Democratic debate leaves room for improvement

00-drjuliannemalveauxIn contrast to the most entertaining Republican presidential candidate debate, the first Democratic presidential candidate debate was more absorbing.  We heard from grownups that refrained from personal attacks and offered solid information about their positions.

While there were mild fireworks, there was much gravitas, and the sagacity with which these candidates discussed issues was most welcome.

My evaluation
Hilary Rodham Clinton was gracious, graceful, firm and focused.  She was the best I’ve seen her since she gave her incandescent speech at the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver.  Martin O’Malley missed his chance to shine.  He seemed stiff and though he also seemed thoroughly prepared, he did not stand out.

Sen. Lincoln Chafee might as well have stayed home. “Whining” Jim Webb complained that he was not getting enough time.  But he spent too much time saying he wasn’t getting equal time, and he did not jump in, as others did, to make his point.

The real contrast is between Hilary and Bernie Sanders, with O’Malley, seemingly running for vice-president, adding occasional spark to the fire.

The only one
In response to the question, “Do Black lives matter, or do all lives matter?  Sen. Sanders was the only one who uttered the words, “institutional racism.” He invoked Sandra Bland, the woman who supposedly hung herself in Texas, and talked about mass incarceration.

O’Malley and Clinton addressed the issue as well, with the acceptable answers that included police reform, education and mass incarceration.  Clinton suggested a “new deal” for communities of color, but time prevented her from offering details.

Neither Clinton nor O’Malley suggested that institutional racism had anything to do with the Black Lives Matter movement or the racial disparities that exist in our nation.  Chafee did not address the issue. Whining Webb cited his work with African-American veterans.  Where is the public policy?

Clinton talked about the role entrepreneurship plays in empowering people in our nation.  Did she (or any of the other candidates) know that the Democratic National Committee spent only 1.7 percent of the $500 million spent on consulting with minority-owned businesses?

No reciprocity
While as many as three-quarters of African-Americans vote for Democrats, it is not clear that our Democratic allegiance is returned.  African-American support of the Democratic Party is not reflected in the dollars the DNC chooses to invest in our community.  Black lives matter – and so do Black dollars.

African-Americans have twice the unemployment rates of Whites, earn less regardless of education and occupation, have a fraction of the wealth, and less homeownership.  We are 13 percent of the population, but half of those incarcerated.  Institutional racism is alive and well, but only one Democratic candidate for president chose to mention that.

Haven’t you heard some White person say they didn’t own any slaves, without understanding that slavery’s aftermath can be seen in disparity data?  Union folks forget that African-American people were systematically excluded from their unions, and used as strikebreakers until a few decades ago.

Others forget the advantages they gained because institutional racism dictated African-American exclusion.

Where’s our cut?
Race matters are not the only matters that the Democratic nominee for president must deal with. But those Democrats who take African-American fealty for granted must understand that they have to give as much as they get.  If about 25 percent of all Democrats are African-American, shouldn’t we get 25 percent of the dollars that the DNC spends?

I am glad that Sanders raised the issue of institutional racism.  I am wondering if the DNC and others will address the issue by doing a better job of distributing contracts and opportunities to minority-owned businesses.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer.

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