Live-blogging the North Carolina and Indiana primaries last night, Andrew Sullivan rightly credited African-American voters for ultimately taking down the Clintons:
No group was more loyal to them than African-Americans; and in the end, like everyone else, African-Americans realized that the Clintons are frauds, disloyal to the core, cynical to their finger-tips, and finally, finally, returned the favor. … This will be history’s verdict: in the end, the Clintons were defeated not by Republicans, but by African-American Democrats. How wonderful. How poignant. In the end, the karma gets you. Maybe it had to be this way. But this final coup de grace against these awful, hollow, cynical people is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Many Clinton supporters and conservatives continue to downplay the importance of African-American voters by treating their near-unanimous support of Barack Obama as a foregone conclusion. But how quickly they forget that as late as November, it was Hillary Clinton who enjoyed the overwhelming support of the African-American community, leading Barack Obama in this demographic by 25 points. (This is back when Obama wasn’t black enough.) Here’s the lead from one CNN story in October:
Poll: Black support helps Clinton extend lead
Wed October 17, 2007
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Sen. Hillary Clinton’s lead over Sen. Barack Obama, her chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, is growing among African-American voters who are registered Democrats, and particularly among black women, a poll said Wednesday.
Among black registered Democrats overall, Clinton had a 57 percent to 33 percent lead over Obama.
That’s up from 53 percent for Clinton and 36 percent for Obama in a poll carried out in April.
But sometime in December, as Barack Obama first took a serious lead in lily-white Iowa, the Clintons began launching an inexplicable and increasingly deliberate series of race-baiting attacks in an attempt to turn Obama into “the black candidate”– culminating in the apocalyptic aftermath of South Carolina. It was then that the Clintons decided the black vote was lost to them for good, and that they would make no serious attempt to get it back. Not only that, but they decided that as long as the black vote was out of play, as long as the same black Democrats who saved Bill’s presidency during the impeachment years and affectionately crowned him “the first black president” were now useless to them, then they might as well double down on the race-baiting.
The fact is that by conceding the support of African-Americans– a group that is statistically overrepresented in Democratic primaries– Hillary Clinton lost the nomination in January. It was the equivalent of running a 100-meter dash and giving Barack Obama a 25-meter head start. Had Clinton won even 25% of the black vote throughout the primaries (instead of the 10% she ultimately did), it wouldn’t have been enough to entirely close the elected delegate gap, but it would have gotten her close enough– maybe within 100 elected delegates, 50 if you count Michigan and Florida– to plausibly make her case to superdelegates.
As it stands now, she’s got no case and no claim to the nomination. And black voters did it.
In the long and sometimes ugly history of the United States, rarely has justice for African-Americans come so swiftly and so unanimously. Rarely has democracy been so neat. Black voters around the nation saw a wrong and righted it, they saw the Clintons and their Republican-imitating, racially-divisive, Southern strategy politics, and knocked them cleanly off their pedestal.
With the upcoming nomination of Barack Obama, the first black major party presidential nominee in American history, 2008 will be seen as one of the great moments in black history. What should never be lost in that accomplishment is the near-equally impressive triumph of African-American voters over a would-be political dynasty that did everything it could to trivialize, neutralize, and silence their voice.
UPDATE: The New York Post reports that August 28th, the night Barack Obama will give his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, is the 45th anniversary to the day of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.