Saturday, June 30, 2007
Dem Debate at Howard University
I was stuck at work when it happened Thursday night, but I was happy to finally see for the first time in my life a presidential primary debate that tackled issues of importance to my community, even if I did have to catch the repeat on C-SPAN. I did get to see the post debate focus group made up of African-Americans on PBS last night in addition to the C-SPAN interview Tavis did Friday morning.
The 90 minute Democratic debate was organized and moderated by Tavis Smiley and televised on PBS Thursday night. It brought all eight current Democratic candidates for president to the Howard University campus in Washington DC to answer questions on issues that haven't been discussed in the other debates such as HIV-AIDS, criminal justice, education, taxes, outsourcing jobs, poverty, the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina and the hours old 5-4 Supreme Court conservative majority decision placing new limits on school desegregation plans.
The other unique feature was that it had African-American and Latino journalists Michel Martin, DeWayne Wickham and Ruben Navarrette asking those questions. The audience was also packed with African-American leadership ranging from entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte, congresspersons Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Elijah Cummings (D-MD)and John Lewis (D-GA)to National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Children’s Defense Fund founder and president Marian Wright Edelman and noted scholar Cornel West.
As to who I'd like to see get the Democratic nomination as of June 2007, it's a toss up between Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) with John Edwards running third. That still leaves much room for me to change my mind between now and when the primary elections actually start getting cranked up in February 2008. I'm not making my final choice until probably December 2007 or January 2008. But whoever ends up with the nomination by the time the convention occurs in Denver, I'm pleased with the quality of candidates we have in the Democratic primary and wouldn't be disappointed in the final outcome.
Sen. Clinton already according to some polls has 40% support in the African-American community and did plenty in this debate to ensure she not only holds on to it, but set herself up for the opportunity to build on it.
Sen. Clinton garnered the loudest applause of the night when she stated in a response to a question on HIV-AIDS, "Let me just put this in perspective: If HIV-AIDS were the leading cause of death of white women between the ages of 25 and 34 there would be an outraged, outcry in this country."
Sen Obama has a burden that the other candidates don't. He has to prove to many African-Americans that he's with us on our issues while not alienating his middle of the road predominately white support by not appearing 'too Black'.
African-Americans will be the decisive voting bloc in the Democratic primaries and the 2008 general election. While Hispanics outnumber us population wise, what many people forget is that they don't vote in the consistently high sustained numbers that African-Americans do and that some of that Hispanic population growth is made up of people who aren't eligible to vote yet. In 2004 African-Americans were one of of every ten voters in that election and that vote went 9-1 for Sen. John Kerry. In South Carolina, where an early primary test will be held February 5, African-Americans cast 30% of the votes in the 2004 election and were 50% of that state's 2004 Democratic primary voters.
In September there will be a similar Republican forum at Baltimore's Morgan State University for the Republican candidates. That will be the only debate featuring the GOP candidates I'll bother watching. It'll be fun to see them squirm while having to answer questions that address African-American concerns they've ignored.