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Void In Spades-II

By Tony Hill

WITH THE EXCEPTION of '56--when Eisenhower was mistakenly credited for the Supreme Court decision on integration in '54--the bulk of the black vote has been reliably Democratic since the New Deal.

The Democratic Presidents, in turn, have also made efforts to respond to aspects of the condition of blacks in America. Some of these efforts have been purely political in motivation and equally useless in effect, others have grown out of a President's personal or legal convictions and have been significantly more valuable.

The relationship between the national Democratic leadership and the black vote has produced a number of mutually profitable cooperative actions including the defeat of Richard Nixon in 1960.

II

THE KEY to the Kennedy victory (or the Nixon defeat) and the black role in it was a telephone call made by Kennedy to Correta King after her husband had been sentenced by a DeKalb County, Georgia judge to four months of hard labor "in the closest thing possible to a Georgia chain gang" for driving with an out-of-state license.

Few blacks expected that King would emerge in recognizable form after doing four months, and many doubted that he would emerge at all. The Kennedy phone call served notice that he and whatever political power he represented would not permit King to be led down the traditional way of all black flesh caught in the joint of the Georgia cracker.

The phone call also served another purpose. As Theodore White wrote in The Making of the President, 1960:

The father of Martin Luther King, a Baptist minister himself who had come out for Nixon a few weeks earlier...now switched. "Because this man," said the Reverend Mr. King Senior, "was willing to wipe the tears from my daughter (in-law's) eyes. I've got a suitcase of votes, and I'm going to take them to Mr. Kennedy and dump them in his lap."... When one reflects that Illinois was carried by only 9,000 votes and that 250,000 Negroes voted for Kennedy, that South Carolina was carried by 10,000 votes and that an estimated 40,000 Negroes voted for Kennedy, the candidate's instinctive decision must be ranked among the most crucial (of the campaign).

Although Republicans argued at the time that Kennedy's decision to call Corretta King was prompted by a Machiavellian as opposed to a humanitarian instinct, Nixon's decision not to contact the Kings or express any concern was no less political. As White observed:

Either President Eisenhower or Vice President Nixon could have acted (by issuing the statement supporting the release of King that had been drawn up by the Justice Department the afternoon of King's sentencing)--yet neither did. However obscure Eisenhower's motivations were, Nixon's are even more perplexing, for he was the candidate. He had made the political decision at Chicago to court the Negro vote in the North: only now, apparently, he felt it quite possible that Texas, South Carolina, and Louisiana might well be won to him by the white vote and he did not wish to offend that vote.

III

SO BEGAN the Southern Strategy. A long time coming to the Republican party, it appeared as if it might be a long time gone when, after its initial failure in 1960, a modified version was far more successful in '68. The full development and deployment of the Agnew Backlash Missile system in '69 and early '70 seemed to promise even better results.

Yet the defeats of the Haynsworth and Carswell nominations prefigured one of the more subtle lessons of the past two national elections that Richard Nixon is obviously pondering as he looks forward to November.

Briefly, that lesson is that Nixon's political hand is too weak over-all for him to enter the upcoming campaign with an absolute void in Spades.

In electing a President, the black vote is simply too pivotal for either party to ignore. Although, according to the Census, blacks compose only about 10 to 11 per cent of the population and accounted for only 8 per cent of the total vote cast in '68, one out of every five votes Humphrey received in '68 was a black vote, and 12 per cent of Nixon's total were votes by blacks.

Thus, blacks exercised a leverage that is 50 per cent more than their voting numbers alone would imply.

Much of this leverage arises from the fact that the black vote has never been diverted by third party movements. This lack of interest in political long-shots stems from the general understanding by black people in all parts of the country that American electoral politics is the ritual in which it is decided who will say who will get what.

This appreciation of the pie-cutting process can only have been heightened by the past decade of government Poverty Programs and ghetto groups mau-mauing the flack catchers. 20 years ago when such programs were not in existence, civil rights was a soft issue. Blacks evaluated a political aspirant according to the philosophic sympathy he showed to "the cause", his sensitivity to "the movement" as shown by his public appearances and statements. Federal money was not available, and nobody was expecting any anytime soon.

Kennedy and Johnson changed that--Kennedy by raising expectations of government support, and Johnson by moving towards fulfilling them. Regardless of how successfully they have dealt with the actual problems, the Model Cities, Head Starts and Job Corps of the New Frontier and the Great Society have irrevocably made what used to be called civil rights into the hard issue of black power.

Recognizing that he can't go home again, Nixon, like any good political poker player, seems to be sloughing off a questionable card--Agnew--and going back to the deck in hope of drawing the crucial strength in Spades that would allow him to make an easy inside straight back to the White House for another term of wheeling and dealing--Power.

