The issue is race. It is the alpha and the omega of presidential politics; the beginning and the end. The Democratic Party must never again offer two white people as the solution to people of color’s aspirations and challenges, or we will lose every national election going forward.
Obama’s coalition brought together women, people of color, white progressives, LGBT people and more to elect and re-elect a Democrat to the White House. Hillary Clinton sought to activate Obama’s coalition. The fact that we offered two white people as our Democratic candidates, made fully and completely activating the Obama coalition impossible.
White liberals and progressives fundamentally misunderstood where our collective political power lies. All of us, myself included, felt sure that women would vote in overwhelming numbers against Trump. We felt sure Trump’s hateful language about women and the aspirational vision of breaking the glass ceiling would decide the election. We were wrong.
Some will argue that Hillary Clinton wasn’t the right women to motivate female voters. That she had too many negatives, that she was corrupt. But for women, those issues should have been washed away in the tidal wave of Trump’s clear and unambiguous misogyny. If there ever was a clear choice against the worst aspects of abusive male dominance, this was it.
With Trump, we aren’t talking about a traditional sexist conservative who feels women should remain docile second class citizens. We’re talking about a man who happily declared he can “grab them by their pu**ys. By all rights, this should have horrified all women. Instead, Trump beat Clinton among white women 53 percent to 43 percent.
This disparity is made even more horrifying by the following distinction. While 53% of white women voted for Trump outright, another 4% of white women, while opposing Trump, likely voted for a third party candidate, meaning that many of them cast a privileged white protest vote. A luxury women of color, who will bear the brunt of Trump’s abuse, can simply couldn’t afford.
The Clinton campaign made much of breaking through the “last highest glass ceiling.” Well, here’s the news. Presidential politics will never turn on women’s issues exclusively. As much as having a female Democratic nominee may warm suffragette historian’s hearts and pepper the grave of Susan B. Anthony with “I Voted” stickers, a clear majority of white women have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they will vote their race over their gender. Their solidarity lies not with other women, but with white male voters who overwhelmingly turn out for candidates like Trump.
By a ten point margin, white women don’t feel compelled to vote for the interests of women of color. This guarantees that Democrats can not win a national election on women’s issues alone, we also need a huge turnout around the defining issue of our national history. And with all due respect to the compelling and crucial issues of gender, that issue is race.
Hillary Clinton had high support among African Americans. But the levels of turnout among black men for Obama was not there for Clinton.
“She did win 88 percent of the black vote to just 8 percent for Trump. However, this was significantly lower than the 93 percent of black voters Mr. Obama won four years ago. The falloff in her share of the black vote was entirely due to black men. Clinton won among black women by a 93 percent to 4 percent margin. Among black men she won by 80 percent to 13 percent.”
Put a pin in it. Right there. These is where we fail to overcome the razor thin margins that hand the country over to people like Donald Trump or George W. Bush.
While some of this lack of turnout can be attributed to voter suppression tactics in states like Wisconsin what we really saw was crucial drop in inspirational political passion for our white Democratic ticket among communities of color.
Its not hard to figure out why. As hard as it may be to assess the race through this lense, we ran a white candidate who once spoke the phrase “super predator.” Hillary used this phrase in a 1996 speech in New Hampshire, where she was appearing in support of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, an act Bill Clinton signed in to law.
Clearly, this language is a result of a three decade political career, during which Hillary Clinton has clearly evolved her ideas and opinions. But here is the problem. Clinton’s evolution on issues of criminal justice is secondary to the larger context of that phrase. Super predator is indicitive of our nation’s unrelenting incarcaration of people of color. It wouldn’t have much mattered if Clinton has not actually used that phrase. We, as a nation, have incarcarated the largest number of citizen in the free world. And black men are six times more likely to be in jail then white men. THIS is ingrained in the consciousness of black Americans. And whether or not anyone uses the phrase super predator, well all carry collective responisbility for this.
Additionally, a crucial percentage of white progressives refused to vote for Hillary Clinton. This should give us pause regarding race in America. It speaks volumes about how whites view people of color. We view them as apart from us. We always have. This priviledged choice was made by people who will likely move through Trump’s America with a degree of immunity, based in their color and access to resources.
