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The CBC’s troubles had initially placed the Democratic Leadership in a tight quandary. Their hope was to strike a delicate balance between enforcing accountability and showing support for its more ethically-challenged members. At first, when the Rangel charges surfaced, many in the Democratic Party, including Nancy Pelosi and Obama, publicly distanced themselves. Obama even proffered that Rangel should do the honorable thing and fall on his sword.
However, as polls continued to show an ever more probable election disaster for Democrats, fears arose that a lack of support for Rangel would create a serious backlash in the black community and further depress election turnout. So, public peace was made, as evidenced by a gala fundraiser the party threw for Rangel in September. While Waters and the others have not yet been given the special “Rangel treatment,” no public utterances urging them to quit have surfaced either.
Despite this apparent unity, the difficulty for white progressives is the balancing act they must perform in order to ensure cooperation and trust with the CBC and its attendant allies outside of Congress–or face electoral disaster. That Charlie Rangel would be initially dismissed by Nancy Pelosi and Obama is startling in itself. That Waters’ aides would be ousted from a Pelosi press conference for carrying “Free Maxine” signs is stunning. Having even taken the chance to offend any of this core constituency in an election year is mind blowing.
To some observers, however, it really does not seem like that much of a gamble for Democratic leaders to take. When an ethnic group votes with the consistency blacks have over the years, it remains a fair bet that no matter how badly treated, in the end this constituency will keep on coming back to the Democrats for more.
This dependency on the Democratic Party has proven baffling to most Republicans. They have never been able to square the fact that African-Americans continually throw their lot in with Democrats, whose policies have seen to the systematic destruction of the black community over the last half-century.
If, as Republicans say, 2010 is turning out to be a stunning rebuke of Democratic economic policies, then their argument is that African-Americans should be the ones leading the charge.
While the nation as a whole has suffered grievously during the last two years of Democratic rule, blacks have suffered in a hugely disproportionate way. The unemployment rate among blacks has reached a 25-year high and now stands at an incredible 17.3%, compared to an unemployment rate of 8.8% for whites. Furthermore, the newly released census figures, which saw the national poverty level reach 15%, also saw the black poverty rate climb above 25%.
While not banking on this economic reality to suddenly produce a metamorphosis in the black community, it still could move the ball a little closer toward the GOP side. After all, the gap isn’t very wide. Most political analysts believe if Republicans can attract 10% more of the black vote, it would cripple the Democratic Party on the national stage
Republicans have seen some additional evidence to support their tentative belief that shifting black support off the Democratic bench may finally be attainable. The first and perhaps most important sign has been in the number of African-Americans involved in the Tea Party movement.
While the media and Democrats tend to portray the Tea Party as one large Klan convention, evidence shows the Tea Party to have a racial composition that nearly mirrors that of the nation. As the Tea Party grows in power, so, correspondingly, will the role and influence of black conservatives.
Secondly, as an incubator of conservative beliefs, it was from the Tea Party that many of this year’s record number of black Republican candidates emerged. In fact, 32 black Republican congressional candidates have run in 2010, the most since Reconstruction. While that number has been pared down through the primary process to 13, it still represents the beginning of the transformational image of the GOP from its current view as a party of only white men.
However small or realistic these indicators may be of a serious shift in the black community’s political allegiance, Democrats need to be very careful how they respond to these emerging trends. Having African-Americans sit out this year’s election, however harmful in the short run, may not prove fatal, but losing even a small number of them to the opposition will.
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