The Republican National Convention released its platform in Tampa with House Speaker John Boehner, who is arguably the most prominent member of the party, admitting out loud that his party’s strategy for winning in November doesn’t include Black and Latino voters. As a matter of fact, he hopes they won’t vote at all.
“This election is about economics. … These groups have been hit the hardest,” Boehner said. “They may not show up and vote for our candidate, but I’d suggest to you, they won’t show up and vote for the president either.”
On Tuesday, the Republican Party approved their 2012 platform, which seeks to undo years of legislation protecting reproductive choice, marriage equality, disability rights, affirmative action, education, immigration reform and voting rights.
The platform takes the following positions:
On abortion — “We assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.” Such an amendment would ban all abortion in the United States.
On same-sex marriage — “We reaffirm our support for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. We applaud the citizens of the majority of States which have enshrined in their constitutions the traditional concept of marriage, and we support the campaigns underway in several other States to do so.”
On women’s rights and disability rights — “It is all the more important that the Congress ... shall reject agreements whose long-range impact on the American family is ominous or unclear. These include the U.N. Convention on Women’s Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty ...”
On affirmative action — “... we reject preferences, quotas and set-asides as the best or sole methods through which fairness can be achieved, whether in government, education, or corporate boardrooms... Merit, ability, aptitude, and results should be the factors that determine advancement in our society.”
On education — “We support options for learning, including home schooling and local innovations like single-sex classes, ... We renew our call for replacing ‘family planning’ programs for teens with abstinence education, which teaches abstinence until marriage as the responsible and respected standard of behavior.”
On immigration reform — “Illegal immigration undermines those benefits and affects U.S. workers... we oppose any form of amnesty for those who, by intentionally violating the law, disadvantage those who have obeyed it. State efforts to reduce illegal immigration must be encouraged, not attacked. The pending Department of Justice lawsuits against Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina and Utah must be dismissed immediately.”
On voter identification laws — “For the same reason, we applaud legislation to require photo identification for voting and to prevent election fraud, particularly with regard to registration and absentee ballots. We support State laws that require proof of citizenship at the time of voter registration to protect our electoral system against a significant and growing form of voter fraud.”
The new platform calls for the reshaping of Medicare as well, to give fixed amounts of money to future beneficiaries so they can buy their own coverage. The many calls to shrink the size and scope of government shows just how far to the right the party has shifted in both tone and substance since Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980.
Subtitled “We Believe in America,” the platform keeps its focus on the party’s traditional support for low taxes, national security and social conservatism. And it delves into a number of politically charged issues. It calls state court decisions recognizing same-sex marriage “an assault on the foundations of our society.” It salutes the Republican governors and lawmakers who “saved their states from fiscal disaster by reforming their laws governing public employee unions.”
Mitt Romney, like most recent Republican nominees, has noted that he supports certain exceptions to his party’s proposed sweeping ban on abortion: he told CBS News that he favors exceptions in cases of rape, incest and when the health or life of the mother is endangered. And this week Boehner pointedly asked, “Have you ever met anybody who has read the party platform?”
But some political scientists say that party platforms do matter. Gerald M. Pomper, a professor emeritus of political science at Rutgers University, studied meaningful platform pledges from 1944 to 1976 — and later updated his work by looking at the 1990s — and found that winning political parties try to redeem roughly 70 percent of their concrete platform pledges. Pomper said his work found that party platforms should not be casually dismissed as meaningless.
“It seemed strange to me that people would have fights over platforms and would put in a lot of effort to try to influence them if they didn’t mean anything,” he said in an interview with The New York Times. “If they didn’t, why were practical people fighting over this? Putting something into the party platform is a pledge that you’re going to do something about it.”
This year’s Republican platform contains several planks that were sought by supporters of Representative Ron Paul of Texas, whose insurgent Republican presidential campaign energized a new generation of libertarians. It calls for an annual audit of the Federal Reserve, and for forming a commission to “investigate possible ways to set a fixed value for the dollar” along the lines of a commission that was established three decades ago to study — and wound up opposing — a return to the gold standard.
