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Bernie’s to the Left of Me, Joker’s to the Right: We’re Stuck in the Middle with Joe

On the latest episode of democracy-ish, we’re joined by Christina Greer, Associate Professor of Political Science Fordham University, politics editor at theGrio and co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC. She’s sitting in for Danielle, who’s caring for her mother as she recovers from surgery. Much love to you both!

  • Biden is leading in the Dem’s delegate count –– due in no small part to Black voters, not just in the South but around the country.

  • Where did Bernie go wrong? (Hint: he wasn’t in Selma last weekend).

  • Can a strategic veep help sweep Bernie’s (and Liz’s) voters toward a new coalition?

  • Does Trump think Corona is just a Mexican beer, and is that why he thinks he can wall it off?

Voters in six states weighed in at the polls earlier this week. And yet again, Black voters pulled the lever in large numbers for Joe Biden –– “not just in the South, where we expected it, but in Michigan,” says Christina. “It was like a second Super Tuesday.”

Biden’s victory in Michigan was especially significant because Sanders won there in 2016. But why did it swing centerward this time?

As usual, our hosts have a lot of thoughts. And this week, Christina takes us to poli-sci school!

We break down the state of the Democratic race, why so many Black voters are choosing Uncle Joe and whether history can help tell us how we got here.

Episode Highlights — Stuck in the Center with Joe

‘Joe knows’ … and so it goes?

Democratic voters, particularly Black voters, opted for the safe choice yet again this week, says Touré.

“When they called Michigan … I said, I think that's it. The race is effectively over.”

It seems that we’re looking to restore “an expectation of normalcy and general competence over the possibility of revolution and change,” he says.

Although Reverend Jesse Jackson endorsed him at a rally in Michigan last Sunday, Sanders netted only about 36 percent of the vote there.

Christina points out that Jim Clyburn’s imprimatur for Biden in South Carolina was much more influential with Black voters.

Clyburn is not just a sitting Congressman –– as majority whip, he’s one of the most powerful. Christina thinks that when he said, “we know Joe,” the second line was even more important: “Joe knows us.

And Biden’s loyalty to Barack Obama means everything to older folks who grew up in a more segregated America.

In many Black homes, she sees “Obama on the wall along with Martin Luther King, Jesus Christ and Malcolm X, if you're a slightly radical household –– or JFK if you're more conservative. He's in the pantheon of great leaders.”

Bernie’s deep (South) freeze

“He knows us” isn’t something Jackson can say about Sanders, Christina says.

“Bernie's going to propose a lot of ideas that may come to fruition, but we all know what this country is. So we've got to go with the prone gaffe-prone birdman.”

Touré thinks that Sanders learned a key lesson too late: in spite of his rabid fanbase, he cannot rely on young voters. And it appears he also hasn’t internalized the results of 2016, when it became clear that he had a problem with Black voters.

“Bernie has not, in the years since, addressed that,” he says.

For Christina, that was apparent when Sanders chose not to campaign in Mississippi. His absence from the commemoration of the 55th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, was conspicuous as well.

From a delegate-math standpoint, it may have made sense for Sanders to laser focus on Michigan. But it may have backfired instead.

“Literally everybody and their grandmother was in Selma, thinking about civil rights in a really important context, especially in this political moment with Donald Trump trying to bring those days back,” she says. “Skipping that said a lot to Black primary voters, who tend to be older.”

Protectionism before progressivism

Touré thinks that Biden’s appeal as the safe choice isn’t nearly strong enough. After decades in politics, he hasn’t done much beyond his stint as veep.

“You would think that he had authored a bill on reparations,” he says. “No, he wrote the crime bill.”

As an academic, Christina sees the Biden-Sanders dichotomy as reflective of a long-term pattern. The political scientist Charles Hamilton wrote in 1973 that Black voters were in a protectionist phase, as opposed to an advancement phase.

We’re still in a protectionist phase, she says.

“The advancement phase is tricky because Black voters go to the polls knowing how white people are going to behave ... knowing that there could be a Trump.”

While that may be true, Touré worries that a vote for Biden is predicated on assumptions about who else will back him.

“Why are we not voting for ourselves?” he asks. “Why are we not asking for more than I think he can?”

The partisan gender gap is actually Black and white

In an ideal world, Black voters would have the luxury of voting for the candidates they love, Christina says. But she thinks they’re making the strategic calculus that Bernie Sanders is not attractive to white voters –– even Democrats.

“As much as Sanders’ people say they're ‘low information’ voters, Black voters are some of the most savvy, pragmatic, strategic voters.”

Christina cites the study “Hiding in Plain Sight,” in which scholar Jane Junn addresses the partisan gender gap. Junn aggregated data from 1952 to 2016 and demonstrated that, on the whole, white women vote Republican. Contrary to contemporary belief, that’s consistent whether women are married or single. The only exceptions were for LBJ in 1964 and (curiously) Bill Clinton’s second term in 1996.

“Because Black women over-perform for the Democratic Party so much, it seems like there's a gender divide, but there absolutely isn't.”

Christina suggests that Black voters, especially older ones, might think Sanders’ message would be great for them in the long run. But the near-term threat is four more years of Trump, she says. They’d rather “go with the loyal cat who's with Obama.”

Biden’s (potential) vice squad

Because Biden is 77 and “a little bit out to lunch,” Christina says, “we might get some interesting dynamics, either demographically or ideologically” in his VP pick. She hopes that he’ll choose someone who does both.

That could be Elizabeth Warren, Christina adds. She’d bring her super-motivated base of supporters along. But voters wouldn’t be sufficiently motivated by some of the other buzzed-about potential veeps like Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams.

“Whomever he chooses has to be someone people could actually see as President,” according to Christina.

Touré suggests that because Bernie has performed well with Latinx voters, Julian Castro might be the VP who coalesces a significant portion of Dems behind Biden.

“He would be interesting. He satisfies demographics. He's not gonna raise any money, but he's young and he's smart.”

Going viral in the worst way

In other news, the World Health Organization confirmed that the COVID-19 virus is a global pandemic. It’s devastated China and Italy. It’s spreading across Europe. And the U.S. is bracing for hospitals to be overrun within a week.

Meanwhile, our president is handling it poorly, to say the least.

Trump is behaving as if his arbitrary, xenophobic series of travel bans were about “pre-gaming for Corona,” Touré says.

“He's never pre-planned in his life. He does everything by the minute … like a casino,” says Christina. “Every crisis we've had, for the most part, that he's quote, unquote, solved is a crisis he's made.”

But what happens when the dumpster fire is one Trump didn't set himself? We’ll have to wait until next week.

Pray about it.

“P.S. –– How many people have Coronavirus in Russia?” Christina asks. “I haven't heard anything.”

Touré isn’t holding his breath for answers.

“Putin controls the media. So we may never know.”

Get your weekly rundown of the presidential election from a Black progressive point of view on democracy-ish. Consider Danielle Moodie and Touré as your tour guides, flight attendants and/or therapists as we move through this dumpster fire of an election cycle—together! #dcppolitics


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