“Black Issues”

According to this New York Times article, the Democratic Party is “perilously out of touch” with young black voters — mainly 18 to 35-year-olds who grew up after the height of the civil rights movement.

It is a group too important and complex to ignore, many strategists caution, when analysts are predicting another close election.

Democrats have traditionally counted on more than 90 percent of the black vote. Blacks 18 to 35 make up about 40 percent of the black voting-age population, but turnout among young blacks was so low in the 2000 elections that they made up only 2 percent of the entire vote.

Democratic leaders are expressing concern about the disengagement. Young blacks are responding by warning the party not to take their votes for granted.

“Not only do I not see myself as part of the base,” Nnamdi Thompson, a 30-year-old investment banker, told Ms. Spencer at the restaurant, “I wish the Democratic Party would stop seeing me as part of its base. We have more power as voters if they have to come and court us.”

I certainly seem to fall within the article’s described demographic. But I’ll say up front that, though I grew up in the heart of North Philadelphia, I can count the number of blacks I’ve actually been close to on one hand. And, in being largely alien to the vast majority of blacks I’ve encountered, I’ll have to leave the role of Speaker for All Black People to someone else.

I will, however, make two points:

First, the slide in black turnout more or less mirrors that of other groups. Most young people in general seem oblivious to political developments, save for huge events such as Sept. 11 or the war with Iraq. And in those cases, their interest in the political backstory is more in passing than out of sheer intellectual curiosity.

Even in college, I found that students of all backgrounds were maddeningly apathetic and underinformed. If they leaned toward a party affiliation, it was because their parents had belonged to that party — not because they felt strongly enough about the issues to go out and vote.

In some cases, no matter how sincere the effort, many of these young people are probably lost to both parties. Cynical toward politicians and oblivious toward the real-world effect of political advocacy, many in younger set won’t bother connecting the dots until they begin raising kids of their own, paying property taxes, using municipal services, and so on.

Second, among blacks who are politically active, the list of issues is very similar to that of “mainstream” voters: (via Willis)

We now find ourselves in a never-ending nightmare. Thanks to Bush, we are now mired in an unnecessary and expensive war, ruined foreign relations with our long-standing allies, record unemployment, a record-breaking federal deficit, record-breaking numbers of Americans losing their homes to foreclosure, record numbers of African American children living below the poverty line, bankrupt states, cuts in all types of aid programs and educational assistance for the most needy among us, a permanent cloud of anxiety and fear, unfair tax cuts for the wealthy, and the list of horrors just goes on and on.

I think blacks are eschewing party affiliation not because of some specific failing tied to race, but rather, because they are disappointed by the political process in general. Now that traditional Civil Rights-era loyalties are fading, it is becoming clear that both parties are largely ineffectual (or plain inattentive) on longstanding problems that, in the end, affect all Americans.

Serious tasks such as fixing public schools and overhauling Social Security seem largely frozen in time, captive to opportunistic election-year demagoguery on both sides of the aisle. And the problem of poverty in America — an issue of limited utility to parties pursuing soccer moms — has largely disappeared from the public consciousness, forgotten by everyone except bitter souls like myself who had to grow up in it.

Democrats won’t bring young blacks into the party through Sharptonism — speeches from the pulpit that appeal to traditional biases rather than common sense. That’s because blacks increasingly want what other Americans want: genuine ideas and effective solutions to the problems facing the country. They want innovative plans posited by can-do candidates who inspire optimism rather than fear that those racist Republicans will make things worse.

Then, and only then, will they convert so-called independents like myself into a new generation of inspired Democratic activists.

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