Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wasted no time in a tweet deploring the brutal videotaped assault by fired South Carolina deputy Ben Fields on a black Spring Valley High School student. The tweet had more significance than just a presidential candidate expressing disgust and outrage over the attack.
It was more proof that Clinton learned the bitter lesson from eight years ago in South Carolina. In 2008, she went into the state as the seeming runaway favorite to nab the bulk of black votes and a primary win. Black voters make up more than half of South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary voters. This would have been a skyrocket launch for her campaign. She bombed badly in part due to the historic surge by Democratic rival Obama, and in part due to some alleged rash and seemingly racially demeaning statements by hubby Bill.
In reality she flopped because she took black voters too much for granted. At the time there seemed no reason not to. She had a sterling track record and history in speaking out on civil rights, health care, poverty and women’s issues. She had deep ties with legions of black elected officials and civil rights leaders. And she was the one Democrat who blacks, especially black women, said they personally admired. The seeming lovefest with Hillary at any other time would have been more than enough to skate through a primary with little worry about being upended.
That didn’t happen, and thus the tweet on Spring Valley tells much about why Clinton is determined that there will be no repeat of 2008. In truth she need not worry. She’s not bucking up against a history making adversary this go round but Democratic presidential rival Bernie Sanders. He’s made a mighty effort to get visibility, traction, and endorsements from black organizations and elected officials in South Carolina and elsewhere. It hasn’t happened, and likely won’t happen, not due to anything Sanders has done. His record and history on civil rights and wealth and income inequality and criminal justice reform is every bit as impeccable as Clinton’s. But that record and history hasn’t been a central focus of Sanders’ campaign, nor is it likely to be. It’s his relentless assault on Wall Street, corporate greed, and the wealth gap that’s his political mantra and strength. His advocacy has fired up the tens of thousands who have jam packed his rallies. In almost all cases, the overwhelming majority of whom are white. This isn’t a bad thing. But in a racially tense and polarized nation, where race matters, and matters greatly in politics, this single focus issue and the faces at his crowds haven’t been lost on many blacks.
Sanders big effort to get traction with black voters was never much of a worry for Clinton anyway. And neither is the GOP. In fact, it’s one of her greatest strengths and selling points with black voters, as it has been for Democrats the past half century. During this time, every GOP presidential candidate has gotten no more than a marginal percentage of the overall black vote. Its half century of race baiting, racial exclusion, and relentless and brutal assaults on affirmative action, voting rights, civil rights protections, and near eight year unbroken record of hectoring, harassing, and obstructing every program and initiative of President Obama has earned it the undying enmity of black voters.
The lip service by the Republican National Committee about making the GOP a more diverse and inclusive party bumps up hard against the brutal political reality that the GOP is seen as a nesting ground for bigots, extremists, and assorted racial haters. It relies on them to be its back door shock troops to rally millions of backers in the South and the heartland. Without them the GOP has no chance to make the White House race competitive. GOP presidential contenders Trump, Carson, and Cruz have nakedly appealed to them, and have had success. It’s that success that has reaffirmed the worst suspicions and fears of black voters, and that’s that the GOP is even more a hopeless captive party of kooks, cranks and unreconstructed bigots.
No GOP presidential candidate would or even could dare propose, as Clinton has, a ban on racial profiling or flatly say, as she has, that black men are disproportionately arrested and jailed, and impoverished largely because of race. That GOP candidate would instantly be a non-candidate in the GOP.
The 2016 presidential campaign will be another clear of two parties wildly at odds with each other over political philosophy and the programs that they believe are right for America. Black voters know that, and know that if Clinton is the Democratic presidential nominee she is assured of a lock on their vote.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Torpedoing Hillary: The GOP Plan to Stop a Clinton White House (Amazon ebook). He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.