Politics need more than diversity

By George E. Curry

The presidential race is on. Hillary Clinton announced on her Web site that she will be a candidate for president in 2008. Barack Obama took to cyber-space to announce that he will announce. And John Edwards outsmarted both Harvard- and Yale-trained lawyers, by announcing his candidacy in New Orleans’ heavily-damaged 9th Ward.

Much is being written about this being the most diverse presidential field in history, with Obama vying to become the first African-American president and Clinton seeking to become the first female president of the United States. This comes on the heel of Rep. Nancy Pelosi becoming the first female speaker of the House of Representatives and two Blacks serving in the non-traditional role of Secretary of State, Colin Powell and now Condoleezza Rice.

There is religious diversity in the 110th Congress as well. For the first time, Congress includes a Muslim (Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota), two Buddhists (Reps. Mazie Hironco of Hawaii and Hank Johnson of Georgia), and the highest-ranking Mormon in history, Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader.

It should come as no surprise that I am all for diversity, but not diversity simply for diversity’s sake.

In declaring her candidacy, Clinton said, \”I’m in and I’m in to win.\” To win. That is, after all, the goal. Who gives the Democrats the best chance of winning in 2008?

Democrats have already proven that they know how to lose national elections. Three of the last four presidents have been Republicans, though Bill Clinton won twice. And they didn’t really win back Congress in the last election. Rather, Republicans lost both chambers. For the most part, Democrats regained power because of the unpopularity of George W. Bush and his handling of the war in Iraq. Now, back in power, Democrats are running away from the war, the very issue to propelled them back to power.

No wonder humorist Will Rogers said, \”I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat.\”

The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll has Hillary Clinton as the Democratic front-runner, the favorite of 41 percent of Democrats. Senator Obama is a distant second, with only 17 percent. Even more troubling for Obama, a Newsweek poll found that Clinton’s strongest support comes from nonwhite Democrats, not women or liberals. Although the polls show Clinton being competitive with Republicans John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, it is early in the political season and it is unknown how she or Obama will fare under a withering attack from the Far Right.

Democrats can’t win by repeatedly nominating weak candidates from the northeast, whether it’s Michael Dukakis, John Kerry or Hillary Clinton, the early front-runner. The Party can’t afford to write-off the South, a region where more than half of African-Americans live. As I keep pointing out, the only time Democrats have won the White House since the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 has been with Southerners -Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

What has changed in recent years that would justify thinking that selecting a non-Southern candidate, even one from Chicago, will produce a different outcome in 2008? More than ever, the Party needs to nominate a Bill Clinton-like candidate from the South to win the White House next year. So far, former Senator John Edwards seems to fit that bill. Other candidates from the South may still emerge.

Wherever they’re from, candidates in the primaries should be closely questioned in forums sponsored by our political and civil rights organization. African-American journalists – at least the ones who know that they are Black – should be the ones pressing the candidates on the issues. Unlike the last presidential election, the Congressional Black Caucus shouldn’t shamelessly hop in bed with the right-wing Fox network and be an accessory to the crime of misinforming the public.

We need to know what the candidates propose to do about preserving affirmative action, especially in view of what happened in Michigan. We need to know if they favor repealing the Bush tax breaks given mostly to the wealthy. We need to know if the Democratic nominee is willing to move beyond favoring a reduction of the interest rates on student loans to shifting back to need-based direct grants for poor students to attend college. What initiatives do they have for building more affordable housing? Are they willing to cut off funding for the war? If the Party’s nominee can’t provide satisfactory answers to these and similar questions, it doesn’t matter if he is the first Black or that she is the first woman to capture the Party’s nomination. At best, it would be a pyrrhic victory for the nominee to be a different color or a different gender yet support the same regressive policies of the past. We need a diversity of action, not appearance.

George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service

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