Charles Barkley, the NBA Hall of Famer and award-winning sports commentator known for his deep Alabama roots, ditched the Republican Party and its bigoted candidate for the United States Senate, Roy Moore, to back the Democrat, Doug Jones. Jones ended up winning and Moore lost.
“They’ve taken the black vote and the poor vote for granted for a long time.”
After the announcement of the election results, Barkley had something of a moment. He was clearly elated and could be seen celebrating at Jones’s victory party — cheering, high-fiving, hugging, and taking endless selfies with anyone who asked.
It wasn’t all revelry, though. Barkley had some serious things to say — and as usual he didn’t hesitate to say them. After Jones finished his speech, Barkley started talking to every news crew that would listen. One of the most important points he offered was his folksy critique of the Democratic Party.
Barkley’s remarks about the Democrats came about in an odd way. CNN host Jake Tapper asked Barkley what his message for President Donald Trump would be. But Barkley took it in another direction:
Well, this is a wakeup call for Democrats. … They’ve taken the black vote and the poor vote for granted for a long time. It’s time for them to get off their ass and start making life better for black folks and people who are poor.
They’ve always had our votes, and they have abused our votes and this is a wakeup call. We’ve got it in a great position now, but this is a wakeup call for Democrats to do better for black people and poor white people.
While all indications are that poor white people in Alabama voted overwhelmingly for Moore in the election and show strong support for Trump in general, no voting bloc has been more faithful to the Democratic Party with less to show for it than African-Americans.
Among Alabama voters, an astounding 98 percent of black women cast their vote for Jones, according to exit polls. And 93 percent of black men who voted also cast their vote for Jones.
No other constituency or demographic came close to this type of support on either side. White men without college degrees, for instance, constituted Moore’s strongest demographic of support — but only came in at 79 percent support.
For Jones to narrowly eke out a win took near unanimous black support and turnout in black communities — support and turnout levels that appear to rival even former President Barack Obama’s landmark 2008 election.
Barkley is right that there’s an imbalance in the way black folks turn out for Democrats like Jones versus the way those Democrats then turn around and treat them. Unlike Obama’s election, the black vote is in essence used by Democrats to advance white politicians’ power.
Consider these facts: The United States does not have a single black governor of the 50 states; only one of the 50 states currently has an African-American attorney general; just two African-American Democrats serve in the United States Senate — two!
And it’s not just the politicians themselves, these imbalances are built into the power structures politicians have built around themselves, too. Every United States senator has a chief of staff. Guess how many of those are black? Two! And both of them are Republicans! Each U.S. senator has a communications director; only one is black, and he also works for a Republican. Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez recently posted a photo of the last crop of interns to work for the party — and almost all the faces were white.
It is abusive for the Democratic Party to require a level of support from African-Americans normally only seen in dictatorships, then proceed to put black folk at the back of every line in terms of leadership and policy.
The problem runs from the rank and file all the way to the top of the national Democratic Party. The House minority leader is white and so is the Senate minority leader.
The disparity between the loyalty of black voters and Democrats’ efforts to bring them into the circles of political and financial power extends to the way the party spends its money. Of the $759 million the Democratic Party spent on contractors back in 2010, a dismal 1.5 percent was spent on African-American groups.
So yes, Charles Barkley was right: “They have abused our votes.” It is abusive for the Democratic Party to require a level of support from African-Americans normally only seen in dictatorships, then proceed to put black folk at the back of every line in terms of leadership and policy.
The Democratic Party is clearly expecting a wave of support to carry them into power in 2018. There are already rumors that the political classes want to call it a “blue wave.” But there’s a better name: the black wave. The reason is simple: The wave won’t come at all without black votes. But like all large waves in the ocean, the Democrats better learn to respect the black wave that keeps their political hopes afloat: The days of black votes without black power need to come to an end.
Correction: Dec. 15, 2017
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that there are no black attorneys general. Indiana’s attorney general, Curtis T. Hill Jr., a Republican, is an African-American.