The proposal to reshape Medicare, as Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, have proposed, is now enshrined in the party platform.
Their plan would change the program for those under 55 so they would receive a fixed amount of money to purchase health coverage from private insurers, or a traditional Medicare plan. “While retaining the option of traditional Medicare in competition with private plans, we call for a transition to a premium-support model for Medicare, with an income-adjusted contribution toward a health plan of the enrollee’s choice,” the platform states.
The platform also suggests raising the age at which people can receive Medicare. “Without disadvantaging retirees or those nearing retirement, the age eligibility for Medicare must be made more realistic in terms of today’s longer life span,” it says.
President Obama and his policies are critiqued at length in the platform, which calls for repealing his health care law and criticizes his administration for leaking details of the operation that killed Osama bin Laden.
“We give the current president credit for maintaining his predecessor’s quiet determination and planning to bring to justice the man behind the 9/11 attack on America, but he has tolerated publicizing the details of the operation to kill the leader of Al Qaeda,” the platform reads.
GOP Platform 2012 and The New York Times contributed to this report.
Zack Burgess is an enterprise writer for The Tribune. Contact him at zackburgess.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zackburgess1.
Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry, who ran for president against George W. Bush, is being compared, both favorably and unfavorably, to Republican Mitt Romney’s run for president of the United States.
Kerry, in fact, has been tapped by the incumbent campaign to play the role of Romney in President Obama’s upcoming debate preparation sessions.
In that capacity, the senator will be expected to provide the answers Romney might offer on debate questions, while foreshadowing his attacks, mimicking his speaking style, and modeling his posture so Obama feels comfortable against him during their three scheduled meetings this fall.
“There is no one that has more experience or understanding of the presidential debate process than John Kerry,” Obama campaign senior strategist David Axelrod said Monday in a statement to the Boston Globe. “He’s an expert debater who has a fundamental mastery of a wide range of issues, including Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts. He’s the obvious choice.”
Obama’s performance in his debates against Romney could be pivotal to the election’s outcome.
“Is it a different kind of race than 2008? Of course,” said Axelrod. “If we were passive in the face of this onslaught we are facing, our folks would be unhappy. There are few on our side who are counseling us to sit idly by.”
Romney and his allies are giving as good as they get, lacerating Obama as hapless in promoting job creation, one of many tactics Bush used against Kerry. And as the campaigns prepare for the next phase of the race, the two sides are taking stock of what they have achieved in their first sustained engagement, a relentlessly negative effort over the last two months to define the other. The exchanges have been so fierce that hardly a positive ad has been broadcast in July.
But both the opportunities and the risks in the definition wars are greater for Obama. Also like Kerry, Romney is less well known to the public, giving Democrats a chance to shape perceptions of him just as more voters are starting to tune in to the race.
The president’s prospects for re-election now rest in part on one of the biggest gambles of his career: that the benefits of trying to eviscerate Romney outweigh the costs to his own image and reputation.
With a political climate ripe for unseating an incumbent, the president’s campaign team signaled long ago that it had no intention of trying to replicate the 2008 race, and made it clear last year that if Romney won the Republican nomination, they would rush to aggressively define him before turning to a forward-looking message in the fall.
Obama, whose competitive and confident streaks seem to have been rekindled by the challenge from Romney, has shown no inclination to hold back in trying to portray his rival as a secretive Bush-era throwback whose wealth puts him out of touch with the middle class.
The president not only approves of his television ads, as federal election law requires him to say in each commercial, he also screens many of them in advance, during a regular Sunday evening meeting with political advisers at the White House.
Fearful of the tone becoming too shrill, he took the rare step of speaking directly to the camera in a new ad that elevates the conversation, a hint of his approach when the campaign moves beyond summer.
“Sometimes politics can seem very small,” Obama says in the ad, “But the choice you face, it couldn’t be bigger.”
