“You know my mother thinks she knows you. Like she talks about you like y’all are friends.” A friend of mine told me this on the phone one morning a few weeks ago. I hear this a lot; black folks, especially retired black people, can be trusted to do a few things: go to church, consume nighttime dramas on network TV and watch a ton of MSNBC, and I regularly appear at one of those locations. More than any other group of people, older black folks seem to be rabid news consumers and they personally invest in the black anchors and journalists they see on TV. If your 60-year-old auntie recognizes me at Safeway she will inevitably ask me if Trump is going to get impeached, and how are Joy Reid, Elie Mystal, Zerlina Maxwell and Tiffany Cross doing (as if we all live in a giant Real World club-house together. We don’t; it’s more like College Hill, but with better wifi).
Older black folks are watching, they’re engaged and they want Trump out of office by impeachment, election or God’s plan. Any way will work. Which got the committee thinking, why not dedicate one week of The Root Presidential Black Power Rankings to a committee of older black folks? Thus Senior Week was born. This week, the entire rotating ranking committee is composed of black folks over 60, from activists to retired folks and everything in between. Let me tell you up front, American journalists and pundits need to spend more time talking TO black seniors than ABOUT them. All the conventional wisdom out there about older black voters (they only like Biden because of Obama; only young people support Bernie Sanders; they don’t support Mayor Pete because he’s gay) was completely blown out of the water by our committee.
Senior Week committee members see Trump as a threat and have policy preferences just like everyone else. However, they have seen decades of “working class” white America voting against their own economic interests if it meant screwing over African Americans, too. So many of them looked for the best candidate for black America this week —one you could also sneak by white folks. To older black voters, voting for the Democratic nominee is like trying to do a group project for Black History Month in high school but all your classmates are racist. You still have to get the project done, you just have to figure out a way to get as much as you can out of it without tipping off the rest of the group. These folks know there has never truly been a president who prioritized black America, but given what we face now, the candidate can’t take us for granted anymore either. So without further ado, The Root Presidential Black Power Rankings for week 24: Senior Week.
This week’s big riser is none other than Tom Steyer? That’s right, our Senior Week committee had a lot to say about Steyer and it was mostly positive. Who knew? This week’s big drop? Andrew Yang. Nobody believed in Yang, and in a campaign increasingly full of competitive millionaires and billionaires, it says something that he’s somehow considered the least authentic.
How do we calculate black power?
- Finances: Are you paying black staff, advertisers, consultants?
- Legislation: What legislation are you pushing or have passed for black people?
- External Polling: No matter how good you are for black people, if your poll numbers are terrible we can’t rank you that high!
- X-Factor: What’s your rhetoric like? How do you handle a crisis or the kinds of events and scandals that directly impact black lives?
#1: Vice President Joe Biden
Biden comes in at the top spot for Senior Week on the Power Rankings but not for the reasons that you would think. Nobody liked him exclusively because of Obama, nobody liked him because they thought he had the best policies. The committee ranked him first this week because he’s the only candidate they thought had the experience and maturity to actually run the government, and serve black people’s interests.
“Once he got over the fact that he is not a “shoo-in,” I think Dr. Biden (his wife) whispered into his ear a bit…honey take the touchy-feely down just a notch, stay away from the beer-drinking, kumbaya black talk and just stick to your game,” said one committee member. Another was even more explicit. “I don’t think Biden will do a damn thing for black people. But he knows he needs black votes to win, so he’ll do what’s necessary for us. That’s better than most.” The conventional wisdom born of mostly white reporters parachuting into South Carolina for 48 hours, is that “older” black folks love them some Biden because he still smells like Obama’s coattails. That’s not the case at all. I almost feel sorry for these white reporters, who have no idea that older black folks are almost never going to be fully honest with them. Committee members see their relationship with Biden as transactional, not trust and love; he’s the one Democrat that will owe black folks the most if he wins, and thus he’s more likely to deliver when he does.
