August 23, 2002
Who elected whom?

Nathan Newman was pretty upset by Cynthia McKinney's loss in the Democraatic primary on Tuesday. See here and here for his reaction. The particular bone of Newman's contention is the amount of outside money, much of it coming from the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, which went to McKinney's opponent, Denise Majette. His argument is that, among other things, blacks will resent seeing two black members of Congress (the other being Alabama's Earl Hilliard) being targeted and defeated.

I have two big problems with Newman's argument. First, it overlooks the fact that both Earl Hilliard and Cynthia McKinney were defeated by black candidates. The only conclusion I can draw from this line of reasoning is that Majette and Artur Davis are somehow not black enough. Both McKinney and Hilliard levelled such charges about their opponents, in fact. I really don't know what to make of this other than to note that were there a white candidate involved, appeals to vote for one or the other based on race would be considered, well, racist.

More importantly, the idea that Majette and Davis were elected because of some nefarious outside plot is just plain insulting to the voters. Hilliard and McKinney were long-term incumbents. The people they represented knew who they were and what they stood for, and they chose someone else. Voters can certainly be manipulated by misleading campaign ads, but it seems to me it's much harder to to do that to a well-known candidate.

(It's this same type of thinking that underlies term limits. The voters are too dumb or too easily led to reelect unworthy opponents. Only by restricting the voters' choices can we ensure that viable newcomers have a chance to win.)

Down here in Texas, one of the surest rallying cries for a politician is that he or she is being targeted by outsiders. I'm hard-pressed to think of a worse epithet to throw at a candidate than a charge that he or she is a puppet of Powerful Outside Forces, especially if those forces are Northern or Eastern. John Cornyn is already making a campaign issue out of Ron Kirk's national fundraising. It resonates with the voters here, who'd rather vote for "one of us" and thus stick a finger in the eye of those outsiders. That the voters in Georgia and Alamaba rejected such entreaties speaks volumes about the candidates involved.

Even after the election, friends of McKinney are still beating the Powerful Outside Forces horse. Look at this quote from Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) of the Congressional Black Caucus:

"If [Majette] comes here willing to work with us and is not skewed by the agenda of her supporters, of course we work with her," Representative Johnson said. "We all know we have to move past this."

"Skewed by the agenda of her supporters"?? You mean the people who voted for her, Eddie? What a shame it would be if Denise Majette were skewed by the wants and needs of the people in her district.

Why don't we listen to some of those people, quoted in the NYT article linked above and in this WaPo article. We might learn something.

"People in the black community still think of the comments [McKinney] made after 9/11, and they are still a little apprehensive," said Alfreida Capers, 51, a DeKalb County resident who campaigned for Ms. McKinney.

"There were some in our community who saw Ms. Majette's advertisements on television and thought they reflected a young, Christian woman with a family who would be less boisterous," Ms. Capers added. "Some certainly thought our congresswoman was too boisterous and they carried that thought with them to the polls."

"There was a change in DeKalb, and Cynthia didn't pick up on it," said William Boone, a political scientist at historically black Clark-Atlanta University. "There's a growing black middle class here, a middle class that is much, much different from the black middle class of the civil rights era.

"Cynthia had the civil-rights-era politics down pat. But the voters were looking for someone more focused in the issues, not just someone who is black and will look out for them."

That changing attitude drove 63-year-old James Nelson to vote against McKinney for the first time.

"I looked at the way she talked, and along down the line I didn't like it anymore," he said. "I saw the Majette lady on TV and I liked what she had to say."

Ken Turner, a longtime supporter of outspoken Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney, had had enough of what he called old-style black politics.

McKinney was "living off the old ways," said Turner, 39. "Just yelling and making any statement you want and thinking as long as you're black, people are going to vote for you. Well, we're not that stupid."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 23, 2002 to Election 2002