Illustration for article titled Every Democratic Candidates Black Agenda, Ranked
Image: Michael Harriot (The Root), Photo: Win McNamee (Getty Images), Sarah Lane (Inkshed)

On Saturday, voters in South Carolina will sound the starting gun for the race to the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. After giving white America a head start on selecting the party’s nominee, the Democratic Party now turns to South Carolina.

Black voters cast about 6 percent of the combined votes in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. However, South Carolina’s Democratic electorate is 55 percent black and the state’s black turnout is higher than the national and state participation rate for white voters.

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Now that the competitors had the chance to warm up their campaigns in the whiter states, we decided to investigate how the contenders plan to address racism, inequality and other issues that affect black people. To do this, we examined each official candidates’ campaign literature, as well as their past statements, policies and political histories.

We asked policy experts, legal scholars and political pundits, all of whom were black, to help us devised a policy matrix. Then we graded each plan on a scale of 1 to 10 using the following criteria:

  1. Economics: Reparations, economic inequality, employment and housing are just a few of the issues we will examine.
  2. Criminal Justice: How do they handle the war on drugs, mass incarceration, bail reform, police brutality and sentencing disparities?
  3. Education: HBCU funding, student debt, K-12 funding, etc.
  4. Politics: Does it address issues of voting rights, gerrymandering and other political issues?
  5. Comprehensiveness: How detailed is it? Does it contain specific policy proposals?
  6. Blind spots: Are there important areas that aren’t addressed?
  7. Feasibility: What are the chances of the policies being enacted by legislation, executive action or internal policy? Does the candidate have the political skill to make their plan come true?
  8. History: What is the candidate’s history of dealing with black people? Has the candidate has displayed a willingness to address issues of race and inequality?
  9. Intentionality: Do we believe them or do they need more people? Can we objectively believe that the candidate will work for Black America? Is he or she pandering or do they have really have the will to make this a priority?
  10. Impact: If implemented, what impact would these policies have? How would the plan affect the problems it attempts to address?
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If the candidate’s campaign literature doesn’t include a specific “black plan,” we examined their individual policy proposals to see what effect their plan would have on black America.


8. Tulsi Gabbard

Total Score: 0

Like her polling numbers, Tulsi Gabbard’s black agenda is nonexistent.


7. Amy Klobuchar

Total Score: 22

Amy Klobuchar doesn’t have a separate plan for black America. However, here’s what we found when we examined her campaign’s proposals.

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  • Economics: Klobuchar’s economic plan for black America is sparse. Her only plan to reduce the wealth gap is to “establish portable, employer-funded UP-Savings Accounts for retirement savings.” She also proposes to “get more women and people of color in STEM jobs” and “fight modern-day redlining.” Her housing policy almost goes out of its way not to mention black people. Literally, the word “black” does not appear.
    Economics Score: 3
  • Criminal Justice: Klobuchar does not have a criminal justice reform plan. She does have a plan for combatting hate and gun violence. She mentions white nationalism, so there’s that.
    Criminal Justice Score: 2
  • Education: Klobuchar’s “Many Paths to Success” education plan is as bland as its name. It does not address K-12 education and focuses primarily on race-neutral policies based on lower-income students. She does propose to increase funding to HBCUs and expand Pell Grants, but she doesn’t say how she will accomplish this or how much the funding will be.
    Education Score: 3
  • Politics: Again, she avoids the words “black” or even the all-powerful “people of color,” which is curious because she promises to restore the Voting Rights Act and fight voter purges. She gets a slight bump for her plan to automatically register every citizen to vote on their 18th birthday.
    Politics Score: 4
  • Comprehensiveness: It would be easier to list the things Klobuchar did not address (See next section).
    Comprehensiveness Score: 2
  • Blind spots: Nothing about K-12 disparities, sentencing reform, police brutality, the drug war, reparations, financial discrimination or black lives in any manner.
    Blind Spots Score: 1
  • Feasibility: Klobuchar’s entire platform is devoid of details so it’s difficult to know whether her ideas are feasible. She explains what she wants done but doesn’t propose actual legislation. Her platform is more of a wish list. Maybe she believes in Santa Claus.
    Feasibility Score: 1
  • History: As a prosecutor in Minnesota, Klobuchar’s office convicted Myron Burrell, a black teenager who might be innocent. She also avoided prosecuting corrupt cops and targeted Somalis. However, the black incarceration rate did drop under her prosecutorial tenure.
    History Score: 3
  • Intentionality: She shows no intent to address black issues except where they intersect with white people’s problems.
    Intentionality Score: 1
  • Impact: If Amy Klobuchar enacted all of her policies, it would have very little impact on black lives. Some black people might benefit from her policies for low-income Americans.
    Impact Score: 2
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6. Michael Bloomberg*

Total Score: 43

The Greenwood Initiative (pdf) is Michael Bloomberg’s plan for Economic Justice but he also has a number of other ideas.

