Way back in 2004, some brilliant promoter came up with the idea of the Best of Both Worlds tour featuring Jay Z and R. Kelly (not to be confused with the other Best of Both Worlds tour with Hannah and Miley).
The king of R&B and Hov together, on one stage. What could go wrong?
Well, just about everything.
The 40-city tour only lasted about two months. Pettiness, infighting and leaks ended with Jigga literally yelling, “I don’t need that nigga” to a Madison Square Garden crowd and finishing the tour sans Kellz. Just because it seemed like a good idea didn’t mean that the Best of Both Worlds tour needed to happen.
In yet another example of the Democratic Party mimicking but not learning from black people, it launched its own Best of Both Worlds “Unity” tour featuring new Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez and Bernie Sanders. It was supposed to feature the two major wings of the party coming together to resurrect Democrats in the age of Trump. Instead, it’s been a PR and organizational flop. The DNC can’t quite say, “I don’t need this nigga” to Bernie Sanders, but the feeling is getting close.
There was tension from the very beginning of the tour, both ideologically and otherwise. Tom Perez was just elected DNC chair this year over Keith Ellison, whom Sanders had endorsed. Perez and Sanders’ obsession with appealing to working-class white men (over the actual coalition of black women, minorities, young people and city residents that gave Hillary Clinton the majority of the popular vote) has rubbed many grassroots activists the wrong way.
Lastly, the weeklong tour went to Texas, Nebraska, Kentucky, Arizona, Florida, Utah and Nevada, mostly deep-red states that don’t have a growing or even nominal coalition of Democratic supporters. Activists in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, states that flipped from blue to red, in large part due to voter suppression, felt snubbed as Perez and Sanders chased MAGA hats.
This tension between the speakers, the party and the grassroots boiled over to the surface, and the tour became defined more as a battle of Bernie vs. the Democrats than anything else.
“Bernie didn’t even have to do this,” said Marcus Ferrell, former head of African-American outreach for the Sanders presidential campaign.
Ferrell points out that the ego and policy battle between the Democratic National Committee and Bernie Sanders is taking up all the headlines and discussion. This while the policies, especially those that focus on the needs of the black community, are being ignored by both sides.
“[Bernie] still has work to do on race and class issues,” Ferrell said. “I’m ready and willing to admit that; but on the same token, we have much bigger fish to fry than a battle of Bernie vs. Democrats.”
There is truth to this.
Rather than trying to show unity while still fighting backstage, Democrats could do a lot more to thank and support African-American voters, especially the 94 percent of black women who voted to save the world from Donald Trump. Hire more African-American women as staffers, go stump for more minority candidates, put more money into fighting voter suppression, or, better yet, state in the party platform that “Black lives matter”: These are all things that could have made the Unity tour more substantive and reflective of the party’s base.
But none of those things will be addressed until the egos and feelings from the primary are in check. Perez wants to get his hands on Sanders’ supporters and mailing lists but doesn’t want to really include the Sanders wing’s policies or leadership in the rebuilding of the DNC. Democrats are angry at Sanders for callously hijacking the party, then declaring in an interview (while sitting next to Perez) that he wasn’t a Democrat. His “economics over race” rhetoric has always annoyed long-term black Democrats who feel that Sanders is an opportunist. To them, Bernie Sanders is like the white sorority that forces its way into the step show, wins third place, then refuses to donate some of the prize money to the MLK awards dinner.
The consequences of this failed tour are already being felt across actual Democratic races around the country. Sanders came out stomping hard for Heath Mello, a Democratic mayoral candidate for Omaha, Neb., despite the candidate’s pro-life stances. Then the DNC chair called Sanders out for his stance, then Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called out Perez and then Sanders told them all that you have to make ideological compromises to win. This coming from the same Bernie Sanders who screams, “You shall not pass” to any Democrat who isn’t progressive enough for his tastes—despite not being a Democrat. You’d think the Dems would have worked these things out before going on tour.
The Unity tour ended this week, and the Democrats haven’t solved their Bernie problem, their DNC problem, their black problem or their “unity” problem. If there is a solution out there, maybe it can be taken from the last night of that failed concert tour in 2004.
R. Kelly had a meltdown and ran off the stage at New York City’s Madison Square Garden halfway through his set, leaving the whole show in the lurch. At this point, Jay Z had enough, he went onstage, made his proclamation and got on with the show with other artists who were ready to play. When R. Kelly tried to get back onstage, a member of Jay Z’s stage crew hit him with pepper spray and the Pied Piper was done for the night.
The Democratic Party can’t keep Bernie Sanders trapped in a closet, but maybe it needs to find a way to sincerely adopt his policy positions without having to deal directly with him. There’s some unfinished business coming up in the 2018 midterm elections, and these problems need to be ironed out by somebody before the next tour drops.