Black Empowerment: What Does The New Populism Mean For African-Americans?
by Dr. Lenora Fulani
originally posted online circa February 1996 by the
Pat Buchanans showing has the Republicans reeling. The party establishment is scrambling to paint him as an "extremist," while intensifying its campaign to project Bob Dole as the one sensible conservative. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton and his supporters are delighted by the Buchanan controversy -- they are hoping that it will weaken the Republican Party and its eventual nominee. The press has taken to demonizing Buchanan much in the way it demonizes any political figure who strays from the confines of establishment politics. Louis Farrakhan and Ross Perot are among those who have been tarred by the medias brush. Pat Buchanan is simply the latest victim.
I do not agree with many of Mr. Buchanans positions. However, I do not believe it is in the interests of the American people to demonize him or his candidacy. I think it is important that we understand it.
Pat Buchanans popularity is a result of many factors. But one very important thing it shows is that nowadays populism is at least as powerful as centrism. Whether you agree or disagree with Mr. Buchanan on a host of issues, everyone is aware that he is not a political insider. He has tapped into the anti-government, anti-big business, pro-people sentiments of a significant portion of the American people. And as one political analyst, Kevin Phillips, pointed out recently, much of what Pat Buchanan has to say about whats wrong with America echoes the words of such dissimilar political leaders as Reverend Jesse Jackson and Ross Perot. Populism cuts across the traditional labels of right, center and left.
Populism has made a gigantic return to the American political scene. Mr. Buchanans fundamental problem is that even if he were to win the Republican nomination (which he wont), the Republican Party is not a populist party. It cannot and will not yield to grassroots politics. It is a party that can do nothing but seek out the center at a time when the American people have become highly mistrustful of the center. They see centrist or "compromise" politics as the problem. Its the hallmark of "politics as usual."
Its that kind of political centrism that white middle America rebelled against in 1992 when 20 million people voted for Ross Perot. The Perot movement (like Ross Perot) is populist, not centrist. It cannot be absorbed into the two-party arrangement. Thats why the two major parties are so frightened by the prospect of the Reform Party, inspired and funded by Perot. And its why election officials in Ohio, Maine and Arkansas are now preoccupied with trying to throw the Reform Party off their respective state ballots.
Black people, like many other disaffected Americans, have been victims of centrism. Bill Clinton carved out a new definition of the Democratic Party in which the Democrats can give virtually nothing to the Black community, while forcing us to accept all manner of political compromise because he, and the rest of the Democratic Party hierarchy, are certain we have nowhere to go.
However, they are mistaken. As the populist wave rises in America, it is expressing itself in a myriad of ways -- including the Reform Party. Reform has the potential to bring together a cross-section of Americans who reject centrist, top-down politics as usual in favor of a more grassroots, bottom-up approach. The strong left populist sentiment in the Black community means that we could be a prominent partner in a new populist electoral coalition. Perot voters, now upwards of 20% of the electorate, combined with African American voters, who make up 10% of those who go to the polls in national elections, together can establish the Reform Party as a formidable competitor in any three-way race, and bring grassroots populism to the forefront of the political process.
To speak with Dr. Fulani and obtain information about her work call Cathy Stewart, national field organizer for the Committee for a Unified Independent Party, at 212-496-0534 or write CUIP@aol.com.
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