Memo to Ronald Walters: This is NOT the Time to Whine About Patronage.

Dr. Ronald Walters is an icon. He is a distinguished academic on racial politics, and has “street cred” from working with Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988. When he speaks, people listen, and they should.

As such, I am somewhat apologetic for using his name and the word “whine” in the title for this posting. It’s harsh, I know. But I was so disappointed by Walters’ recent article “Obama Not Funding Black Community Turnout”, I couldn’t find any nice words to say. His article just plain gets it wrong. And it points to what may be out-dated ideas concerning what black folks need to further achieve political power in the 21st century.

Wrong from the Start

Things fall apart from the very beginning of the article. Its title-“Obama not funding Black community turnout”-is certainly eye-catching enough. The problem is, it’s not a true statement. In fact, it’s contradicted by Walters’ own comments. In the body of the article, he states that “the Obama campaign is… financing thousands of young kids coming into Black communities to register Black voters.”

So first… let’s talk about voter turnout. Here’s my main problem with this article. Based on its title, you’d think this was all about black voter turnout. But amazingly, Walters neglects to note a very important detail: the outstanding success that the Obama campaign and the DNC have had in registering new black voters, and in bringing all black voters to the polls.

This year’s primaries have seen the largest black Democratic turnout in US history. And efforts to sign new voters and further swell the rolls of black voters continue at a fever pitch. The fact is, the Obama campaign and the Democrats have drawn universal acclaim for their GOTV (get out the vote) efforts in this election year… at least until the article from Dr. Walters.

Clearly, whatever Obama and the Democrats are doing, it’s working. You’d think an astute observer like Dr. Walters would find these achievements laudable and admirable. But he never even mentions them.

Money, Power, Control

Why does Walters start out saying Obama isn’t funding black turnout, and then turn around and say just the opposite? And why does Walters make the glaring error of omission of not even mentioning the success of Obama’s GOTV efforts?

It’s because Walters’ article isn’t about turnout at all. He’s really talking about patronage and control, or the lack thereof. He’s talking about people getting paid.

And in doing so, he’s lost sight of what this election is really about: winning.

This is Walters’ take on the Obama campaign voter turnout efforts:

Earlier on, I noted that Radio One recently had a $7 million deficit for the first quarter of this year and wondered how it is that a Black-owned radio empire could run a deficit in the middle of a presidential campaign if it was receiving the ad revenue from the campaigns that it has in the past.

The Obama campaign raised $66 million in the month of August, yet although it has announced a vigorous voter registration drive for the Black community, it doesn’t seem to have taken funding the Black civic culture into account.

In my book ‘’Freedom Is Not Enough,’’ I wrote that in the 2004 election, Americans Coming Together (ACT), a White Democratic- leaning 527 organization funded by a collection of rich donors like George Soros, went around Black civic and religious organizations and sponsored its own voter turnout drive in the Black community.

Legions of kids with Blackberries showed up in places where the NAACP, Urban League, National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, Black churches, Black labor unions and local Black civic organizations had worked for years to turnout the Black vote successfully. The result was that not only were many of the Black organizations de-funded, but our strong Black churches and civic organizations were pushed aside to make way for professional canvassers.

Again in this election cycle, I have heard stories of young Whites showing up in Black communities to register Black voters. While on the face of it this would be a good exercise in race relations, this is a game of community power. The power of the Black community in elections has always resided not only in its turnout, but in the fact that Black leadership controlled the turnout.

And here’s my take on Walters’ comments.

It’s about winning elections, not enriching black businesses.

I share Dr. Walters’ concern for the financial health of the Radio One. But let’s be for real: Radio One’s financial issues are neither Obama’s fault nor Obama’s problem. Obama has no more duty to spend money with Radio One, than Bill Richardson (presidential candidate and Hispanic governor of New Mexico) would have to spend money on Univision ads, if he had won the Democratic presidential nomination.

Barack Obama is not going to win this election by using his time to figure out how many checks to write to black media institutions. And he shouldn’t have to in the first place. As long as Obama is investing his campaign funds in the most effective and efficient manner to get to voters, he’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to do.

It’s about winning elections, not building black institutions.

I share Dr. Walters’ desire to build strong black organizations. Bet let’s be clear about this. An election campaign, by definition, is a short term, ad hoc, temporary organization that has a single-minded purpose, which is to win an election.

An election campaign is not about building black institutions, white institutions, Hispanic institutions, women’s institutions, etc. It’s about building a coalition of voters who can find common cause to elect a particular candidate.

