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Doubting black voters

Lee A. Daniels

If it’s presidential-primary time it’s a given a significant part of the political discourse will involve dissing black voters — asserting they don’t “understand” the issues at stake and who their real political “friends” are, or are ineffective in using their voting power.

In other words, black voting patterns are widely consistently discussed as if they reflect a lack of political sophistication.

Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

This perverted discourse almost always ignores or discounts such things as the fact that eight years ago black voters, first, effectively and quickly insured the Democratic primary contest would be between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Then, they switched massively to Obama only when he won the Iowa caucus in January 2008. They correctly saw as evidence a substantial number of white voters would support a black man for the presidency.

And this perverted discourse usually ignores the fact that the black-voter turnout, which in 2008 would surpass that of whites for the first time, had been rising significantly since Bill Clinton’s first election in 1992. In other words, it wasn’t just the imperative of electing the black presidential candidate in 2008 and re-electing the black President in 2012 that was pushing more and more blacks to vote.

In addition, black voters’ actions at the national, state and local levels are rarely discussed in terms of the consistently racist character of the GOP itself. It’s rarely acknowledged that they, shunned for a half century by the GOP, have expertly played the traditionally American two-party game within the Democratic Party to become its bedrock voting bloc. And it’s rarely stated that black voters saved the Democratic Party from collapsing during the 1980s-1990s “wilderness years” of the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

It’s also rarely stated that Jewish-Americans, too, are a reliable majority Democratic voting bloc; and that Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Muslim-Americans have become so as well. No one questions whether these groups are too “emotionally” attached to the Democratic Party.

Such disrespect of black voters has been the standard operating procedure of conservatives since the 1960s.

But there’s another way to consider such anti-black attitudes, beyond their merely proving how persistent individual and institutional racism remains in America. That is to see them as a perverted acknowledgment that black voters are a powerful force in presidential-election politics.

Last week, again, that force was on full display in Hillary Clinton’s substantial victory over Bernie Sanders in the New York Democratic primary.

In blunt terms, Clinton swept Sanders, gaining 58 percent of the vote to Sanders 42 percent in a contest that some had predicted would be much closer. That error in judgment was likely due to mistaking the massive crowds that showed up at Sanders’s rock-concert-like rallies as consisting entirely of voters. But the primary results — which one analyst called “a devastating result for the Sanders campaign” — showed those events and the millions Sanders’s campaign spent on television and radio advertising in the state hid a hollowness at its center.

According to the exist polls, Clinton’s ground-game approach won nearly all the categories: From income groups (those voters who make under $30,000 annually to those who make over $100,000), to voters grouped by level of education, to those grouped by age (excepting the 18 to 29 cohort, which is less than one-fifth of Democratic voters).

Significantly, Clinton swamped Sanders in race and gender terms. He narrowly won the white vote on the strength of the white-male vote. But Clinton won the votes of white women by an equal margin, and, in addition, won 75 percent of the black vote and 68 percent of the vote of other New Yorkers of color.

In other words, for all that’s said about black voters having an unthinking, “emotional” attachment to the Clintons, it appears lots of other Democratic voters in New York and the other states whose voters have given her an all but insurmountable lead for the Democratic nomination feel the same way.

So, let’s be clear about what the “feeling” is: It’s about making a pragmatic choice of who is the best person to ensure that the Presidency of the United States stays out of the grasp of the party that doesn’t deserve it and in the grasp of the party that does.

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist, keynote speaker and author. He is writing a book on the Obama years and the 2016 election. He can be reached at