"I've not chosen to have some grand endorsement plan" is how Jackson put it, a position also embraced by his son and namesake, a congressman from Illinois.
I've had my problems with both the reverends over the years. But their absence from the political dialogue underscores three things: The Democratic Party's assumption that the black vote does not have to be earned; the paucity of black leadership; and the belief that to address issues important to black Americans directly is to turn off undecided white voters.
It's unfortunate that in an election year in which a tremendous amount is at stake, the only black faces seen or voices heard with any regularity are the highly partisan visages of two members of the Bush administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Absent is an elected or independent black leadership that can challenge or put into context the Bush administration policies Rice and Powell hold so dear, especially those that most harshly affect African American communities.
It's both stunning and disturbing that in this year when the Democratic Party seems to have been revitalized by the disasters of the Bush administration, black voters, we who overwhelmingly
support the Democratic Party, are virtually invisible. Thanks to the loss of more than 2 million jobs in the last three years; the invasion of Iraq in search of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction; the continuing and escalating loss of life and the military and political debacle there; the despoiling of the environment; and the continuing push for more tax cuts for the wealthy, the Democratic Party is back!
Judging from the absence of black leadership and the silence from Democrats on issues important to African American voters and our communities, it's hard to interpret their attitude as anything other than "Vote for us, but don't make yourselves seen or heard."
As for the Republican Party, for the most part it wrote us off long ago and now spends its energy in pursuit of Hispanic voters.
To be sure, there are many issues on which the concerns of all Americans are essentially the same, including questions about the war in Iraq, the economy, joblessness and health care. But it's also true that in many instances these issues disproportionately affect black Americans. They are the group least supportive of the war in Iraq. Unemployment is higher in black communities. Black Americans are disproportionately represented in the armed forces. For blacks, medical treatment and survival rates from a host of medical conditions lag drastically behind those of their white counterparts. Is it too much to ask that those who want our vote specifically address these concerns?
Apparently so. It seems that we're being asked, one mo' time, to stay quiet, not make waves, vote Democratic, and trust that, if elected, the new Democratic president will address our issues. That's a story we've heard more than a few times before, one that offers little comfort. Like it or not, it's the squeaky wheel that gets oiled. Without vocal leadership to raise issues and hold candidates and elected officials accountable, it's an act of faith to expect much of anything from either party once the votes are cast.
Jill Nelson Is a writer and journalist in New York.
Jill Nelson (email@example.com) is author of "Sexual Healing."