Bankole: Appealing to the black vote in 2020

Bankole Thompson
Sen. Kamala Harris

One of the difficulties Democrats are going to face in 2020 is how to secure the black vote to guarantee victory for their presidential nominee. The current crop of candidates running have yet to make compelling cases for why they should earn the black vote.

Some of the candidates are simply regurgitating campaign talking points instead of laying out clear-cut agendas to directly address the myriad issues facing black America. Others are flip-flopping on issues like reparations whenever convenient.

At this point in the race there is no candidate who has done an excellent job explaining a pragmatic urban agenda to reverse the decades of decline in urban cities across the nation. Take Detroit for example, which leads the nation among big cities on poverty. None of the presidential candidates who are planning to come here for a debate in July are speaking about how poverty has ravaged black America.

The litany of town halls and campaign rallies being held with the various candidates have only shown a lot of banter about the middle class and less conversation about extreme inequality. In fact, in some cases — with the exception of Sen. Elizabeth Warren — candidates only mention poverty in passing while hammering on the need to build the middle class.

Focusing on saving the middle class instead of lifting people out of crushing poverty is not an incentive to get votes in communities, where life has largely been defined by squalor. Touting the middle class at the expense of offering solutions that would tackle the root causes of poverty is not a winning formula for any Democrat seeking to win the black vote.

Last year, Sen. Kamala Harris announced legislation called LIFT (Livable Incomes for Families Today) — also known as the Middle Class Act — to provide middle-class and working families with a tax credit of up to $6,000 a year or up to $500 a month to address the cost of living.

“Americans are working harder than ever but stagnant wages mean they can’t keep up with cost of living increases,” Harris said. “We should put money back into the pockets of American families to address rising costs of childcare, housing, tuition, and other expenses.”

While Harris touted her bill as a step forward, it is an example of how some of the candidates are missing the mark on inequality. There are families who don’t have housing, tuition or even the means to have childcare because they are simply poor. They have nowhere to start.

About 40 million people are living in poverty across the nation.  And in the black community, poverty is a constant reality. That underscores why the candidates will have to fully explain how the policies they are promoting will be able to reduce the rate of inequality in America’s urban centers.

One of the missed opportunities about then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was her lack of forceful pronouncements about economic inequality, and how she would have to deal with it if elected. I don’t even recall how many times Clinton used poverty in her speeches. The Clinton campaign thought it had the black vote sealed because it depended on its relationship with the black civil rights establishment for support during the 2016 election.

The campaign relied heavily on the fact that former President Bill Clinton courted some key relationships with some prominent members of the civil rights community and other longstanding black caucus groups. As a result, it didn’t need to do much outreach to emerging groups like the Black Lives Matter Movement, which explains why the campaign ran a dismal operation in Detroit.

Democrats should avoid the pitfalls of 2016 and go directly to those who will be most impacted by their policies in the black community with full-blown recommendations about how to fight poverty in black cities. It is remarkable that not one candidate has emerged as the one with the most significant plan to tackle inequality.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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