Hillary Clinton, whom I’ve never accused of being inept at political maneuvering, has clearly learned the required lesson’s from the disastrous appearances at Netroots Nation by Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders. During her recent speech to the Urban League she hit exactly the right script lines for the Black Lives Matter movement, praising black activists “who have taken to the streets, dignified and determined, urging us to affirm the basic fact that black lives matter.”
But are her cheering supporters really getting a promise from the candidate which has any substance or are they setting themselves up to buy yet another political load of goods? There’s a very prescient analysis in the New York Times this week by Robert Draper who seems to recognize that Team Clinton knows they are on the bubble in terms of actually winning the 2016 election and it may all come down to the black vote. This may sound counterintuitive to many observers because, as Draper recounts, the GOP hasn’t exactly cleaned up in that area in the past. A typical Republican presidential candidate these days will likely consider it a job well done if they draw 9% of the black vote nationally. (Bob Dole was the outlier when he pulled 12% in 96, the best showing since 1980.)
But the GOP isn’t counting on winning the black vote, nor do they need to even come close. As Draper notes, this is a battle that the GOP “wins” if they capture enough of a slice of that vote in the right places and, perhaps more importantly, if enough minority voters are simply disillusioned with the Democrat.
Consider George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign: Nationwide, Bush won just 11 percent of the black vote. But his aggressive appeal on social issues to African-American Christian conservatives in Ohio earned him 16 percent in that pivotal state — enough to ensure his re-election. (Using similar tactics, he won more than 13 percent of Florida’s black voters and 16 percent of Pennsylvania’s.)…
What would happen in 2016 if black voters were less than inspired by the Democratic nominee and reverted to their 2004 turnout level? Or if a 2016 Republican candidate once again won over just enough people in a few pivotal African-American communities? “To be sure,” Walter and Wasserman write, “a return to pre-2008 African-American turnout levels wouldn’t necessarily doom a Hillary Clinton candidacy, but it would leave her with a whole lot less margin for error in a host of swing states.”
O’Malley isn’t exactly inspiring to minority communities when he addresses racial issues. His “base” in Maryland still recall his handling of the decay of Baltimore in a less than fond fashion. As for Sanders, he just seems confused when people become angry over his failure to recite the correct slogans with the proper level of vigor. Clinton is starting to serve up what they want, but what is she really promising?
If there’s any rational thinking taking place on the Left these days at all, activists should be asking Clinton to specify exactly what she means when she chants “black lives matter” in unison with them. Does she have a plan for some sweeping federal intervention which is going to change the way in which police forces across the nation interact with suspects during tense confrontations? Will she be issuing crystal balls to mayors which will suddenly allow them to peer into the hearts of applicants for the force? Is there some new training regimen coming down the pipe which will teach officers to never reach for their guns unless they are sure there is an iron clad case to be made that they’re about to be killed? In short… what exactly is the plan?
When people come to grips with this idea there are a few harsh realities which must set in. We’ve had the first black president in office for more than six years now. In that time there has been no significant change in violent confrontations between cops and suspects. The violent crime rate in cities has gone up, not down. And most of the nation generally agrees that race relations have generally gotten worse rather than better during his tenure.
Rather than running away, the GOP needs to engage Hillary Clinton in this debate in a very public way and ask her the obvious question: Barack Obama wasn’t able to move the needle. Exactly what do you think you’re going to do? Clinton is clinging to a smokescreen in the hopes of generating the same enthusiasm among black voters that the current president did. Frankly, that looks like a pretty tall order for her.