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  • Economics: Michael Bloomberg’s plan gives broad strokes on how he plans to fix the wage gap. He wants to create new homeowners, end unfair lending practices and tasks credit agencies with restructuring credit reporting. He also wants to invest in creating 100,000 more black entrepreneurs. He supports a commission to look into reparations.
    Economics Score: 8
  • Criminal Justice: Bloomberg wants to invest in smarter policing, implicit bias training and prison population reduction. He proposes an end to cash bail and concentrate on recidivism prevention. He wants to legalize marijuana, but slowly. His plan to fund a conviction integrity unit is nice. Criminal Justice Score: 7
  • Education: On education, Bloomberg takes a moderate but fair approach. He plans to focus on HBCU STEM graduates, investing in schools and funding low-income areas. Bloomberg also proposes an end to legacy admissions.
    Education Score: 6
  • Politics: Bloomberg does have proposals to end gerrymandering, restore felon voting rights and make access to voting easier. He also plans to tackle white supremacist violence. He is one of the few candidates that confronts election security, which might be the only unique thing about his approach.
    Politics Score: 6
  • Comprehensiveness: Bloomberg has a little bit for everyone. He tackles police brutality, college admissions and economic justice...but just a little bit. More about that later.
    Comprehensiveness Score: 4
  • Blind Spots: He doesn’t really tackle K-12 disparities or sentencing reform. Even in areas where he has a plan, he doesn’t focus on some critical issues. Most of his plans take the billionaire approach by throwing money at the problem. His blind spot is that he thinks funding can decrease white supremacy.
    Blind Spots Score: 4
  • Feasibility: Bloomberg’s plans lack a lot of detail. For instance, his goal on reporting police shootings is to “press state and local agencies to report all incidents to the FBI’s Use-of-Force Data Collection.” Plus, he has no legislative experience or history of building a consensus. Most of his policies don’t spell out how he will enact them.
    Feasibility Score: 2
  • History: Do I even have to explain Mayor Stop and Frisk’s past? If you don’t know, you can read them here. Or maybe you should look at this. Or this. However, Bloomberg did donate a relatively small amount of money to fund charities that helped black people. Not the “Young Men’s Initiative” that he mentions throughout his campaign literature. I mean the money he used to bribe his black endorsers.
    History Score: 2
  • Intentionality: Let’s say Bloomberg realizes that stop and frisk was wrong. Let’s say he is sorry for promoting racial profiling and how he demonized the poor. Let’s say that his funding of Republican politicians is in his past and that he is now ready to make amends. Would you believe him?
    Intentionality Score: 1
  • Impact: A lot of Bloomberg’s ideas would improve black life. But, because of the lack of specifics, it is impossible to know what impact Bloomberg’s plan will have on black America. No one knows how much it will cost, what effect “pressing” police will have, or if making it rain on negroes will have a substantive impact. Plus, word on the street is that he plagiarized with many of these ideas. His entire criminal justice platform sounds a lot like Kamala Harris’.
    Impact Score: 3
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*Michael Bloomberg will not be on the ballot in the S.C. primaries.


5. Bernie Sanders

Total Score: 50

Bernie Sanders’ plan for racial justice is only a small part of his agenda for black America.