The ratio of negative ads, which are defined as those in which a campaign mentions its rival by name, tells the story. Since April, after Romney became the presumptive nominee, Obama broadcast negative commercials 118,775 times compared with 56,128 times for positive commercials.
In the same time period, Romney ran negative spots 51,973 times and positive spots 11,921, according to an analysis from Kantar Media, which tracks political advertising. This does not include the Republican ads that are almost entirely attacks on the president.
“President Obama was keeping a more balanced mix, but by the end of June he turned off the positive spigot,” said Elizabeth Wilner, who studies advertising for the group.
If Obama prevails, it could be because his team executed a plan to try to win the race in the summer to make Romney, like Kerry, unacceptable to voters by the fall. It is a page from the 2004 playbook of President George W. Bush, whose campaign spent the same period relentlessly defining Senator Kerry as unreliable.
Matthew Dowd, a former Republican strategist who was a top adviser on the Bush re-election campaign, refers to it as “poisoning the water table.” The parallels between 2004 and 2012 are striking, he said, with the Obama campaign putting its stamp on Romney before he introduces himself to voters.
“President Obama and his campaign have made the determination that the only way they can win this race is to create a negative impression of Mitt Romney,” said Dowd, now an independent analyst. “When people go to vote, even if they don’t like the direction of the country, they may not trust Mitt Romney.”
Republicans are trying to seize on the tone of the campaign and turn it against the president, with a recent ad titled, “Whatever happened to hope and change?”
Republican groups have spent far less time either introducing Romney or defending him. Some party leaders now wonder whether that was a mistake, given that the questions about his tax returns or his time at Bain Capital have become ubiquitous.
Despite tens of millions of dollars spent on ads this summer, the race — like 2004 — remains statistically deadlocked. The Romney campaign considers him within striking distance in many battleground states.
While Obama rose through the ranks with a clarion call for a new kind of politics, there is little noticeable criticism about the tenor of the race from longtime supporters.
“There is no question the atmosphere is different than the last campaign. It has to be,” said Judd Miner, a Chicago lawyer, who has known the president for years, said to The New York Times. “We learned the hard way with Kerry. It matters that Barack wins.”
The New York Times Contributed to this report.
As the country has moved forward, Black politicians have been less able to pin their hopes on civil rights, faith or just being African American. To broaden their appeal to an increasingly diverse America, they must run campaigns based on stability, hard work and trust.
It can be a tricky balancing act. How did African-American politics get to this point? And how do Black candidates create an image that not only appeals to African Americans, but to all Americans? These questions are being pondered by more people, with a wider range of perspectives, in more positions of power than ever before.
“There’s a generational transformation going on,” said American University professor Leonard Steinhorn, a former speechwriter and campaign staffer on Capitol Hill. “Previous generations were people who were from the Civil Rights Movement, people who were involved in securing freedoms who got involved in politics. You’re seeing less of that these days. What you’re seeing is the mainstreaming, in effect, of the Black candidate.”
An evolution has taken place the last decade that has produced a group of young African-American politicians who have been able to transcend race. This is primarily because of the emergence of the Black middle class and the efforts of the Congressional Black Caucus. These are two very important entities that have made it possible for race to no longer be the centerpiece of a Black politician’s campaign.
As the Black middle class has emerged, more and more people of color have become part of the norm in politics. This has made it possible for Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker (D), former Congressman Harold Ford of Tennessee (D) and Congressman Arthur Davis of Alabama (D) to represent categorical signs of progress to the point where now a Black candidate can go out and win white support. Another example is the number of Black Republicans running for election across the country, from a largely white swath of beach communities in Florida to the suburbs of Phoenix, Ariz.
Former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts, who was the first African American from Oklahoma to win statewide office, came with a football pedigree as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the University of Oklahoma football. That gave him a different kind of exposure than other candidates.
Political strategists have said that in order for Black candidates to gain broad support, they must have likeability, personality, sound insight, great communications skills, commitment to a cause, persuasiveness, loyalty from the people around them and — most importantly — money. This is true of every politician, but in order for an African-American politician to win over a predominantly white constituency, it’s vital.
