Remember This Moment When Bernie Sanders is Courting Black Voters This WeekRemember This When Bernie Sanders is Courting Black Voters This Week
Ever since the dust settled from Bernie Sanders‘ blowout victory over Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, both candidates have been pushing anew to connect with black voters in South Carolina, a push that will intensify this week. It’s been a seesaw battle featuring high-profile endorsements on both sides, hard-hitting attacks, and examinations of each candidates’ record.
Sanders has suffered from the impression that issues of importance to black voters and other marginalized groups are mere side dishes on his menu of “Millionaires and Billionaires” entreés, while Hillary Clinton has some residual trust issues to make up for with black voters. Over the weekend, Bernie Sanders provided some clarity on the former count.
In an interview on Sunday’s State of the Union, Jake Tapper asked Sanders to respond to Hillary Clinton’s charge that he’s a single-issue candidate, and by way of rebuttal, Sanders comically listed a bunch of policy issues that are actually all subsets of his laserlike “millionaires and billionaires” focus, but were more notable for their omissions:
I haven’t the vaguest idea what she’s talking about. If she thinks that income and wealth inequality, and the fact that the rich get richer while everybody else gets poorer is the only issue, it’s not. We’re the only major country on earth that doesn’t have national health care system, guaranteeing health care to all people, talk about that. We need to have free tuition and public colleges and universities so that our kids today can do well in a global economy. We need to have the wealthiest people in larger corporation pay their fair share of taxes. We’re working very hard to transform our energy system so we effectively combat climate change. We are talking about dozens of issues so I’m not quite sure where Secretary Clinton is coming from. But what I will repeat is I think we have got to address this real crisis of a corrupt campaign finance system in which billionaires and their super PACs are trying to buy elections.
That’s right, with mere days remaining before the South Carolina primary, and given the opportunity to list policy priorities that extend beyond millionaires and billionaires rigging the system, Sanders demonstrated that none of the issues which have animated black voters make the cut. Yes, Bernie holds pretty much all the right positions, but continues to hold them subordinate to his broader “colorblind” agenda.
By contrast, Hillary Clinton has made issues like police accountability, criminal justice reform, and voting rights the cornerstone of her campaign since it began, while doing her best to repair the damage from her 2008 campaign against Barack Obama. She didn’t have to be shamed into rolling out a racial justice platform, she woke up with one.
But Hillary’s opponents still point to that period, and to some policies that she supported as First Lady, as reasons to wonder if this is all for show. Once elected, will she still fight this hard for the policies she’s advocating now? That’s a fair question that voters can take into account.
Another fair question would be whether Bernie Sanders would devote any energy at all toward enacting his racial justice platform, or is he really just the same guy who rejected “demographic stuff” in favor of appealing to white voters with a platform that helps everybody?
Well, here’s what you got. What you got is an African-American president, and the African-American community is very, very proud that this country has overcome racism and voted for him for president. And that’s kind of natural. You’ve got a situation where the Republican Party has been strongly anti-immigration, and you’ve got a Hispanic community which is looking to the Democrats for help.
But that’s not important. You should not be basing your politics based on your color. What you should be basing your politics on is, how is your family doing? In the last election, in state after state, you had an abysmally low vote for the Democrats among white, working-class people. And I think the reason for that is that the Democrats have not made it clear that they are prepared to stand with the working-class people of this country, take on the big money interests. I think the key issue that we have to focus on, and I know people are uncomfortable about talking about it, is the role of the billionaire class in American society.
That sounded uncomfortably like Sanders characterizing those white voters as “the working-class people of this country,” but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for poor paragraph construction and assume he just meant we’re all in the same boat. In any case, the Bernie Sanders from this weekend sounds an awful lot like the Bernie Sanders who frequently obsessed about the white vote.
But let’s forget, for a moment, the intangible issue of “trust,” and just view these candidates based on the available evidence. Taking the most cynical view possible of Hillary Clinton, it is clear that at the very least, she greatly values the black vote, and has demonstrated that since her campaign began, long before Bernie Sanders appeared to be any kind of threat. Sanders has, all along, seemed more interested in shielding himself from criticism than in earning the pro-black vote.
There was another telling moment from that CNN interview on Sunday, when Tapper asked Bernie which upcoming states he thinks he can win. Instead of answering that question, Bernie listed the states where he thought he would “do well,” and a subtle pattern emerged:
I think we are going to do well in states like Minnesota, Colorado, Massachusetts, Oklahoma. Last poll I saw had us at 80 percent of the vote in Vermont, I think we’re going to do well there. And I think we’re going to do well in some other states as well. After that we’re going to fight hard for Michigan, Kansas. There are states out there that I think we have a real shot to win in.
What those states have in common, with the exception of Michigan, is that they all have black populations well below the national average, and even Michigan is a sea of white surrounding the Detroit area. With several weeks to go, it looks like Sanders has given up on winning any state that looks remotely like South Carolina, which is something South Carolina voters should consider as they listen to Bernie’s pitch this week.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.