These same folks continue to second guess the party’s choice of Clinton over Sanders. But the Sanders Campaign would have done little to activate that last 13% of black male voters within the Obama coalition. Sanders was unwilling to address racism beyond calling it an extension of economics. “We can talk about it as a racial issue, but it’s a general economic issue,” he said. Spoken like a well intentioned white man from Vermont. Would black voters have turned out for Bernie? They didn’t in the primary. I suspect the numbers would be been even lower.
Hillary Clinton was the consumate political animal. Her campaign was buttoned up. It was about policy proposals, funding, and organizing state by state and county by county. By all accounts, Hillary did all of that hard work beautifully. But politics is, at its core, symbolic. The 2016 election was fueled by the rage and anger of millions who feel their government can’t be bothered to give a damn about them. And collectively speaking, they are right.
Republicans steadfastly blocked Obama’s jobs agenda, systematically shredded our safety net and put in place voter suppression tactics across the nation. Our politics can only be summarized in one way. The shining city on the hill is only there for the very rich; it is a nation where the strong victimize the weak. Democrats losing the 2016 campaign did nothing to undermine that narrative. Clinton’s campaign inspired, at best, wary anxiety, especially for people of color. Like the Kerry Campaign and the Gore Campaign before it, Clinton’s campaign was liberal white candidates fighting conservative white candidates. Our collective anxiety stems from the fact that is a fight liberals are losing at the Presidential level.
And this kind of anxiety can only be offset by the clear and unambiguous symbol of black or brown skin on the campaign trail. We are past the point where Tim Keane’s summer in Guatamala will convince people that race truly matters to the Democratic Party. People of color need to see the issue of race personified in the most visceral way possible. Seeing is believing. We need a person of color on that stage. We need to see all of America reflected back at us when the balloons fall.
We are losing by razor thin margins when the Obama coalition is not fully activated. 50% of eligable voters didn’t turn out for this election. We must activate that additional block of the coalition. How many of those voters might have been energized by a Cory Booker or a Kamilla Harris on the ticket?
As a white voter, I remain outraged at the outcome of the election. But what is dawning on me is that we dealt and played a losing hand. We pitted white liberals against white conservatives. Yes, we reached out ot people of color. Yes, we put their issues front and center. Yes, we campaigned on equality and on civil rights.
What we didn’t do is put a person of color on the ticket. In that moment, we sent the same old tired message. “Let us help you.”
When we put a person of color on the ticket we say something very different. We say “Please. We need your help. Help us.”
The Democratic Party has long been paternalistic toward people of color. We have called them allies even as we have passed laws that have hurt their communities. Or failed to create real change. Of just flat out failed them by losing elections. When we nominated a black man for President we changed all that. It activated a coalition in which people of color were equal partners.
Candidates like Booker and Harris are only two among thousands of gifted progressives whose presence and politics would have shifted Clinton’s message to people of color from “let us help you” to “please help us all.”
A Booker or Harris Vice Presidential candidacy whould have made this crucial shift, not only because of who they are and how they speak, but because of what they would have actually been. A person of color who is one heartbeat from the Presidency. They would have held power. Until we share power at the top of the ticket with people of color, acknowledging that we will absolutely fail to win elections without them, our campaigns are going to look like what they are, more empty lip service.
A lack of inclusion on the ticket of people of color will cost us the razor thin margins we need to defeat the coming army of Donald Trumps that will define the Republican Party from here on out.
President Barack Obama is the Democrat Party’s most powerful political symbol of victory. You can argue what you like about his policy achievements, but you can not underestimate his powerful connection to all voters. He motivated white voters, people of color, LGBT voters, and a wide range of religious voters.
So dear Democratic Party, as much and I love Hillary Clinton and Tim Keane, put two white folks at the top of the ticket again at your peril. Because you will lose, no matter how qualified your candidates are.
Stronger together can mean nothing less than people of color at the top of the ticket.
Photo: Associated Press/Andrew Harnik
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