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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Thursday, July 17, 2003


phase II: why the NAACP matters

posted by Aziz P. at Thursday, July 17, 2003 permalink View blog reactions

MIAMI BEACH, July 14 -- Three Democratic presidential contenders alienated the leadership of the nation's largest civil rights organization today by skipping the candidates forum at the annual NAACP convention, an event attended by 6,000 members from chapters nationwide.

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume described the absent candidates -- Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) and Reps. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.) and Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio) -- as "persona non grata" whose "political capital is now the equivalent of Confederate dollars."

"When candidates choose to ignore the NAACP, they have no legitimacy when they go into our communities later asking for our votes," Mfume said.

I hate to disagree with Ezra or Joe, but I think that Kweisi Mfume's harsh rhetoric was, strategically speaking, critical. It sounds over the top, but it's the only imagery that the NAACP can invoke to demonstrate their resolve. Remember during the 2000 election - Big Labor briefly tried to pressure Gore by pretending to consider supporting Bush. Their gambit failed, because at that point it was obvious that supporting Bush was nonsensical from their self interest.

The NAACP has only one shot at putting their interests on the table - and that's during the primary. Once the primary is over, the only means of protest left is to stay home from the polls. However thats really self-defeating, so the emphasis is on the nomination.

and it worked:

Sens. John F. Kerry (Mass.) and John Edwards (N.C.) initially had not planned to participate in the forum, but changed their minds after Mfume criticized possible no-shows on Saturday. Sen. Bob Graham (Fla.) said he was reluctant to criticize candidates who miss forums because of scheduling conflicts. Former Vermont governor Howard Dean, asked about the controversy as he entered the Miami Beach Convention Center, said his missing rivals were being "disrespectful."

"The African American community is one of the most important parts of the Democratic Party," he said as he swept past a sign that read "Maple-powered Dean."

The bottom line is that you cannot be a credible candidate for the Democratic nomination if you aren't onboard with the NAACP. Clinton and Gore set a high standard - Gore won a staggering 90% of the black vote. Now the black vote faces a serious threat of being "taken for granted" and as a result the NAACP is looking for a candidate who addresses their issues - which need to be addressed.

It's clear that the candidates who didn't appear are trying to play games:

The flap between the Democratic candidates and the leaders of one of the party's most important interest groups underscored a brewing conflict within the campaigns on the need to court critical black votes but avoid potentially risky events where the candidates cannot control the circumstances.
According to NAACP officials, at least two campaigns -- Kerry and Edwards -- were involved in intense negotiations with the organization late Saturday, urging it to prevent a format in which the candidates appeared together.
Mfume suggested a different theory for the candidates' reluctance: a fear of matching wits with Sharpton or Dean, whose lively style and support for positions backed by the NAACP are likely to win enthusiastic applause.

(yup, our man Dean is on par with Sharpton in terms of appeal to the NAACP. Major victory for Phase II). As long as the other candidates are focused on trying to be "in control" of their appearances rather than actually make an honest attempt to address their constituent groups' concerns, the NAACP has reason to be concerned.

I think this pretty much sums it up:

When the five candidates stood to go, there were still four empty seats with four unclaimed name cards. One was for Bush, who spoke to the NAACP when he was running for president but has not returned to its convention since taking office.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.