Bernie’s anti-establishment message crashes into Dems’ conservative base – African Americans

Super Tuesday, Joe fought the power of Bernie’s star appeal and cool-kid cred the old-fashioned way: He stomped through the South, leaning heavily on the same Black voters that fueled his South Carolina blowout, rolling up at least 10 victories nationwide.

In four days, Joe Biden proved a whole hell of a lot can change.

Saturday, Joe Biden blew Bernie Sanders out of the water in South Carolina, with a huge African American turnout.

Sunday, Sanders held a rally at the Los Angeles Convention Center with an advertised
appearance by hip-hop legends Public Enemy.

Monday, the band fired longtime member Flavor Flav, who objected to co-founder Chuck D’s seemingly unilateral endorsement of Sanders’ presidential campaign.

Super Tuesday, Joe fought the power of Bernie’s star appeal and cool-kid cred the old-fashioned way: He stomped through the South, leaning heavily on the same Black voters that fueled his South Carolina blowout, rolling up at least 10 victories nationwide.

Some history

Now, it’s easy to just attribute Biden’s strength with African Americans to his being Barack Obama’s vice president. Biden’s certainly made that connection a significant part of his campaign message. But to accept that sole explanation ignores decades of contested Democratic presidential primaries and how African Americans have voted in them.

Since at least 1976, essentially the birth of the modern primary process, Black voters tend to align closer to establishment candidates rather than insurgents. The rare exception is if a Black insurgent is deemed viable.

Shiny new objects like Gary Hart (1984), Bill Bradley (2000) and Howard Dean (2004) never broke through because while college-educated upscale White Democrats were intrigued, Blacks stayed with establishment candidates (Walter Mondale, Al Gore and John Kerry respectively).

Black voters even stuck with incumbent Jimmy Carter in 1980, despite a strong primary challenge by Ted Kennedy, whose family was beloved by many African Americans.

Jesse to Hillary

The exceptions? In 1988, Jesse Jackson (who ran in 1984 but couldn’t completely break Mondale’s Black firewall) was now seen as legitimate by African American leadership and rank and file, who stayed with him until he finally conceded the nomination to Michael Dukakis.

In 2008, Blacks initially were with Hillary Clinton, until Obama’s upset win in Iowa signaled they should take him seriously.

In four years, Sanders proved a whole heck of lot doesn’t change. The Black community’s history with establishment candidates appears to have escaped him.

In 2016, Hillary easily beat Bernie (sorry, bros, there was no rigging) largely via African American voters who were the least susceptible to feeling the Bern.

Skeptical of revoluiton

In 2020, Sanders declares that he’s leading a “multiracial coalition,” and launching a “revolution” that will bring down the establishment.

Vows to blow up the establishment (or, well, “fight the power”) are exactly the wrong thing to say trying to appeal to a base that is temperamentally and, in some respects, ideologically conservative. As much as Black people have been victimized by capitalism at its worst, this community doesn’t have the luxury to place trust in a risky untried faith called democratic socialism.

To some, Sanders’ revolutionary call of one side is to be viewed as skeptically as the “what the hell have you got to lose?” aside of the other. Especially when that man the base is singularly focused on removing from office seems too eager to want Sanders to get the nomination. Can’t truss it, as Public Enemy might say.

Moore missed mark

Finally, there is a whiff in the Sanders revolution of disdain for African Americans and their role within the party.

On Monday, one of Sanders’s most visible supporters, documentarian Michael Moore, dismissed Biden’s South Carolina win because the Palmetto State was “not representative of the United States.”

Moore added: “South Carolina will have absolutely no impact on the Nov. 3 election.”

This line of thought — dismissing the importance of primary wins in states not likely to go Democratic in November — regularly pops up with Bernie supporters and doesn’t arise by accident: Four years ago, Sanders himself explicitly made the claim, leading several party chairmen of Southern states to ask him to cool it.

More tough Tuesdays

Understandably. African Americans are providing those primary wins, and whether a Democrat wins a state in November or not, Black turnout is important for down-ballot races and even makes Democrats competitive in states like North Carolina and Virginia.

In 2020, Sanders has tried to avoid such language. Too many of his supporters still don’t get it. And while Sanders may have some younger African Americans in his coalition, the group as a whole has little reason to trust his agenda — or his message.

“People, people we are the same. No we’re not the same/ ’Cause we don’t know the game.”

Oh, yes, indeed, they do know the game.

But until Sanders figures why the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituency doesn’t believe the hype he’s selling, he’s going to face more tough Tuesdays.

Robert A. George is a member of the New York Daily News Editorial Board.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here