New Black Political Class


(Obama—writer believes he, Ford and Patrick, represent a new breed).

Forty-three years ago, Martin Luther King dreamed aloud of his vision of a nation where  people would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content on their character.

A prominent sidebar to the upcoming Nov. 7th elections is that King’s vision,  corresponding to the significant maturation of African American politics, is becoming a reality. Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford is garnering momentous support in his bid for the U.S. Senate attracting Southern white conservatives who relate and align themselves to his message of God, family, hard work and justice. Deval Patrick, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate for governor in Massachusetts, is doing the same there espousing a vision of expanded opportunity and business growth, community and shared responsibility.

Sen. Barack Obama, a potential contender for the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination, has excited the body politic, pundits and the press alike with his cultural conservatism and bi-partisan abilities; building coalitions toward his “shared values America,� where “a common set of values of binds us together despite our differences.�

The White House could conceivably be in reach for any of these three uniquely appealing African Americans who are being judged by voters not on their race but their character – their beliefs and choices based on their code of values: honesty, temperance, integrity and personal responsibility.

Before Obama’s 2004 election, only three African American congressional office holders had gained office through majority support from white voters: Senator Edward Brooke (Massachusetts Republican 1967- 1979); Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (Illinois Democrat 1993- 1996) and Congressman J.C. Watts (Oklahoma Republican1994 -2002).

And the first and only elected Black governor of a state, Democrat L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia 1990- 1994, seemed to campaign and govern from the center/right supporting an anti-crime platform and the death penalty. “Successful Black candidates are less worried about race and more about typical issues that are the concerns of every man and woman,� said Dr. Gerald Jaynes, professor of economics and African American history at Yale University. “And the typical white voter is looking at that thinking ‘what’s this candidate going to do to help me?’�

“Black candidates who are connecting to white voters are not solely attached to a Black agenda and thus everything else—compared to a white opponent—is equal,� Jaynes says.

See Michael S. Steele for example: currently Maryland’s first statewide elected African American as lieutenant governor now running a formidable campaign as a Republican for the U.S. Senate against a white Democrat . Steele’s attracting sizable white support and he’s been endorsed by several prominent African American Democrats including hip hop mogul Russell Simmons and radio and TV media magnate Cathy Hughes.

 The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies  says the number of Black elected officials is now at 9,040 up from 1,500 in 1970 when the number were first compiled. About 60 percent of the cities presided over by Black mayors have white-voter majorities. Is it no secret that many of those mayors support programs like privatization of public institutions, strong homeland security and faith-based delivery of government services?

More younger Black Americans – educated, politically active and ambitious – are  concluding that basic liberalism, more government programs alone, have not solved many basic problems like quality health care, housing, education and crime.

Those African Americans, a generation removed from the civil rights movement, like their white counterparts, are looking for more substantive, and less color-based, solutions, the Joint Center recently reported. Unlike the old-school mavericks, younger Black voters and candidates support market-based approaches like school vouchers and Black entrepreneurship: provide them access to capital and opportunity and they’ll create their own jobs.

Maybe conservative columnist Armstrong Williams got it right when he said it’s “time to move past the basic assumptions of liberalism and finally face who we are and what we need, not solely as Blacks, but as individuals.� Many Blacks will probably agree that it’s one thing to have many people of color in positions of leadership, and another to have consensus leaders of color who are trained, cutting-edge and articulating a modern style and agenda that can win.

The Wall Street Journal last week reported that “how well Ford does may well decide the fate of the Senate and it also may signal how seriously to take the prospect of Sen. Barack Obama as a viable presidential contender.�

I submit that the possible election of Ford to the Senate and Deval to the Massachusetts’s Governor’s mansion, signal the arrival of not one, but three viable African Africans of presidential timber; a new wave of Black leaders espousing “common good� sermons of new approaches that don’t discomfort, but include and attract white voters.

Morris L. Reid is a Democratic strategist and managing director of Westin Rinehart, www., a Washington D.C.-based business and communications strategy firm.

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