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  • Economics: Sanders’ plan for economic justice is very vague. It lists the most commonly known problem (the wealth gap, redlining, housing discrimination) and vows to fix them. But it doesn’t say how he will do it. He seems to rely on his plan for income inequality to answer all questions. He does not support reparations.
    Economics Score: 7
  • Criminal Justice: Sanders’ criminal justice displays the same performative rhetoric. His details aren’t revelatory and he offers no solutions except to say that he will solve the problems.
    Criminal Justice Score: 5
  • Education: Sanders promises to make college debt-free for everyone who attends a four-year college. He also plans to cancel student debt and give $1.3 billion to HBCUs and minority-serving institutions. Aside from child care, his platform has very little, if any information on reducing disparities in K-12 education.
    Education Score: 4
  • Politics: Sanders wants to get money out of politics, stop gerrymandering and reform voting, which will undoubtedly benefit black voters but his policies are race-blind.
    Politics Score: 4
  • Comprehensiveness: Sanders’ plan for black America reads like a first-year sociology student’s midterm project. While he hits the major talking points, they leave a lot to be desired. He relies heavily on the idea that his overall policies will improve the lives of America.
    Comprehensiveness Score: 5
  • Blind Spots: Sanders doesn’t have any egregious blind spots in his platform because it consists mostly of listing the problems and saying: “I got this.”
    Blind Spots Score: 5
  • Feasibility: As with other platforms, without any specifics, it is hard to say if Sanders could pass these detail-free policies. As a legislator, he hasn’t displayed much effectiveness in getting his proposals passed.
    Feasibility Score: 4
  • History: Sanders voted for the ’94 crime bill but he’s not happy about it. He has made some problematic statements about black people but he also has a history of being on the right side of most civil rights issues. He marched with Martin Luther King jr. and supported Jesse Jackson, but he also wanted to primary the first black president.
    History Score: 6
  • Intentionality: Here’s where Sanders’ problem lies. His black agenda is performative at best. It is devoid of the kind of specifics that he displays in his tax plans, his healthcare proposals and his income inequality policies. In interviews and in practice, he seems to regard issues of race as purely a class issue. And, while race is inextricably tied to economics and class, white supremacy is not a math problem. One has to be intentional about confronting it.
    Intentionality Score: 3
  • Impact: If Sanders’ overall policies were enacted, low-income and middle-class black people would undoubtedly see an economic benefit. It is a plan that includes black people but it is not for black people.
    Impact Score: 7
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4. Tom Steyer

Total Score: 62

Tom Steyer recently released his all-encompassing African American Policy (pdf).

  • Economics: Tom Steyer’s plan for black economic empowerment is a moderate plan without a lot of specifics. He doesn’t propose new legislation to fight financial discrimination. Instead, he wants to empower the Justice Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to fight predatory and discriminatory lending practices. He wants to “foster a culture of entrepreneurship,” which assumes that black culture doesn’t already want to own businesses. However, he fully supports reparations.
    Economics Score: 6
  • Criminal Justice: His criminal justice plans include demilitarizing police forces and creating a nationwide standard for use-of-force. He also wants to create a Presidential Task Force on Policing, Criminal Justice, and the Mental Health Crisis. He is one of the few candidates who addresses sentencing reform.
    Criminal Justice Score: 7
  • Education: While Steyer’s college education is similar to most, he offers unique solutions in the K-12 sector, including providing tutors to struggling students and equalizing school funding through Title I. He doesn’t make college free or eliminate debt but he promises to invest $125 billion in HBCUs and provide high school students with college admissions preparatory classes.
    Education Score: 7
  • Politics: In addition to reinstating the Voting Rights Act, Steyer proposes a Vote-At-Home program to equalize representation. He will fight gerrymandering and white supremacist terror.
    Politics Score: 6
  • Comprehensiveness: Steyer’s plan lays out his broad intent, although it doesn’t go very deep into specifics. Like you were gonna read all that, anyway.
    Comprehensiveness Score: 6
  • Blind spots: Steyer doesn’t leave much out, although he doesn’t address affirmative action or race-blind admissions policies. His reparations explanation is solid but he doesn’t go as far as other candidates to tackle student debt.
    Blind Spot Score: 6
  • Feasibility: Because they are so moderate, many of Steyer’s ideas have a good chance of passing despite his lack of experience. But his lack of detail on how he specifically wants to accomplish these goals leave room for doubt.
    Feasibility Score: 5
  • History: No one knows anything about Steyer except that he supports reparations and wears the same tie all the time. He has “plenty money,” though, and he is the original conductor of the “Impeach Trump” train.
    History: 6
  • Intentionality: Steyer was an ardent Obama supporter but, beyond that, there isn’t much in his history that shows how he handles race. The fact that no one has come out with a tape of him saying the n-word is surprising, though. I assumed rich, white men had to say it to get the tax break.
    Intentionality: 5
  • Impact: Tom Steyer’s plan is an exercise in incrementalism. While that might sound like a detraction, moderation sometimes leads to positive change. Plus, if black people get reparations, we might not need the rest of his plan.
    Impact: 8
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3. Pete Buttigieg

Total Score: 66

Pete Buttigieg’s “Douglass Plan for Black America” is long as fuck. However, no points were deducted for length.

