Monday, September 27, 2004

One More Way to Lose 

The Republican effort to turn gay marriage into a major wedge issue has been widely regarded as a dud; apart from the president's right-wing fundamentalist base, few voters rank that particular bugaboo as a pressing social concern. However, an extremely disturbing report by Chip Johnson of the S.F. Chronicle suggests that the tactic may yet succeed in dividing one constituency that Kerry desperately needs to win:
The national debate over same-sex marriage has become a lightning rod in Bay Area black churches, where ministers engaged in programs to strengthen African American families are torn between faith, politics and practical realities.

Among the topics of discussion is President Bush's "healthy marriages" initiative, which funds programs at churches in Oakland and San Francisco among others -- and has a decidedly negative view toward gay marriage.

A group of Oakland ministers endorsed Bush last month, while another group, representing clergy on both sides of the bay, condemned the president over the weekend for trying to co-opt African American congregations in his campaign for re-election.

The Rev. Ted Frazier says his group, which represents about 75 Baptist ministers around the region, is caught in the middle. Its members heard from both sides of the presidential race at a meeting last week.

"There's a religious and political position on this, and it's a very divisive issue that you can try and avoid, but we're right in the middle," said Frazier, the associate pastor at Voice of Pentecost Church in San Francisco . . . .

Late last month, a group of about 15 Oakland ministers pledged their support to Bush because he favors a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Pastor Earl Crawford, executive director of the California Coalition for Inner City Renewal, has been a vocal Bush supporter. Crawford, the only registered Republican in the group, said he is part of a statewide coalition of black ministers voting for the president because of his stance on same-sex marriage . . . .

On the other side of the aisle, a coalition of religious leaders, community activists and a representative from the National Hip Hop Political Convention held a news conference Saturday in Oakland to start a voter-registration drive and to condemn "the current administration's effort to co-opt African American congregations for partisan political advantage in the presidential election."
But there's plenty of blame to go around. Mike Davis, who wrote City of Quartz and The Ecology of Fear, lambastes the Democrats for their shameful inattention to African-American voters in this spot-on commentary:
On the Democratic side, it is the culmination of the long crusade waged by the Democratic Leadership Council to exorcise the specter of the 1980s Rainbow Coalition. The council, of course, has long yearned to bring white guys and fat cats back to a Nixonized Democratic Party.

Arguing that race had fatally divided Democrats, the leadership council has tried to bleach the party by marginalizing civil rights agendas and black leadership.

African Americans, it is cynically assumed, will remain loyal to the Democrats regardless of the treasons committed against them. They are, in effect, hostages.

Thus the sordid spectacle -- portrayed in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" -- of white Democratic senators refusing to raise a single hand in support of the Black Congressional Caucus' courageous challenge to the stolen election of November 2000.

The John Kerry campaign, meanwhile, steers a straight course toward oblivion. No Democratic presidential candidate since Eugene McCarthy's run in 1968 has shown such patrician disdain for the Democrats' most loyal and fundamental social base . . . .

As Rainbow Coalition veterans like Ron Waters have bitterly pointed out, Kerry has been absolutely churlish about financing voter registration drives in African American communities. Ralph Nader, I fear, was cruelly accurate when he warned recently that "the Democrats do not win when they do not have Jesse Jackson and African Americans in the core of the campaign."

The urgent domestic issue, of course, is unspeakable socioeconomic inequality, newly deepened by fiscal plunder and catastrophic plant closures. But inequality still has a predominant color, or, rather, colors: black and brown.

Kerry's apathetic and uncharismatic attitude toward people of color will not be repaired by last-minute speeches or campaign staff appointments. Nor will it be compensated for by his super-ardent efforts to woo Reagan Democrats and white males with war stories from the ancient Mekong Delta.

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