IV

DEMOCRATIC FRONT-RUNNER Edmund Muskie provided Poor Richard with a clue to where he might look to pick up the needed black support when Muskie said that he would not under any circumstances run on a ticket with a black Vice-Presidential candidate because "if a black man were on the ticket, we would both lose."

Nixon responded to this by labeling Muskie's statement "a libel on the American conscience." Then with the pot-luck inspiration of the truly smart poker player, Citizen Richard re-inforced his statement by adding that he even had a specific black in mind who he felt would be an asset to any national ticket: Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts.

V

THE DOOR to the inner office of suite 427 in the Old Senate Building opened. Brooke, dressed in a black three-piece suit, greeted me, and after apologizing for the further delay of our conversation, hurried over to the Senate to cast a vote.

As a result of an illness incurred while making the Commencement circuit last spring and, to a lesser degree, a first-term Senator's need to make a large number of public appearances in his home state, Brooke's voting record for 1971 fell below 80 per cent. Like most Senators, Brooke feels that the law of diminishing return applies, and that it is counter-productive to abandon other activities in order to vote on more than 90 per cent of Senate business. However, with key Senate liberals like Fred Harris of Oklahoma answering only 44 per cent of the roll calls and George McGovern only 59 per cent of the votes during the first nine months of '71, the probability that liberal absenteeism will increase during Presidential primaries and campaigns, and the number and complexity of Massachusetts problems that require Congressional action, Brooke feels that it is critical he make as many votes as possible.

Although Brooke has missed many roll calls, he has made his votes count. Americans for Democratic Action, which issues ratings on Congressional voting records, ranked Brooke higher than most Democratic liberals--including Ted Kennedy--approving of 88 per cent of his roll call stands.

Yet what may be even more important about Brooke's position in the Senate than how he has used his own vote is his ability to influence other Senators. This was the key to the defeats of Haynsworth and Carswell.

Regardless of the fact that Brooke himself disclaims being black America's delegate to the United States Senate, his fellow Senators, particularly those like Percy of Illinois and Javits of New York who affect liberal images and depend upon black support at home for their continued tenure, understand how much damage a blast from Brooke could do to their political careers. In probability, a strong personal condemnation from the man that Nixon is said to consider "a responsible moderate" would cost the Hartkes, Hatfields and Percys not only the black vote but a substantial amount of liberal white support as well.

But, in the long run, the most universally valuable thing Brooke is doing is serving on the Senate Appropriations Committee, for that is the group that slices the American pie of power and says who gets what.

VI

JESSE JACKSON, the charismatic "country preacher" who built SCLC's Operation Breadbasket and was until recently its Director, understands the importance of Brooke's position on Appropriations.

The day before I met with Brooke, Jackson was in the Old Senate Office Building suite talking with Brooke, Jackson, whose break with Abernathy and the rest of SCLC's Atlanta contingent specifically revolved around Jackson's independent production of the highly successful "Black Expo" in Chicago, understands the economic roots of the problems of blacks in America and throughout the Third World. Although his famous Saturday morning meetings at Breadbasket ran on his personal electricity and drew much of their appeal from his "I am Somebody" exhortations, their real goal was to sensitize blacks to economic issues and enlist foot-soldiers for the economic wars of attrition Jackson successfully waged against Red Rooster chain stores and other large commercial vipers in Chicago's black community.

When Brooke returned from the Senate chamber, he spoke of his meeting with Jackson the day before as the kind of session that occurs between independently powerful men and-or women who have a good complete understanding. Clearly, the two men disagree on some issues, particularly specific aspects of foreign policy, but the foundation of their fundamental accord is rooted in the bedrock of their agreement on two basic points.

The first point is that black people must get a larger share of the American pie, and that to do this, they must sophisticate internal political activity and make shrewd and well-defined alliances with various parts of the splintered white political configuration. As William Clay of the Black Caucus puts it, "We have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. Just permanent interests."

Such a system of finite and flexible couplings has already resulted in several peculiarly striking arrangements, such as the alliance between blacks and Birchers in Southern California to fight for community controlled public education. It has also produced the suggestion or the illusion of several other couplings, the most prominent of which has been the recent relationship between Brooke and Nixon.

NIXON'S STATEMENT that he considered the man who had been largely responsible for the Administration's two major domestic embarrassments as an asset to any political ticket dispatched several platoons of media men to find out if Brooke would run if Nixon offered him the Vice-Presidency.

Brooke played it coy. "As a Republican, I would be honored" by the offer, he told the press after a speech in Lynn. This statement was immediately interpreted to mean that Brooke would accept the nomination.

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