“You just don’t wake up and say I’m going to run,” said Angela Williams, a Democrat who is the only African American woman in the Colorado state legislature. “If you’re not actively known for contributing back into your community, then you’re not in the mainstream. I think this is a part of building that foundation to get ready to run for office. Secondly, I believe a candidate must visit and gain the support of past and present political and civic leaders. Finally, a candidate must have the ability to mobilize resources. And of course people and money, that’s what wins campaigns.”
Williams, who came from the nonprofit sector, noted several obstacles one can face when running for office in a district that is 47 percent white. What seemed most perplexing was the mere idea that a person should be a policy wonk. She noted that having smart people around you is the most important commodity to any candidate. With the right credibility, integrity, honesty, branding, and likeability, she believes winning is possible.
“I believe I have branded myself through the leadership in my community,” Williams said. “Being a business owner has helped a lot. I think being personable, building relationships and being a woman of my word has helped me prepare to run for office and create an image and a brand. ”
Putting a team together is critical when preparing to run for office. It requires recruiting people loyal enough to help craft the necessary message and representation to win. It’s fundamental to the candidate’s survival. What are the key parts and who are the key people who know the candidate well enough to help them execute a vision?
“You have to appreciate and value those who are giving their time and talents and those who are going to be loyal to you through thick and thin,” said Williams. “This is a long process and you must have a plan. When we built the plan, I used a campaign consultant and a steering committee team to go through that plan.”
With the abundance of information online these days (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), every aspect of a campaign is important. There has to be someone who understands technology, social networking, marketing and fundraising. It’s important for any candidate, white or Black, to understand the marketplace, but it’s crucial for an African-American candidate who is running in a district where most of the people may look different from him or her.
“If you’re in a racially charged environment you’re going to have to diffuse that as quickly possible,” said Republican strategist Lenny McAlister, who ran for City Council in Davidson, N.C., a city that is approximately 80 percent white. “You’re going to have to get back to issues and give yourself a chance to get on equal footing. More often than not, African-American candidates, especially as you go further up the ladder, don’t have the resources necessary to compete. Even Barack Obama the candidate had to answer the questions of race somewhat, but he at least had money and funding, whereas most other African-American candidates running for office — and that includes city council all the way up to the U.S. Senate — they’re fighting both of those battles simultaneously.”
In 2010, it was supposed to be the year of the African American candidate. More than 30 ran for Congress on the Republican ticket. This was the year where things were supposed to be different. Then came the primaries.
In Alabama, Les Phillip lost to both of his white opponents. Incumbent Parker Griffith, a former Democrat who switched parties three years ago, beat Phillip by 17 points. Baptist minister Jerry Grimes lost in North Carolina’s 1st District, and Lou Huddleston, who won a Cumberland County North Carolina Republican Party straw poll as well, lost badly in the 8th District. Despite his years of service as an aide to Colin Powell, Huddleston proved no match for Tim D’Annunzio, a businessman who raised money with “machine gun socials.’’ (For $25, supporters got a plate of barbecue and the opportunity to shoot an Uzi.) In Mississippi, Fox News analyst Angela McGlowan, endorsed by none other than former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, lost to both her competitors, claiming only 15 percent of the vote.
Party officials and the candidates themselves acknowledge with these defeats that they still have uphill fights in both the primaries and the general elections, but they say that Black Republicans are running with a confidence they have never had before. With that said, it seems voters are less excited than the news media about the new crop of African-American candidates.
“I’m not surprised,” said Republican James Jones, an African American candidate who ran against Mike Fitzpatrick in Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District and lost. “Even as a supporter of the Tea Party, it wasn’t enough. What Barack had is mass appeal. But that’s on the Democratic side of the aisle. It’s hard to get that in the Republican Party. I’m proud of myself and the group of us and other people of color in general for believing that anything is possible, but politics is about image.”
Jones added that you can’t simply jump up and say, “Just because Barack did it, I can too!”
