Panel explores meaning of U.S. election for blacks

THE BALTIMORE SUN

People looking for an answer to the question, "Must blacks move to the right?" would have come away disappointed last night from a forum sponsored by the African American Coalition in Howard County.

But if they were looking instead for provocative ideas about the meaning of the recent national election and its implication for African-Americans, they would have been happy indeed with last night's presentation in Columbia.

Five panelists chose for the most part to explore themes of their choosing rather than attempt to answer the question asked by the coalition.

Political analyst David Bositis, for example, told the audience of about 100 people that the Republican-dominated Congress will camouflage its attack on "welfare, Medicaid, the poor and the disadvantaged" by "going after" the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Public Broadcasting and farm subsidies.

"If they can kill these things and at the same time kill [Aid to Families with Dependent Children], a picture is going to emerge.

"It's going to come across that there is a broad philosophical approach to government" rather than an attack on the poor and disadvantaged, Mr. Bositis said.

Marian Hull, an assistant professor in the School of Communication at Howard University, said she finds that there is a philosophical difference between black congressmen elected before 1990 and after 1990.

Those elected before 1990 had a national agenda, she said, while those elected since 1990 -- especially those in the South -- have a more rural, more conservative, more local agenda.

"They have become more in style like white politicians," who keep in touch with their constituents and vote the way their constituents want in order to stay in office, she said.

Ronald Walters, a national political analyst and chairman of the political science department at Howard University, took issue with his colleague, saying the figures he sees don't indicate that blacks are becoming more conservative and Republican.

Traditionally, blacks don't turn out in nonpresidential elections unless there is an overriding issue, he said.

"Blacks are also asking themselves why turn out when the [Democratic] party is moving more and more to the right," he said.

Sooner or later, black voters are going to have to make a point by doing something like forming a third party and voting for a candidate like the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, he said.

"Blacks are tired of registering more Democrats [than anybody else in the party] and getting less for it," he said.

Former County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, a professor of political sicence at Morgan State University, said he thinks "Jesse Jackson's time has passed" and that President Clinton is very resilient. The way the president will deal with a Republican Congress, Mr. Gray predicted, "is do the same thing George Bush and Ronald Reagan did -- rule by executive order."

The problem with Mr. Clinton, Mr. Gray told the audience, is that he gives in to easily.

Pollster Brad Coker told the audience a third-party candidacy by Mr. Jackson would guarantee a Republican victory. Mr. Coker's most startling prediction, however, was that it will be the Republicans, not the Democrats, who will put a black on the national ticket.

If Jack Kemp gets the nomination, he may well take Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as his running mate, Mr. Coker said.

He said that after the Barry Goldwater debacle of 1964, Republicans have been reluctant to nominate someone for president "who hasn't been around before."

That, he said, leaves only three candidates: U.S. Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas, former Vice President Dan Quayle and Mr. Kemp, a former congressman.

Of those three, only Mr. Kemp would risk running with Mr. Powell, Mr. Coker said, adding that he thinks Mr. Kemp would be willing to take the risk.

Each of the panelists was given five minutes to give their views on the election and the current state of political affairs in America.

Afterward, the panelists answered questions posed by moderator Carl O. Snowden, who is a member of the Annapolis City Council, and members of the audience.

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