The big story at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles is about the black vote, and how the Gore strategists are trying to counter the announced intention of the Bush/Cheney ticket to "go after the black vote." In a little-noticed story in USA Today over the weekend, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, said he would be happy to meet with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Here is a reaction story in the Jerusalem Post, as the enterprising reporter for the Post spotted the USA Today item, confirmed it, and surveyed the Jewish political institutions for reaction.
The reason Lieberman has made this move seems fairly clear. Democratic National Committee chairman Ed Rendell, the former Mayor of Philadephia, is Jewish, knows Farrakhan and also knows he is not anti-Semitic or bigoted. One of Gore's top political strategists is Donna Brazile, a black woman who also sees the potential downside if Farrakhan in October endorses either the Bush candidacy or the independent candidacy of Ralph Nader. Either way, a sizeable piece of the black vote would follow his guide, as an estimated 1.7 million blacks have become active voters since his Million Man March appeal to black men especially to become politically active. Thus, the attempt to keep him in the fold via a reconciliation facilitated by Lieberman. Farrakhan did not endorse any of the candidates in 1996, but has indicated he will do so on or about October 16, which is the anniversary date of the MMM and the date of this year's Million Family March on Washington. You should read an insightful backgrounder by Cedric Muhammad, who many of you know as he has been at several of our annual client meetings and dinners, at his website, which is in my mind the best black political website: www.blackelectorate.com.
If the Bush campaign misreads the situation, its effort to fracture the black vote could be thwarted, with the Democratic party's base reaffirmed. A spokesperson in Austin has already said it would be "inappropriate" for Lieberman to meet with Min. Farrakhan. The story that has been broadcast about Farrakhan attacking Lieberman is the result of the New York tabloids, especially the NYPost, turning his words upside down. You can find the correct reading on our website.
A Lieberman meeting with Nation of Islam chief-of-staff Leonard Muhammad almost took place yesterday, when Lieberman met with the Congressional Black Caucus. If a Lieberman meeting with Farrakhan takes place, there will be a perfect opening for the Bush team to follow up as well, perhaps with Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney, who has developed strong contacts with the Islamic world through his work with Halliburton. The situation would become even more interesting if there were contacts with the Buchanan campaign and the Nader campaign. I'll have a follow-up essay on this topic next week, when the situation ripens. It's all positive, as far as I'm concerned, unless the Bush team bungles.