“If people are going to win or come close to winning, like Harold Ford did in Tennessee, you have to be extremely thorough,” concluded Jones. “We still have a long way to go.”
Zack Burgess is the enterprise writer for The Philadelphia Tribune. He is a freelance writer and Editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com and followed on Twitter @zackburgess1.
A new Texas A&M study has found that the Castle Doctrine – on which Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law is based – does not deter crime and, in fact, increases the murder rate.
“This study provides further evidence that ‘stand-your-ground’ legislation does more harm than good,” NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a statement. “Too often these laws provide cover for vigilantes and hate groups who choose to take the law into their own hands. They have led to an increase in homicides, and people of color seem to always get caught in the crossfire.”
The study finds that these laws increase murder and manslaughter by a statistically significant seven to nine percent. The study also finds that they have no “meaningful deterrence” on theft-related crimes.
The killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in late February launched thousands of arguments about Castle Doctrine laws, which allow a person to use lethal force against an intruder in certain situations, provided they have a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm. Lawmakers in several states, including Texas, have debated revising their own self-defense laws.
"We found a seven to nine percent increase in homicides," says one of the study's authors, associate economics professor Mark Hoekstra. "That's significant. That's robust. We did comparisons in a bunch of different ways. We compared states that adopt (the law) to states that don't adopt. It doesn't matter if you control for things like policing or levels of incarceration. You can compare to only other states in the same region. It doesn't matter. At the end of the day, Castle Doctrine increased homicides by seven to nine percent."
Hoekstra and his co-author, grad student Chen Cheng, looked at 23 states where Castle Doctrine laws exist and found evidence that the Castle Doctrine increases justifiable homicides committed by civilians by anywhere from 17 to 50 percent. The reality is that justifiable homicide is narrowly defined and exceedingly rare: according to the FBI, a killing can only be classified that way when someone kills another person who's committing a felony. Fewer than 200 deaths are classified that way each year.
Instead, the study found that the Castle Doctrine increases total homicides, including murder and non-negligent homicide, by 500 to 700 additional deaths per year. Hoekstra says they see three distinct possibilities that might account for the increase.
"One theory is that these are in some sense legitimate self-defense killings that just don't meet the strict definition of justifiable homicide," he said. "On the other hand, it could be that the increase in homicide is due to criminals escalating. So one possible response to the Castle Doctrine is for criminals to carry and use guns more frequently, for example. We could be picking up the effect of that. The third possibly is that otherwise non-lethal conflicts turn deadly because of Castle Doctrine. It's really, really difficult to distinguish between those three possibilities."
In 2005, Florida became the first state to legally expand self-defense protections by removing the duty to retreat before using lethal force outside one’s own home, as well as by adding other provisions that address civil liability and a “presumption of reasonable fear” when acting in self-defense. Twenty-two other states have passed similar laws, though some are more restrictive than others.
The term “Castle Doctrine” comes from the English common law principle that people have no duty to retreat before using lethal force in self-defense when in their own home, or castle. The purpose of the laws is to help victims better protect themselves against violent crime.
For their study, Hoekstra and Cheng analyzed state-level crime data from 2000 to 2009 from FBI Uniform Crime Reports. They began their initial investigation last summer, well before the Martin case pushed self-defense laws into the spotlight.
To the untrained eye, their research doesn’t fall into a category of traditional economics, but Hoekstra says it is all about incentives.
“When you change self-defense law, you change incentives. You change the incentives of people protecting themselves — now it’s lower cost to use lethal force, for example, after a state passes a Castle Doctrine law,” Hoekstra said. “So … on the one hand you might expect to get more lethal force because you lowered the cost, and on the other hand, you might expect to get less crime because you raised the expected cost to criminals.”
But as Hoekstra found, the results indicated only that there was an increase in the use of lethal force. The main question now, Hoekstra says, is why homicides increased.
