I caught the last thirty minutes of tonight’s Democratic Party debate. I was able to hear some of their discussion on foreign policy which I did not find impressive. Overall, these candidates tried to play both sides of the fence when it came to Afghanistan, claiming on the one hand that it is time for the United States to leave the central Asian burial ground of empires while on the other hand satisfying the sentiments of war hawks by considering the deployment of a reduced force, just in case the U.S. needed to re-insert itself. That sure doesn’t sound like commitment to the idea of departing.
Another sign of a lack of commitment on the part of Democrats was the dearth of ethnic minorities on the debate stage. Andrew Yang, an American of Asian descent, was the only ethnic minority participating in the debate. That Mr. Yang is still in contention is a testament to his entrepreneurial savvy and his policy focus, specifically the idea of a $1,000 a month universal basic income payment to every eligible American.
Strong messaging on specific policy measures appears to be the sustaining formula for the debate survivors as they prepare for next February’s Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary. Yang, along with U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders are doing well because, in my opinion, they have developed a narrative that they can brand themselves with and sell to the public.
Someone failed to get the important point of narrative and branding across to U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, who was not known for any specific policy agenda, definitely not a black agenda or narrative of any kind. The same can be said for U.S. Senator Cory Booker who was absent from tonight’s debate stage. If their hope was to ride the Obama Coalition, that bus is being driven by former Vice-President Joe Biden, and right now appears not to be letting anyone else steer the wheel.
The lack of blacks on the debate stage is not surprising. As the Boomers get older, the sway of the Democratic Party on blacks is decreasing. It is not unusual to hear younger blacks and even a few older blacks question the efficacy of the Democratic Party when it comes to a black agenda. And while the Democratic Party harps inclusion and diversity, the reality is that younger blacks are seeing less of an economic and social space for them in American society. This view will only become more precarious as the demographics continue to change and blacks find themselves an increasingly smaller proportion of the population.
Returns on black political capital will remain flat if the focus remains on national elections. The numbers are just not there no matter what Democratic talking heads keep saying. More importantly, the issues that concern blacks most; unfair treatment by the criminal justice system, unemployment, gentrification, are not federal issues. While national leaders maybe able to advocate for block grants and other large sources of capital to be directed toward the States, it is state and local politics that will determine how those funds get distributed to and throughout communities. Ensuring that West End Atlanta gets its share of federal government funds compared to the affluent north side of turn will turn just as much on local politics as it does federal jawboning.