If various black groups want to organize and develop their own strategies for delivering black votes to Obama, I’m sure the Obama campaign would be more than happy to get their help. But in the meantime, Obama must do what he feels is needed to get votes, from all races, ethnicities, economic classes, etc.

And if that means sending white kids with blackberries into black neighborhoods, so be it. You can’t argue with the results.

If you’re mad at Soros, then holler at Soros.

It’s obvious that Dr. Walters has issues with George Soros, the wealthy political activist and contributor. Walters seems to blame Soros and his associates for the “de-funding” of “strong black organizations” like the NAACP, the Urban League, and Black churches, who were “traditionally” responsible for delivering black votes. But his comments raise a lot questions.

If those black organizations are so strong, how is it that a bunch of rich white donors is responsible for their being de-funded? Where were these groups getting their money from, before the Soros group hit the scene? Why weren’t these groups influential enough to attract financing from other groups?

And if someone like Soros don’t want to contribute money to groups like the NAACP, why is that? Is it because said groups have become dysfunctional, ineffective, inefficient, and increasingly irrelevant? If Soros feels that way, he wouldn’t be the only one outside or inside the black community who does.

If Dr. Walters and black organizations feel that Soros isn’t providing enough support, then it would seem to me that they should open a dialogue with him and see what happens. If that doesn’t work (or if it has been attempted and didn’t work), then they need to move on and get over it. If Soros is not going to help after such contact, calling him out in the media isn’t going to move him to act differently.

Don’t ask for the spoils of war, before the war is over.

Essentially, Walters’ article is about black organizations getting a piece of the pie, to use the phrase from Black Enterprise magazine. It’s about Walters’ belief that the Obama campaign should be providing patronage support to black organizations.

This is based on the assumption that the Obama campaign has the money to give. Walters cites the $66 million that the Obama campaign raised in August as proof of the campaign’s potential largesse.

The thing is, having money to spend is not the same thing as having money to waste. The Obama campaign is using every penny from its fund-raising to mount a furious 50 state effort to attract voters of all stripes, including white Democrats who need special attention because they have misgivings about voting for a black candidate. And if that means less media buys in black radio or black newspapers, for example, then so be it.

I’d be very unhappy if Radio One was able to balance its budget, only to report that John McCain had won the presidency.

But again, this is NOT to say that the Obama campaign isn’t making serious efforts to register and turnout black voters. It is a FACT that the campaign has been very successful in doing those things. They just haven’t been done in a manner that Dr. Walters is able to approve.

IF Obama wins the election, there will be plenty of time for black organizations to re-group, re-charge, and make their demands to power. But asking for patronage now is like putting the cart before the horse.

It’s ridiculous to ask for a piece of the pie, when the pie isn’t even cooked yet. And there’s a lot of cooking to be done between now and election day. It seems Dr. Walters has lost sight of that.

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3 comments

  1. RIChris

    If Obama does not seem to connect with the black community in the United States, it’s because he has NO BLACK AMERICAN ROOTS. Simple, he has as much black American history to draw upon as Hillary Clinton.

  2. lunchcountersitin

    RIChris,

    *Sigh*, your comment has nothing to do with the issue of voter turnout or patronage, which was the point of this piece.

    I posted it so you could see it. But it would be great if you had something to add that related to the topic.

  3. Heartened to see a like mind on this issue...

    I posted this on the black agenda report before reading your post there. When I saw your website, I thought I’d post it here again.

    Sorry, but if you are a radical or progressive, stop waiting to get patronized by politicians in the electoral process. It is not the forum. Barack Obama never positioned himself as a black leader. He has positioned himself as a strong candidate for the presidency. I support him, and yes, he can count on my vote without having to pander to me as a black woman because he has proven himself as the better person for the job and he is black. Blacks are a mixed people by the way, Brian H. Unlike whitey, we never demanded race purity as a prerequisite for sharing our history or struggle. Maybe if black media outlets were as savvy at promoting themselves as Obama is as promoting himself, they would be able to depend on the support of black people. Let Obama do his thing, and you do your thing. What have you done for black people, by the way? As a teacher, I know a lot more black kids are inspired by the way Obama has conducted himself as eloquent, upbeat, and as a superior competitor to an old white man who was supposed to be a shoe-in. Electoral politics is only important insofar as we set the agenda for our political leaders. But we cannot expect them to do more work than we are willing to do for ourselves just because they have a higher position. Stop hating, please. Just handle your business and let others handle theirs.

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