One committee member mentioned Biden’s “gaffe” during the 2012 election when he said Mitt Romney would put black folks back in chains.
“That didn’t bother me, because Joe Biden knows what he’s talking about. He knows just how vicious white folks of his generation are because he is one. But he knows his success comes from making sure we’re happy because he ain’t winning enough of the white vote.”
Biden’s commitment to the Affordable Care Act, his foreign policy experience and the belief that in a field of old white people, he knows black folks best because he has to, helps him come out on top this week.
#2: Sen. Elizabeth Warren
“What’s the name of those two white women running? I could shake them up in a bag, dump ‘em on the floor and couldn’t tell the difference,” said one committee member (He eventually remembered Klobuchar, but ranked Warren second.)
Warren had a good week and the committee liked her endorsement from Julián Castro, her Bankruptcy plan and everyone noted that she had a literal plan for everything. So what’s the drawback? First, most committee members don’t believe America will elect a female president against Donald Trump; second, they believe she probably can’t get half the things she’s promising passed. Said one member: “I don’t like none of them. But I hate Bernie. Warren is the best and nobody can run over Biden. They are all horrible.”
As for Warren’s scandals, nobody cared. Probably because most black folks over 60 actually DO have somebody in the family claiming some Native American ancestry and since when has white folks lying about their identity been a disqualifier?
She took the Pocahontas cheap shots from #45 and kept the show moving. She ain’t “skurred” of him, wrote one judge. Can I just note how entertaining it is when seniors try to use modern slang? I guess because they assumed I’d understand better. Will I be telling some kid that Sasha Obama’s campaign for governor of Illinois is “lit” when I’m in my 60s? Will they send back a holographic “OKGenExer” emoji? Thinking about this future scenario will keep me up at night.
#3: Sen. Bernie Sanders
Whenever you point out Bernie Sander’s mediocre numbers with black voters, his supporters immediately claim that Sanders is leading with young black voters! One, that number is debatable; the black left is not the same thing as the black youth vote; two, young voters don’t “count” any more than older ones, and three, given young people’s sporadic voting behavior versus older folks, that’s the campaign equivalent of saying Panda Express is the top-ranked Chinese restaurant for 12-15 year olds. Who cares if kids like Panda Express when it’s the adults who ultimately decide where dinner is coming from? I write this because on our committee, Sanders comes in third, and he’s pretty popular with our black senior committee, with a few caveats summed up by one of our committee members.
“Bernie would do more for black people than Biden, but he’s totally unelectable. Middle-class white people are not going for all that free shit. They say they will, but they don’t want to share with black folks or Latinos, so they always back out at the polls. They just won’t do it. Rich liberal white people like his plans in theory, but they won’t vote for a socialist.”
Being a socialist wasn’t Sanders’ only challenge with the committee this week, however.
“Let’s say Bernie gets the nomination, the Democrats will have to put up a black man, a white woman and a Jewish socialist, and that’s supposed to win back conservative working-class white men in the Midwest? Like his policies but he’s arrogant and not a winner.”
One judge put the senator’s campaign in context when we talked about Sanders getting the Dream Defenders endorsement this week. “I knew guys like him in the (civil rights) movement. They have a messiah complex, that they know better than black people and that economics is everything. Plenty of populist movements left out black people.”
So clearly Sanders is popular enough with older black voters to land the No. 3 spot, but just like every other week with Sanders, black folks question his sincere commitment to racial justice.
#4: Businessman Tom Steyer
Tom Steyer is like Starbucks—worth billions, mostly white, kind of expensive; you claim you’re going to avoid him and yet, eventually, he grows on you and you’re addicted. (Speaking of which, remember last year when Starbucks magnate Howard Schultz was gonna run for president? Yeah, us neither).
