Black voters delivered for Biden — a President Biden must deliver for them
John F. Kennedy best described the nature of presidential campaigns during a 1961 White House press briefing: “Victory has a hundred fathers,” Kennedy said, “and defeat is an orphan.” Of all the potential fathers likely to step forward in the coming weeks to claim a piece of Joe Biden’s impending victory, none has a greater claim on Biden than the Black community.
The Democratic Party must fight for and advance the core issues of racial justice, economic opportunity and justice reform that look to have brought Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and the White House back into the Democratic fold.
Data gurus will be poring over the voter breakdowns of this week’s contest for years to come. One concern will be why Latino voters in places like Miami-Dade County – who in 2016 voted for Hillary Clinton by 30 points – abandoned the Democratic Party in favor of Trump and the GOP. Another will be the monumental showing by Black Americans across all ages, sexes and state lines.
Eighty-eight percent of young Black voters supported Joe Biden, compared to 75 percent of Latinos and just over half of young whites, according to data collected by Tufts University. The numbers are even more impressive for the broader Black community: A whopping nine in 10 Black women supported Biden, compared to 8 in 10 Black men. White voters supported Biden at barely half those levels.
Biden made clear from the beginning of his candidacy that he saw a path to victory in bringing huge numbers of Black voters into the political process and out to the polls. As the campaign sped to its final days, Biden personally focused on driving Black turnout in key states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia.
Biden’s gambit appears to have paid off, but only because the candidate spoke eloquently and genuinely throughout the campaign about the need to tackle key issues within the Black community: unemployment, policing reform, economic opportunity and the all-too-real existence of white supremacy among some police officers.
Unfortunately, it looks like the Democratic Party may already be losing its nerve after a tough House cycle led to unexpected losses for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Democrats who narrowly survived campaigns that saw Black Lives Matter and policing reform weaponized against them expressed their concern on a Thursday conference call with Pelosi.
“We lost races we shouldn’t have lost,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.). “‘Defund the police’ almost cost me my race because of an attack ad. Don’t say socialism ever again.”
Later that night, MSNBC contributor and Democratic strategist James Carville agreed. “I think the police talk didn’t help at all,” he said.
That “police talk” is one of the major issues that brought Black voters to the polls for Joe Biden. The Trump administration offered plenty of opportunities for Black Americans to witness government indifference to heinous examples of police violence exacted against their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers. The bodycam-captured killing of George Floyd by members of the Minneapolis police inflamed the country not because it offered political theater but because it reflected the ongoing and indefensible powerlessness of an entire race of American citizens.
And so millions of Black Americans organized, energized and stood in line for five or more hours to cast their ballot at one of the few understaffed and underfunded polling places in their community. They stared voter suppression efforts in the face and never wavered.
Now is no time for Democrats to lose their nerve about the positions they took during the campaign — and those they were too fearful to take, so convinced were they that doing so would alienate the “soft Republicans” who ended up voting for Trump in higher numbers than they did in 2016.
A good start would be to ask Stacey Abrams what she’d like to do over the next four years. Abrams was already a rising star before her years of organizing efforts paid off with a likely victory in Georgia. Now she’s proven herself to be Democrats’ best community organizer since Barack Obama, and a smart Democratic establishment would reward her by funding a national rollout of her Georgia Miracle approach to voter activation.
The next crucial step is to recommit the Democratic Party to pursuing every possible means of achieving lasting justice and policing reform. That means making the John Lewis Voting Rights Act a legislative priority even if the Senate remains in GOP hands because no one should face the long lines and dwindling polling places that are the most visible signs of Republican-led voter suppression campaigns.
It means restoring the integrity of the Justice Department as a partner in modernizing our militarized and socially alienated local police departments and providing the resources to properly address social work and mental health concerns now handled by overworked police officers.
With a possible Republican Senate standing in the way, it would also mean using the full extent of Biden’s presidential powers until Democrats can reclaim both chambers of Congress. Where federal authority offers no clear solutions, Democrats must hold and expand their winning national coalition by being active organizers for these issues in the media and in the states.
Making justice and policing issues a centerpiece of a Biden administration doesn’t mean ending outreach to Latinos, LGBTQ Americans or anyone who looks to the Democratic Party to represent their values. It does, however, mean doing something. If Democrats go soft on Black voters after such a commanding show of political and moral strength, a self-inflicted disaster awaits them in 2021 and beyond.
The realignment of Latino voters between 2016 and 2020 should remind Democrats that coalitions are never set in stone. Building them takes credibility, a clear sense of vision and a willingness to act on our principles. Black Americans have put their trust and their votes with Joe Biden and the Democrats to an astounding degree. It may soon be on President Biden to follow through.
Max Burns is an award-winning Democratic strategist, political columnist and founder of Third Degree Strategies.