“I think there are several reasonable explanations for why homicides would go up, but I’m not sure which one is true,” he said. “It could be that the increase in homicides is driven by an increase in self-defense killings. On the other hand, it could be that the increase in homicides is due to an escalation of violence in otherwise nonviolent situations.”
The study says that self-defense alone probably doesn't explain the numbers, though.
"We suspect that self-defense situations are unlikely to explain all of the increase, as we also find that murder alone is increased by a statistically significant 6 to 11 percent," they write." "This is important because murder excludes non-negligent manslaughter classifications that one might think are used more frequently in self-defense cases. But regardless of how one interprets increases from various classifications, it is clear that the primary effect of strengthening self-defense law is to increase homicide."
Any hope that criminals in Castle Doctrine states might be deterred from robbing you by the knowledge that you could be packing heat are also incorrect.
"This is true not just of criminals, but of the general public: when it comes to things that involve probabilistic thinking, people have a pretty hard time with it,” he said. “What's the increase in the possibility that someone will defend themselves with lethal force against me? It's tough to answer that in a super rigorous way. The idea that a criminal is going to do a really great job of answering that, and if they'd be able to make these calculations – you're asking a lot of anybody to make that calculation."
The homicide increase also presents another issue for the researchers. How do you determine who died in a Castle Doctrine situation: the alleged criminal or the person allegedly defending themselves? The FBI data Hoekstra and Cheng studied doesn't show that kind of detail, and Hoekstra says it's crucial in figuring out what's driving the homicide increase. The answer, he says, is another study.
"The best idea I've come up with is to try to figure out if the people getting killed have criminal backgrounds," Hoekstra said. "If you see an increase in people getting killed without criminal backgrounds then at least part of what it suggests is escalation." But, he concedes, "It's going to be difficult. I don't know how optimistic I am."
Texas A&M University and the Dallas Observer contributed to this report.
Zack Burgess is the Enterprise Writer for The Tribune. He is a freelance writer and Editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com and followed on Twitter @zackburgess1.
Who can forget the way Democratic strategist James Carville sparked former President Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign with a slogan that propelled him to the White House: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
But is President Barack Obama’s message on the economy resonating with voters? A recent ABC News/Washington Post survey says it is not. They found that 54 percent of swing voters disapprove of the president’s economic policies, while independents oppose Mitt Romney’s economic stance by 47 percent.
However, the president’s bullish message on the economy has Democrats like Carville worried. He believes voters have major concerns.
“I’m worried that when the White House and the campaign talks about the progress that’s being made, people take that as a signal that they think that things are fine, and people don’t think that or believe that,” Carville said.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney seized on that theme, campaigning in the swing state of Florida.
“People across America are having a hard time. The president doesn’t understand how his policies have made things so hard for the American people,” Romney said. “It’s finally time to have a president who’s in touch with what’s happening in America and I am. I’ll bring back America’s strength.”
In a speech earlier in the week, the president acknowledged that times aren’t so great for everyone.
“Does that mean I, we, are satisfied? Absolutely not,” Obama said.
Then, he returned to blaming the administration before him.
“They ran up the tab, and are trying to pass the bill to me,” he said.
But Carville says Romney wasn’t part of the Bush administration, and the president needs to spend more time addressing the voters’ concerns.
“They want to be reassured he understands the depth of the problem — and that he has a plan to deal with the deterioration of the middle class in this country,” Carville said. “That’s what people want to hear.”
Carville is not alone, as Democrats grapple with the president’s campaign strategy and say he needs to do a better job making his case for re-election against Romney.
Asked about Obama’s comment last week that the “private sector is doing fine,” CBS News Political Director John Dickerson said the gaffe “gets traction in part because the president’s approval rating on the economy, his approval ratings are bad.”
Many African Americans — who have been hardest hit in the midst of the nation’s struggling economy — continue to overwhelmingly support President Obama. There are, however, Blacks who believe the president has not done enough.