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  • Economics: Mayor Pete’s economic plan focuses on employment and entrepreneurship. Not only is it ambitious, but it is detailed. It includes the Walker-Lewis Plan fund to invest in black businesses, a plan to strengthen and promote black banks and a Community Homestead Act that will revitalize formerly redlined communities. He supports a bill to study reparations.
    Economics Score: 8
  • Criminal Justice: While not as detailed as his economic plan, Buttigieg’s criminal justice reform ideas show a unique understanding of the issues below the surface. For instance, he wants to restore Pell Grant eligibility and remove the Medicaid exception to the formerly incarcerated. He also vows to establish an outside clemency system for people who received harsh prison sentences:
    Criminal Justice Score: 8
  • Education: His educational ideas are nothing new. He’ll invest in HBCUs, diversify teaching professions, make college free for low-income students and eliminate college debt. His plan to delay college loans for low-income entrepreneurs is interesting. Also, he wants to make sure black history is taught correctly in schools.
    Education Score: 7
  • Politics: He hits all of the right targets: Gerrymandering, voting rights, combating voter suppression. He also mentions D.C. statehood and improving the census count to ensure equal representation.
    Political score: 8
  • Comprehensiveness: Buttigieg didn’t come up with this himself. The Douglass plan shows that he intentionally engaged with people who knew about racial disparities and came up with ideas on how to fix them. However, some of his most ambitious ideas lack details on how they will be implemented.
    Comprehensiveness Score: 7
  • Blind spots: As with every candidate, no plan is perfect. Buttigieg’s policies aren’t necessarily all-encompassing but they reflect critical thought and understanding that go beyond the surface. But they are moderate. He doesn’t talk about using affirmative action and seems careful not to mention the privilege or responsibility of whites to ensure racial equity.
    Blind Spot Score: 6
  • Feasibility: A lot of these proposals could be adopted because they are progressive but reasonable ideas. However, given his lack of legislative or large-scale executive experience, it is hard to see how Buttigieg could pass these laws because they would cost a lot. There are some areas (black history, police use-of-force) where he could use cabinet departments and executive actions. But, like Buttigieg, you can’t rule them out because they moderate and not revolutionary.
    Feasibility Score: 6
  • History: Because of my past history with Buttigieg, you may expect me to say he is racist-adjacent. However, I am convinced that Buttigieg, like many white people, just wasn’t aware of the rampant racial inequalities that surrounded him his entire life. But if we’re being fair, we can’t hold others accountable while letting him off the hook for not realizing black people existed until he met Barack Obama. He might not be malicious, he just seems to be a politically expedient automaton programmed with the “What Would Barack Do?” algorithm.
    History Score: 5
  • Intentionality: You can’t read the Douglass Plan and not objectively agree that it was created with academic rigor, intention and understanding. But, this is the part where we subtract points for appropriating the names of Frederick Douglass and Madame C.J. Walker for his political purposes. That’s the worst kind of pandering. It actually turns some black voters off.
    Intentionality Score: 5
  • Impact: As we said earlier, Buttigieg’s plan is moderately progressive. If enacted, it would make an impact on the lives of many people, but it wouldn’t necessarily address a lot of the issues of white supremacy. It is a fix, not a solution.
    Impact: 6
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2. Joe Biden

Total Score: 70

Joe Biden doesn’t have a separate plan that spells out his vision for black America but here’s what we found by examining his platform:

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  • Economics: Biden specifically mentions redlining, housing discrimination, fair lending practices. He offers boilerplate solutions on ways to tackle the wage and income gap. But he does single out black maternal health and health disparities. He does not support reparations.
    Economics Score: 7
  • Criminal Justice: Again, he tackles most of the criminal justice issues that are prevalent in America. One of the unique areas that he confronts is the criminalization of girls, foster children and abused children. He also puts effort into violence against women and re-integrating the formerly incarcerated.
    Criminal Justice Score: 7
  • Education: Biden tackles K-12 funding, HBCU funding and school inequality. He has one of the few campaigns that tie redlining and zip codes to education inequality. He also focuses on putting black teachers into schools. His idea to offer a path from community colleges to HBCUs is innovative.
    Education Score: 6
  • Politics: The Biden campaign doesn’t really address voting rights except to say that he plans to sic the Department of Justice on violators. He also wants to incentivize states to restore voting rights to felons.
    Politics Score: 5
  • Comprehensiveness: Here is where Biden has the advantage. In almost every area, he can point to actual legislation and policy that he has passed or enacted during the Obama administration. The only thing that hurts Biden is that he can point to specific actions and legislative plans from his tenure as vice president, which makes his more aspirational plans look sparse when he doesn’t provide specifics.
    Comprehensiveness Score: 9
  • Blind spots: Biden doesn’t specifically address gerrymandering or voting security. He also doesn’t mention white supremacist violence. Overall, his plans have few holes.
    Blind Spots Score: 7
  • Feasibility: Joe Biden has more legislative and executive experience than almost any politician in history. He knows how to compromise and get laws passed. When he touts his accomplishments, we know he’s taking credit for a lot of other people’s work, but we also know that President Obama didn’t kill Osama Bin Laden with his bare hands.
    Feasibility Score: 10
  • History: Aside from his brief war with Corn Pop, dragging Anita Hill through the mud, writing a crime bill that disproportionately incarcerated black men, Biden has done a lot for black people. I can’t recall any off the top of my head, but I’m sure he has. To be fair, he has a good voting record on a lot of civil rights legislation, affirmative action and most progressive race-based policies.
    History Score: 5
  • Intentionality: Biden worked for a black boss and, as veep, he was surrounded by black people who were smarter than him (Susan Rice, Michelle Obama, Eric Holder, Jeh Johnson). This might not seem like much, but eight years listening to black people is something few white people have ever done.
    Intentionality Score: 8 
  • Impact: Biden’s policies are progressive but not groundbreaking. He wants to fix the inequalities through conventional means and left-center legislation. However, if enacted, they would make a significant impact.
    Impact Score: 6
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1. Elizabeth Warren

