What George W. Bush Needs to Do to Win the Black Vote

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The presidential election in Florida and its aftermath still leaves a bad taste in the minds of many black voters, which could spell trouble for George W. Bush. Allegations of voting improprieties and the disenfranchisement of black voters have mobilized a growing (and largely Democrat-voting) constituency; Bush may now have an even tougher time opening pathways to the African-American community in general and the black vote in particular. It does not instill much confidence or comfort in the African-American community, in Florida or anywhere else, when you say you want to "leave no child behind," but actually accept leaving a great many votes behind.

Yet the Republicans can't afford to leave any more votes behind. What the razor-thin national margin showed was that every vote counts. Bush cannot write off the black vote, a growing political force in Florida (back voters made up 15 percent of the total vote in 2000, compared to only 10 percent four years before) if he wants to stay in office four years from now.

There are two things Bush can do that will help him heal some wounds and gain some valuable political capital. They will not alienate his base, and they will benefit Bush far more in the black community than naming Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice to his Cabinet has. First, President Bush can order the Justice Department to launch a full-scale investigation of allegations of voter irregularities and Fourteenth Amendment voter disenfranchisement violations in Florida. This will help him to neutralize criticism of his campaign and will also give him a bully pulpit to stay public on this issue and make sure he gets as much political credit as possible for "bold and immediate" actions on the issue.

Second, President Bush should issue an executive order banning racial profiling in all federal law enforcement agencies, and then set up a federal commission to investigate the issue. That commission should recommend specific remedies, up to and including withholding federal funds from state and local police departments that continue to use racial profiling.

The problem is real. In Philadelphia, a comprehensive study showed that "racial profiling" in that city was so pervasive that a young black teenager was arrested for "standing outside a store without making a purchase." Now, I don't want to sound presumptuous, and I believe America is a wonderfully capitalist country, but I know of no statute, federal or state, that requires everyone to make a purchase when standing within 20 feet of an open retail establishment.

The election of 2004 will be another close race for president. If Bush means what he says about inclusion and compassion, and governs as if the black vote is already a major component of his base, he might get 20 to 25 percent of the black vote in 2004, a figure higher than any Republican since Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, and possibly enough to secure his reelection.

Carl Jeffers is a freelance writer and political essayist. He is a regular feature editorial contributor to the Seattle Times and Biz Magazine, and can be reached at cjintel@juno.com