“He has consistently shown me that he wants to impress white folks,” said Theodore Cummings, a Philadelphia based lawyer. “Where are the jobs? Where is the outreach? It’s not just him — it’s all of these so-called Black politicians we have put into office, including our mayor (Michael Nutter). From where I sit, and I have a great job, I’ve been blessed, I don’t see a concerted effort to hire Blacks and Hispanics or people of color period. With that being said … I’m still going to vote for him. After all, what am I supposed to do? We have to support the brother, don’t we?”
The debate over political strategy stems from the blunt reality that Black America is drowning in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Despite all the querying over whether or not the U.S. economy is technically in or out of recession, Black unemployment, home foreclosures, evictions and bankruptcies continue to grow. Just last March, when the Labor Department reported with enthusiasm the addition of 162,000 jobs to the economy, it was simultaneously reported that Black unemployment had grown from 15.8 percent to 16.5 percent.
“This is a way for the Romney campaign to kind of keep leaning on that key point, that the president’s stewardship of the economy is wrong. And that here he is, even this late in the game, he doesn’t recognize the private sector is still hurting, the Obama folks would say of course he knows (people are) hurting,” Dickerson said.
The overview of unemployment doesn’t begin to convey the extent of the jobs crisis in Black America. Officially, the nation’s highest unemployment rate is in Detroit, which is 83 percent Black — joblessness is a staggering 28 percent. Unemployment on the mostly Black south and west sides of Chicago comes in second at 22 percent. The top 10 areas in the country where unemployment is concentrated include Black neighborhoods in Toledo, Atlanta and St. Louis.
The rapid loss of jobs means that greater numbers of African Americans are losing their health care, which will only worsen disparities in health care between Blacks and whites that already exist. In 2007, when Black unemployment was approximately 10 percent, 20 percent of Blacks were without health insurance. With Black unemployment growing steadily today, the numbers of the Black uninsured are sure to rise, too.
Unemployment also impacts rising levels of poverty in Black communities. A recent report found that 90 percent of Black children are part of families that will use food stamps by the time they are 20 years old. All told, 40 percent of Black children live in poverty, according to the government’s official statistics. According to the census, a full quarter of African Americans were living in poverty in 2007 — two years before the current unemployment crisis.
Rising unemployment is also exacerbating the foreclosure crisis in Black neighborhoods across the country. While foreclosures are not tracked by race, the number of Black homeowners who face the threat of losing their homes is believed to be twice that of whites.
A study conducted by the Woodstock Institute in Chicago found an 18 percent jump in foreclosures across the city in 2008, but most were concentrated in African-American neighborhoods like Englewood and West Englewood. In these two neighborhoods alone, there were 725 foreclosures in a nine-month period. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, 53 percent of African Americans who bought homes in 2006 have already lost or will lose their homes to foreclosure in the next few years, compared to 22 percent of white borrowers facing foreclosure.
During the 2008 campaign, Obama’s focus on racial disparities waxed and waned, growing stronger when he needed to shore up Black support, weakening when Black voters got behind him en masse and after his victory in the Iowa caucuses affirmed him as a viable national candidate. His early discussions of injustice gave way to calls for policies to benefit all Americans, and tough-love speeches for African Americans.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a new crop of Black politicians running in majority-white districts, cities and states emerged. Their campaign strategies entailed building support among skeptical white voters while trying to keep their African-American base intact. Politicians such as former Governor Doug Wilder of Virginia, former Seattle Mayor Norman Rice and former New York Mayor David Dinkins ran campaigns that largely de-emphasized race, stressing the need for racial unity and advocating policies that they said would benefit everyone, rather than any particular group.
In an interview with USA Today, Obama responded to a question about Black joblessness, saying, “I will tell you that I think the most important thing I can do for the African-American community is the same thing I can do for the American community, period — and that is get the economy going again and get people hiring again ... I think it’s a mistake to start thinking in terms of particular ethnic segments of the United States, rather than to think that we are all in this together, and we are all going to get out of this together.”
Zack Burgess is the enterprise writer for The Tribune. He is a freelance writer and editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com and followed on Twitter @zackburgess1.