We Have No Leaders: African Americans in the Post-Civil Rights Era

By Robert C. Smith; Ronald W. Walters | Go to book overview

10
Racial Symbolism as "Ideology"
in the Post—Civil Rights Era, and a
Postscript on the Clinton Administration
and the 1994 Election

In 1984 and 1988 the Democratic party's nominees for president were Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis, persons long identified with its traditional liberal wing. Both lost by large margins. In 1992 the party nominated Bill Clinton, a person identified with its more centrist, southern conservative or moderate wing. Clinton won by a narrow margin in a three-way race. After the 1984 and 1988 elections journalists, politicians and political consultants argued that Mondale and Dukakis lost because they were liberals and because they were too closely identified with "special interest groups," organized labor, feminists, homosexuals but especially blacks. For example, after the 1984 election the Democratic party commissioned several studies to determine why the party lost the presidency. One was conducted by Stanley Greenberg, Clinton's 1992 pollster. It pointed clearly to the party's identification with blacks as the source of its problem. Based on a series of focus group interviews with white "Reagan Democrats" in Macomb County, a Detroit suburb, Greenberg argued that the reason these white middle and working class voters turned against the Democrats was because of their distaste for blacks and because of their association of the party with "them." Greenberg wrote, "These white Democratic defectors express a profound distaste for blacks, a sentiment that pervades almost everything they think about government and politics. . . . Blacks constitute the explanation for their [white defectors] vulnerability and for almost everything that has gone wrong in their lives, not being black is what constitutes being middle class, not living with blacks is what makes a neighborhood a decent place to live. These sentiments have important implications for Democrats, as virtually all progressive symbols have been redefined in racial and pejorative terms."1 Implicit in Greenberg's report was the notion that if the party was to win the pres

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