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Presidential Candidates Still Silent on Most Issues Pertaining to African-Americans
By: Amber English
NNPA Special Correspondent
Originally posted 6/6/2007

WASHINGTON (NNPA)-The war in Iraq and the issue of immigration took center stage during the second 2008 presidential debate in New Hampshire Sunday night.

These are issues that African-Americans care about, political observers say, but, what about the low quality education in city schools, the violent crime rates that are up for the second year in a row, the unemployment rate among African-Americans that consistently doubles that of Whites and the mandatory minimum sentences that keeps Blacks crowding prisons across the nation?

Though African-Americans are adamantly against the war and immigration is on America’s front burner, political observers say Democratic candidates have yet to tackle the bread and butter domestic issues that disparately relate to Black people.

“With the Democrat Party, when the candidates get to the issues, they make us a part of the omnibus,” says Thomas Todd, a political commentator who is a former federal prosecutor and former leader of Operation PUSH in Chicago. “But being the most loyal and the largest voting block in the Democratic Party, you would think that they would deal with issues that specifically address the problems facing Black people or African-Americans. It’s not being done.”
Health care, education, and other domestic issues were touched upon briefly, but mostly within the last 10 minutes of the debate. The two-hour debate focused almost solely on war and immigration issues.

“The way it was organized, this was an effort to campaign on issues that are typically seen as dominated by the GOP,” says California political science professor Katherine Tate. The CNN debate, hosted by Wolf Blitzer, might also have played to the dominant White population of New Hampshire. The state is 1 percent African-American.
“It’s not as though Blacks are not interested in the other issues, but it does mean that there are more immediate concerns in terms of their ability to achieve more viable lifestyles, including employment and education,” says Dr. Ron Walters, professor of political science at the University of Maryland, College Park. “You need some people to be passionate enough about the issues to demonstrate that the Black community is hurting in some respects, and needs the candidates to speak to these issues.”

Tate notes that her research in Black public opinion shows that the war in Iraq is important to Blacks. But, domestic issues that hit home are also on the minds of those who are hurting, says Todd.

“We have the highest unemployment, we have the highest rate of unemployed or jobless, formerly incarcerated persons, we have the worse health care. Affordable housing, yes, it’s a problem throughout the nation, but it’s a greater problem for us,” says Todd. “And so, when we look at all of the specific issues – crime, the death of young Black men, and the crisis facing young Black men, it would seem to me that if you are concerned about the Black vote and not thinking that it’s going to go to you automatically, that you would come up with a comprehensive kind of program designed to address these issues.”

Ironically, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were not mentioned during the entire debate although both Sens. Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama have outlined extensive platforms on recovery in New Orleans.

On the subject of health care, Sens. Obama and Clinton expressed the desire to provide care to more Americans, John Edwards quoted the potential cost of his health care program, saying his plan would cost from $90 billion to $120 billion per year.

Currently, 47 million Americans currently lack health coverage, 16 percent of those uninsured are African-American, according calculations of numbers reported by the U. S. Census Bureau.

Walters was unimpressed with all of the candidates proposed plans. “They really are not talking about universal health care in most cases,” says Walters. “They’re talking about some variety of it.” Walters also pointed out that there was no mention of prescription drug costs, another important factor in the health care debate.

The most recent Washington Post- ABC News Poll shows Clinton has a solid lead of 42 percent, followed by Obama with 27 percent and Edwards with 11 percent.

But Walters cautioned not to overlook other candidates, like Dennis Kucinich, whose voting record has often mirrored that of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“Overall, he has [a] kind of position toward the Black community,” says Walters of Kucinich.

The debate was held at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, a state that historically plays a major role in presidential elections. Since 1977, state law has required that its primary be first in the nation. New Hampshire is also known for going either Republican or Democratic. As a result, it is usually an early predictor of the front runners and can sometimes make or break a candidate. Presidential hopefuls often spend large amounts of time, and money, attempting to win the support of the New Hampshire electorate.

Though the Black community has been documented to be the strongest against the war, Walters says Blacks need to speak up in order to ensure the other concerns are addressed.

The responsibility is also on the candidates, says Todd.
“They’re concerned about all these other issues that are a part of the omnibus, but for my vote, give me something that I can vote for you for that’s going to help me directly, but that’s not happening,” says Todd. “It’s not happening because of an old, old kind of tradition where you talk about Republicans who ignore the Black vote and Democrats who take it for granted.”

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