Steyer has dropped $11 million of his own cash into South Carolina alone. To put this in context: Steyer has spent more money in ONE primary state than Kamala Harris raised in the entire 3rd fundraising quarter of 2019. A Fox poll Thursday night shows he’s in second place overall, second place with black voters and trailing only Biden with black women. Guess that stolen voter file from Harris is really paying off, isn’t it? Steyer is flooding the airwaves in South Carolina and has 60 paid staffers in the ground. It is not a good sign for American Democracy when somebody can basically buy their way into a presidential contest, At the same time, money isn’t everything. Sanders, Warren and Mayor Pete had a 12-month head start with black voters in South Carolina, and if Steyer can come in, flash some cash and snatch your prom date that easily, maybe she just wasn’t that into you.
Several committee members ranked Steyer very high due to him putting his money where his politics are before getting into politics. This includes his work on climate change, impeachment, and especially his Beneficial State Bank Program to help black folks secure loans for housing. The committee believes that a white man who’d spend his own money to improve the lives of black people might actually do the same when it’s actually his JOB as president. Imagine that?
#5: Businessman Andrew Yang
“Haven’t heard any solid commentary about how he would address our problems.”
The committee wasn’t really down with YangGang this week, and given how little black policy Yang has put out in recent weeks he’s getting what he deserves. Yang will not make the January debate, but his campaign unionized this week, and the committee believes he might be the only candidate singularly focused on the survival jobs that black folks need. “Half the jobs at the grocery now? The cashiers, they’re self-scan now. Somebody has to do something about that,” said one committee member. While almost all of the Senior Week committee members are retired, most consider hourly wage jobs like cashier, store greeter, even salesperson to be necessary jobs to supplement social security and retirement. Yang has staked his campaign on those issues. Now did he get it all right this week? Not even close.
Just this week, Yang, again focusing on white voters, said that growth and progress have slowed for all Americans since the 1940s. I thought Yang was supposed to be good at MATH? Literally every generation of black people has done better than the previous one, (even kids in the ‘90s) but that doesn’t mean the ‘40s were some golden age either. Trust me, we have committee members born in the ‘40s—and by almost every empirical measure black Americans are better off in 2020 than we were in 1940. Hasn’t he read The Bluest Eye? Unless Yang thinks living under an apartheid state, conk hairstyles and pre-Nation of Islam Malcom X were a sign that black America was living its best life, he should probably stay away from the history lessons and stick to handing out $1,000 checks.
#6: Sen. Cory Booker
What’s less than a polite church clap but not a full-blown silent eye roll? That is more or less the response to Cory Booker from the committee this week. You would think Booker would do better on Senior Week; he’s well mannered and exactly the kind of young man that Mommas and Daddies want somebody to bring home. Look at him showing his home training this week in Iowa.
Yet, the committee has real trust issues with Booker. He’s made no traction in the polls and will miss his second consecutive debate next week, which means his policy proposals might as well be written on the side of his campaign bus with silly string. One member pointed out that she didn’t trust him being so cozy with Big Pharma while also talking about the opioid crisis. Another member who lived in New Jersey mentioned that they never trusted Booker from his days as Newark mayor. Would Booker do anything for black voters? Senator Booker has great ideas according to some, but to quote Childish Gambino, This is America...
“As if this country would ever! Not gonna happen again. Obama was an enigma and we see the backlash now. Not his fault. Cory has a lot of creative and innovative ideas.”
Apparently one of those ideas needs to be how to convince the Democratic base that he’s viable.
#7: Sen. Amy Klobuchar
You know what happened to Amy Klobuchar this week? She finally popped. After months of grinding along at zero percent, she actually started to get traction, and the reason the committee knows she’s moving up in the polls is other campaigns are starting to drop opposition research about her into our DMs.