Total Score: 79

Elizabeth Warren’s plan is called “A Working Agenda for Black America.”

  • Economics: Look, no one is going to outshine Warren in this category. Her plans offer specifics complete with dollar amounts and budgetary offsets. She has entire separate sections on entrepreneurs of color and farmers of color. She backs reparations.
    Economics score: 9
  • Criminal Justice: Warren approaches criminal justice reform with compassion and logic. She does not have any new ideas but she outlines exactly how she wants to reform cash bail, sentencing, police brutality and drug legalization. She, along with Tom Steyer, both include mental health reform in their criminal justice plans.
    Criminal Justice score: 7
  • Education: Warren is a teacher, so it makes sense that her education plans are comprehensive. She separates K-12 education from college reform. However, her college plans focus primarily on student debt and not HBCU funding or college programs.
    Education Score: 8
  • Politics: Again, Warren offers specifics. She doesn’t just want to end voter purges, she wants to pass a law that bans removing people from voter rolls unless the voter affirmatively requests to be removed or there is objective evidence of a legitimate reason to remove them.” She wants voting machines to be approved statewide and on the federal level before they can be used in elections. She vows to use executive authority to prevent voter discrimination.
    Politics Score: 8
  • Comprehensiveness: Perhaps no candidate in history ever had a more detailed, comprehensive plan that Elizabeth Warren’s. Every single policy has a separate page explaining how she will accomplish it. She earned extra points for having an entire agenda for black women.
    Comprehensiveness Score: 10
  • Blind spots: Honestly, it is hard to find holes in Warren’s policies. She doesn’t address college admissions and she’s a little too nice to racist institutions. She points out discrimination but tries to correct it with “investments” instead of criminalizing the institutions for racist practices. Other than that, her plan is as at least as comprehensive as her competitors’.
    Blind Spots Score: 7
  • Feasibility: Warren’s plan is expensive AF. Unlike other candidates, she explains where she’ll get the money but her wealth tax will be difficult to pass. She does have a legislative history and the ability to explain her policies by breaking them down with compassion. She’s like a kindergarten teacher or a scientist speaking to Donald Trump.
    Feasibility Score: 7
  • History: Warren is the only candidate whose history isn’t marred by a problematic racial past. That whole Native American blunder might be irrelevant to most black people because we all have a cousin whose “good hair” comes from her “Indian roots.” She was a Republican until 1996.
    History Score: 7
  • Intentionality: It’s hard to argue that anything about Warren’s platform is performative because she has always displayed intention when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
    Intentionality Score: 8
  • Impact: Warren’s plan might not be the most impactful, but it is the most realistic plan. It is as progressive as Bernie Sanders’ but she bests him on actual policymaking. It also doesn’t rely on Sanders’ “rising tide lifts all boats” theory because it targets specific issues of race with precision.
    Impact Score: 8
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There you have it. Elizabeth Warren’s “black agenda” is the blackest of them all. Unfortunately, she also seems to be invisible to everyone except Mike Bloomberg. But that’s only because she keeps punching him in the face during the debates.

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Then again, we’ve only counted the white votes.

Clarification, 2/28/20, 2:25 p.m: While the “College & Student Debt” section of Elizabeth Warren’s “Working Agenda for Black America” focuses on student debt, it does propose $50 billion in HBCU funding. 

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.

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