In every election since 1964 blacks have been the die-hard foot soldiers for the Democrats, and virtually never more so than in the one that finally finished this week. Gore took 90 percent of the African-American vote, even more than Clinton got in 1996. That’s not because blacks were thrilled about Gore, but because they were terrified of what a Bush presidency might mean for the issues important to African Americans.
They remembered the Reagan years. Blacks uniformly assailed him, and Reagan in turn gave the green light for a full-scale assault on civil rights and social and education programs.
Bush, of course, claims to be a more pragmatic kind of Republican who believes in and promotes diversity and inclusion. Still, the fear is that the near-monolithic support of black voters for the Democrats will cause Bush to ignore their interests on some big-ticket social and political issues.
Supreme Court. There may be three or four vacancies on the court during Bush’s term(s). Blacks are scared stiff that Bush will appoint more judges like Clarence Thomas who could wreak monumental damage on civil rights, and civil liberties protections. (Thomas, for instance, voted that the beating of a black inmate in Louisiana by prison guards was not cruel and unusual punishment, and has supported police roadblocks under the pretense of stopping drug trafficking in Indiana.)
Affirmative Action. Bush opposes it. He could actively support conservative efforts to get a permanent Congressional ban on affirmative action. Or he could follow the example of his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who wiped out all affirmative-action provisions in state contracting by executive order. Bush could try to do the same thing on the federal level. This would, however, spark a ferocious fight by civil-rights groups, something Bush might prefer to avoid — at least at the start of his administration.
Racial profiling and abusive police. In a campaign speech to police chiefs, Bush assured them that he doesnÕt believe the Justice Department should saddle local police departments with consent decrees mandating reforms to eliminate police abuse and racial profiling. He will likely stack the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division with appointees who reflect that position.
Crime and punishment. The overwhelming majority of prisoners currently awaiting federal execution are black. Bush, as Texas governor, did nothing to put the brakes on the Texas execution machine, overseeing dozens of state killings.
Unlike Clinton, he would probably not have granted the recent six-month stay to a federal inmate scheduled for execution pending review of the gaping racial disparities in federal death sentences. But like Clinton, he may propose new federal anti-crime provisions that would accelerate the massive law enforcement build-up that has spawned the wave of race profiling and police abuse cases, grotesque racial disparities in drug sentencing laws, and landed more than 1 million black men in America’s jails for mostly non-violent drug offenses and petty crimes.
True, Bush also is likely to boost aid to small business, push teacher accountability and school vouchers, expand urban enterprise zones, provide bigger tax incentives for businesses to train and hire the unemployed, increase funding for historically black colleges, and tout faith- based organizations as the best way to deal with the chronic poor. These are pet Republican notions that many blacks — particularly young, upwardly mobile blacks — also favor. And if Bush appoints Colin Powell as secretary of state and Condeleeza Rice as national security advisor, those appointments would be historic firsts for blacks and could pay PR dividends for the GOP among some African American voters.
But these measures are a poor trade-off for the colossal danger that Bush poses to civil rights and civil-liberties protections and to education and social programs. The saving grace is that if — or maybe when — he begins a full attack in these policy areas, it will shake black organizations and leaders from their Clinton/Gore-induced lethargy and again force them to wage their own battles to protect civil rights and social programs.