First, let’s remember that Klobuchar was just as aggressive a prosecutor as black folks claimed that Harris was and had just as bad if not a worse record when it comes to prosecuting corrupt cops and investigating shootings of unarmed black people. Then there was the little matter of her taking a $1,000 donation from Linda “Lock-Em Up” Fairstein in March of 2019. In case you haven’t seen Ava DuVernay’s When Will They See Us, prosecutor Linda Fairstein was one of the main reasons why five young black men were put behind bars for a crime that absolutely no evidence suggested that they committed. Klobuchar gave the money back this week, after being found out, which has the same moral authority of waiting to denounce R. Kelly on Instagram…until Part 2 of Surviving R. Kelly debuted. It took you a whole year to return that money, Senator? A good 51 percent of black voters don’t even know who Klobuchar is, according to the latest YouGov poll, and it shows in our committee. Most didn’t think she had what it takes to win the nomination but believed she was tough enough to stand up to a racist in the White House. Too bad she wasn’t tough enough to stand up to a racist in the New York prosecutor’s office until she got caught.
#8: Businessman Mike Bloomberg
Perhaps we misjudged the committee this week, maybe not all older black folks are judgmental with long memories. Because somehow someway they ranked Michael Bloomberg 8th this week and the rest of us are just confused. Bloomberg’s terrible criminal justice background was a problem, but most of the committee judged him on a sliding scale; you have to remember, these are folks who grew up with Frank Rizzo in Philly and pre-Willie Brown Chicago. The presumption is that most big-city mayors are racist, but Bloomberg’s hiring of black staff seems to have worked out. The committee considers the fact that his staff is about as black as Golden Corral after Sunday brunch and that he’s collecting endorsements from black mayors like it’s Democratic Pokemon Go. It doesn’t hurt that like Steyer, Bloomberg is spending millions of his own dollars to fund his campaign and flood the airwaves. Personally I can’t shake the fact that for all his millions, the make-up artists and CGI in the world, Bloomberg still looks like Emperor Palpatine with botox in his commercials, but that’s just me. The committee doesn’t trust Bloomberg but they think he’s at least trying to help black folks as he rolls out his newest economic plans this week.
#9: Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Old black people can be homophobic, old black people can be prejudiced; old black people can be sexist, and old black people can most definitely be judgmental as hell. But you know one thing black people most assuredly are not? Stupid. They know a kid who’s in over his head when the see one, and that’s what most of them thought of Mayor Pete. Lack of experience, no passion and most of them didn’t know what he stood for.
“He’s smart, he’s quick on his feet in debates and he can learn on the job. I think he’ll do good things for black folks,” said one judge. When I asked what the judge thought of the Douglass Plan, he hadn’t heard of it. This sums up Pete in a nutshell; even the black folks who support him can’t explain why. The Douglass Plan is Mayor Pete’s signature white paper on what he’ll do for black America. Yet few committee members had heard of it and if they did, it wasn’t nearly as important as the mayor’s record in South Bend, Ind. This is ultimately Mayor Pete’s fault. Can you imagine someone not associating Sanders with Medicare for all? Or Elizabeth Warren and free college tuition? Or Yang and $1,000 a month? Or Joe Biden and Corn Pop? Of course not. What do black voters tend to associate Buttigieg with? Police brutality. Worth noting, that again, against conventional wisdom, only one committee person mentioned Pete’s sexuality as a problem, but not for black voters—for white ones. “Look every black church has a [gay] choir director; we’re good, but those white folks in Ohio? Michigan? They’ll never vote for him over Trump.” With Mayor Pete down to 4 percent in South Carolina in this week’s polls, it’s about time he took some responsibility for his own failings with black voters.
#10: Former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
Tulsi Gabbard? Seriously? Yes, not Deval Patrick, who’s Uncle on the Run campaign has become a favorite of the committee. It’s Gabbard that takes the final spot for Senior Week of the Black Power Rankings. How did she make the top 10 list? Her foreign policy positions against unnecessary wars made her more popular than Patrick, but I ultimately think it’s because anybody could do a better job than Donald Trump, and the fact that she wears white suits all the time, which reminds the committee of Olivia Pope from Scandal.