It is understandable that leading Democrats and nervous Democratic candidates are hedging on whether President Obama should be an active and visible campaign cohort this fall. At times, it is politically expedient for a party or set of candidates to distance themselves from unpopular figures and issues.
A recent high-profile distancing was President George W. Bush's absence from the 2008 Republican National Convention. His speech was "phoned in" by way of a video to the GOP delegates in Minnesota, a move designed to avoid hanging the Bush albatross on the McCain-Palin ticket.
With Democrats controlling Capitol Hill but desperate for an uptick of passion within their base as November approaches, starting the ethics trials of California Rep. Maxine Waters and former House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel at this crucial time could signal a change in the Democratic electoral strategy. Add the unease about using President Obama at a time of strained racial dynamics, and it would suggest that Democrats are confident of securing the black vote in 2010 — even without the help of three of the biggest African-American political names.
A miscalculation by the Democrats could have a detrimental effect on the 2010 elections and beyond. If Obama, Rangel and Waters are considered disposable by Democratic leaders and strategists during this crucial midterm campaigning period, is this a signal that black voters are being taken for granted at a time when Democrats need every possible vote to maintain control in Washington in 2011?
Despite the increased level of diversity in the Republican Party under Michael Steele's chairmanship (both in candidates and in party leadership), most of black America has not re-engaged the GOP as a viable political option since the 1950s, thus creating a dearth of options for black voters. This lack of political competition creates a one-stop voting mind-set within black America. Although the number of unaffiliated black voters has grown, overwhelming numbers of blacks vote Democratic each Election Day. But should they in 2010?
One common criticism of black Republicans is that these activists are mostly political operatives paid by the GOP to secure votes and rally support, only to be discarded once they are no longer needed. Yet the actions of Democrats are also beginning to eerily resemble this model.
High-profile black Democrats are being released from the protective embrace of the party as the dynamics of the nation shift, much of it because of the racial vitriol bubbling on both sides of the political aisle. Incumbent leaders such as New York Governor David Paterson, who has also faced ethics issues, and entrenched candidates such as Rep. Kendrick Meek, who is running for the U.S. Senate in Florida, have been embattled within their own party. This has come by way of suggestions from the White House that Paterson should resign, as well as the lukewarm support from the party for Meek in Florida.
Further, there are suggestions that the relevancy of the Congressional Black Caucus (an all-Democrat organization that advocates for black America) has declined in the past two years, even with the first black president in the White House. All of which suggests that Democratic leaders see black political leaders as dispensable, no longer required to excite a voting bloc that often is the margin of victory for Democrats in city- and statewide elections.
A lack of respect for the black vote may finally convince black voters that they need to re-establish the competition between Republicans and Democrats for their vote. The move away from key black politicians at a time when Democrats are taking huge political risks to win over new voters would seem to be an indication that Democrats do not value the black vote as they once did.
Even if African Americans do not consider the GOP an option at this time, the actions of Democratic leaders during this campaign season should be enough for black voters to realize that unless political parties are made to work for their votes each cycle, their own political value may also be diminished.
Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the author of an upcoming new edition of the book Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative): The Obama Era, Part I (2008-2010). Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.