Stephen A. Smith is probably best known for his work on ESPN. But on March 18, 2015 he was speaking at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. In that discussion he provided insight on the status of Blacks in politics. It was an eye opening commentary for some.
Mr. Smith stated that the well-known and at this point institutional pattern of African Americans voting almost uniformly for Democrats has eliminated the relevance of the Black vote. The voting aspect of that is relatively easy to prove. Since 1964 there has not been a presidential election where a Republican has garnered more than 17% of the Black vote. Since 1976 there has not been a Democrat that has ever received less than 83% of the Black vote in a presidential race. As a comparison, from 1936 – 1960, Republicans had never received less than 24% of the Black vote in a Presidential race with 1948 being the peak at 44%.
It is also fair to say that politicians are hyper-sensitive to the electorate. Politicians are quick to try to quell any negative impressions that might affect their re-election prospects. They are also quick to jump on whatever bandwagon that will boost their political standing. On a State level, there are the examples of Rep. Richard Hanna, who in his 2014 primary challenge was confronted with his lack of policy platform consistency. Starting in 2015 Rep. Richard Hanna (NY-22) has sent out 2 flyers, at least 2 robocalls, and held semi-public meet-and-greets with selected voters to emphasize a political platform in advance of challenges for the 2016 election. Another example is Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi (119th District, NY), who has jumped on the bandwagon of repeal of the NY Safe Act after 2 years of absolute silence on the subject – which may be a likely effort to kickstart his 2016 challenge of Rep. Hanna. Pretty standard fare in politics.
But, one key point of what Mr. Smith said is that
“Black folks in America are telling one party, “We don’t give a damn about you.” They’re telling the other party, “You’ve got our vote.” Therefore, you have labeled yourself “disenfranchised” because one party knows they’ve got you under their thumb. The other party knows they’ll never get you and nobody comes to address your interest.”
That is far harder to define. Still, there is the fact that Black unemployment has been, and remains, virtually double the national unemployment rate since 2009. [See chart] So far in both terms of the Obama Administration, nothing has been done to address this disproportionate unemployment rate. In 2011, the Black Congressional Caucus spoke out about the issue,
“Can you imagine a situation where any other group of workers, if 34 percent of white women were out there looking for work and couldn’t find it? You would see congressional hearings and community gatherings. There would be rallies and protest marches. There is no way that this would be allowed to stand.” – Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, 7/7/11
Since that statement, the Black unemployment rate has gone from 16.2% to 10.4%. Most of this decline can be attributed to the decrease in the number of people being counted as unemployed, as millions have left the labor force, and the increase in part-time jobs as opposed to full-time employment. Even with the decrease, Black unemployment is more than double that of Whites (4.7%) and just shy of double the national average (5.5%). But does this correlate with what Mr. Smith states is a disenfranchisment of the Black voter?
Based on the study by George J. Borjas (Harvard University), Jeffrey Grogger (University of Chicago), Gordon H. Hanson (University of California, San Diego), in 2009 – which the White House should be aware of, and likely has other sources to confirm the data – there is a direct connection between immigration and Black unemployment and incarceration. The study states,
“As immigrants disproportionately increased the supply of workers in a particular skill group, the wage of black workers in that group fell, the employment rate declined, and the incarceration rate rose.”
Since being elected, President Obama has not directly address the concern of Black unemployment. There has been no initiative specifically targeting this national issue. But, consistently since being elected President Obama has focused considerable political clout and action on immigration. This culminated in the 2012 Executive Order (DACA) and again in 2014 with the expansion of DACA. Immigration is a significant issue among the Latino community – a voting block that is publicly known as a target of the Democrat Party.
It would seem that President Obama, and Democrats in general, have dismissed the long-term concerns of the Congressional Black Caucus in favor of the growing Latino community and its votes. This appears to be an example of the concrete depiction of the disenfranchisment that Mr. Smith described. While this is a positive for the efforts of the Latino community in getting its concerns heard and acted upon, it is also a telling statement about the disregard for the concerns of the Black community. Which brings us to Mr. Smith’s wish.
Mr. Smith advocated for all Black Americans to vote Republican for 1 year. The goal would be to shake up the status quo. In effect it would be a reminder that the Black community, and its votes, should not be taken for granted. This, Smith relates, would motivate a resurgence in the needs of the Black community and relevance in politics.
What Mr. Smith fails to note is that attempts to invigorate the Black communities voting status has long been under way. From the prominence of Herman Cain in the 2012 Republican presidential race, to the surge in publicly known Conservative Black voices across the nation like Dr. Ben Carson, an alternative is being offered. But the biggest blockade to political diversity comes from the Black community itself.
The examples are as numerous as they are publicly known. From the scathing reaction to Stacy Dash to the comments of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee on the nomination of Loretta Lynch
“This is very emotional, and it is, from my perspective, a factor in this, a woman, an African-American woman. We don’t step back from that.”
As a community, Black voters have shunned and outcast any voice that claims a perspective different than that of the Democrat Party. At the same time, we are using the crutch of race to prop up nominations and elections, without due regard for the quality and credentials of the individuals in question. They are effectively an obsolete part of the Democrat machine that goes unheeded. By choice they have politically stagnated, having lost the momentum created by Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X to name just a few.
Because of this, what Mr. Smith suggests, by just voting one year as a block vote for Republicans, is not an openness to political diversity but a change of political masters. To exchange the useless cog from one political machine and inject it into another. In effect the result would be negligible in the long run. But, at the heart of what Mr. Smith stated is the reality that needs to be embraced,
“My point is, when you go buy a house do you look at one?… When you want to buy some clothes, when you want to buy some shoes, when you want to buy anything, you are shopping around… Let me see what you have to offer? We don’t do that with politics… I do not understand, for the life of me, why we as a people don’t draw that conclusion.”
Like all things in life, the Black community cannot remain politically stagnant. African American voters cannot cling to a mindset that is enslaved to a singular party or bound by the color of a candidate. The constraints of segregating political options should be cast off, because as is apparent embracing such subjugation has resulted in obscurity and obsolescence. Stephen A. Smith’s point is clear, but the question remains if it will be heard.