorial seats, too.
However, that’s not what such a party would likely do. Johnson’s a smart guy and knows exactly what would happen if he tried to launch BLM in the same model as the Greens or the Libertarians. Not only would that kill any real influence the black vote has, it would sap the enthusiasm for voter turnout among this bloc, too — exactly the opposite of what Johnson has in mind.
It seems far more likely that Johnson envisions a party focused on local and House elections, at least at first, building a very clear political base with real influence on other contests as an endorsement factor. A prospective BLM Party has what the Libertarians and Greens lack — a natural geographic profile that could help them dominate local and House elections. African-Americans form a majority in many urban centers in the US, which is one reason Democrats have controlled the cities for the last several decades. By breaking free of the Democratic Party, black voters could set their own agendas for the cities, and be directly responsible for the outcomes, too. That might be a very healthy development, especially considering the recent unrest over policing issues, which are truly a local issue. If a BLM Party consolidated those voters, they could run their own power bases and partner up with one major party or another on regional and federal issues, but on their terms rather than as an “appendage,” as Johnson puts it.
With that kind of local power, a BLM Party could take urban House seats away from Democrats and build a powerful coalition in Congress that would be separate from the current Democratic establishment. That would make it very difficult for either party to win an outright majority in the lower chamber, forcing them to negotiate with BLM Party leaders for a coalition to form the majority. That alone would give black voters much more leverage at the federal level and keep that leverage untethered to Democratic establishment figures. The CBC in its current form has no real power to set the agenda, even in a House Democratic majority, and Johnson knows it. If the CBC gets replaced with a BLM Party bloc that owes nothing to Democrats for getting elected, that changes in a hurry.
With that kind of political power, voter enthusiasm in the bloc would likely increase. Rather than field a presidential candidate destined for the fringe, however, the BLM Party could demand concessions for delivering its voting bloc to one of the major-party candidates. That would probably function mostly as a strongarm technique against Democrats for a while, until the party moderated away from its most Marxist-extremist, pie-in-the-sky agenda items to focus on achievable goals — an evolution that the promise of real power would almost certainly incentivize. That kind of real-power leverage would also stoke black voter turnout to higher levels in 2016 and maybe even at a constant 2008 level, which would make their endorsement critical — and likely decisive in either direction.
If that’s what Johnson has in mind, it would be nothing short of brilliant, at least in general political terms. “The Democratic Party is terrified of the notion,” Johnson says, but I’m not so sure that the Republican Party would feel too much differently in the end.