- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

Blacks aren’t necessarily mad as hell, but they certainly aren’t taking it anymore. Times, they are a’changin’ — at last.

Shackled to the Democratic Party ever since the “Great Society” ushered in Head Start, the War on Poverty and historic civil rights legislation, black Americans — particlarly those who most benefitted from those heady days of the 1960s — are asking party leaders a profound question: “What have you done for me lately?”

Perhaps nowhere is the unshackling more prevalent than in Maryland’s Senate race, where a black Catholic Republican, Michael Steele, and a white Jewish Democrat, Ben Cardin, are head-to-head. While the historic significance of the race is lost on neither party — only Illinois and Massachusetts have elected black senators in modern-day America — the fact that blacks are crossing the partyline to support a Republican is being lost on the Democratic Party.

Indeed, both state and national party leaders were forewarned: Shun Kweisi Mfume’s Senate run and we’ll vote black. Well, guess what happened after Mr. Cardin got his way? The Democrats began unshackling themselves.

Black Democrats voiced their discontent. In fact, many former stalwarts endorsed Mr. Steele the week after Mr. Cardin defeated Mr. Mfume in the Demcratic primary. Said Judge Billy Murphy, an adviser to Maryland’s Republican governor: “Like so many people, who have come out today, I’m sick and tired of being taken for granted.” Another Democrat, lawyer A. Dwight Pettit, stood with Mr. Steele, too. Mr. Pettit pointed out, as other Democrats have, the lack of support from Maryland’s bluer-than-blue Democratic “bosses.” Mr. Pettit’s case is especially insightful. Not only did Democratic leaders ignore his candidacy for Baltimore state’s attorney in 1978, but they shunned his 1976 nomination for U.S. attorney by President Carter.

Who did they support instead? White candidates. Said Mr. Pettit: “We are on a national stage right now in Maryland to show that if the Republican Party reaches out to African-American communities, they are not foreclosed on immediately. The question is: What has the Democratic Party done for the African-American community.”

(As I wrote this column yesterday, Mr. Cardin, the white candidate, had turned down an offer from the NAACP to debate Michael Steele. Isn’t that a slap in the face? I can still remember well the names President Bush was called for not meeting with the NAACP.)

But not all “Steele Democrats” come from Baltimore, which is Mr. Cardin’s neck of the woods. They are all over Maryland — and you can find out who they are if you pay attention to what they are not saying. Maryland black caucus Democrats — i.e., those who already are members of the Congressional Black Caucus — are not attacking their Republican brother and it’s fairly obvious why. But for the benefit of those of who don’t, listen to my congresswoman. Eleanor Holmes Norton put it this way: “I think it is a tactical decision. If [Mr. Steele] has a large or fairly large black vote, why or how could you alienate that vote by going after him doing personal attacks? There’s just no way.”

It seems most of Mr. Steele’s fellow blacks fully grasped that strategic position. Then there’s “Brother Elijah Cummings” of Baltimore, who’s not even looking for the keys to the shackles. Unenlightened Democrats and other liberal souls call people like Mr. Steele all sorts of names. “Sellout.” “Bush Republican.”

Hmm. I wonder if those were “sellouts” who rejected Rep. Harold Ford Jr., a black Democrat, when he wanted to be House majority leader. (A white woman, Nancy Peolsi, bears that title instead.) I wonder if Mr. Cummings, who spent 16 years in the Maryland General Assembly with the good ol’ blue boys, was being forthright to Maryland voters in general and black Marylanders in particular about Mr. Steele. In September, Mr. Cummings said this about Mr. Steele: “We do not know who Michael Steele is, and we do not know what he stands for.” But in October, Mr. Cummings said this about his brother: “All you have to do is ask him where he is on issues … and Bush policies.” Mr. Mfume, for whom I have much respect for his candor about Democrats and their bigoted ways, lost his Maryland Senate bid because the Democrats who run the state and national party machines had decided long ago that they wanted a Paul Sarbanes clone, and Mr. Mfume failed the litmus test.

The Senate race in Maryland is exposing dirty little Democratic secrets. And alarms should be ringing from Maryland’s most southern tip straight through to Baltimore, the heart and soul of the Free State.

Mr. Steele is an anomaly, and Maryland voters, regardless of party affiliation, should be proud.

Besides, if Michael Steele is a Bush Republican, what does that make Ben Cardin?

I’m in no position to tell Maryland voters what to do, since I don’t live in Maryland. But I do offer this advice. If a politician asking you to vote for him is afraid to meet you face-to-face to ask for that vote — especially a Maryland politician, since Maryland has the largest constiuency in the NAACP — then what’s that politician going to do as your senator on an issue of vital importance to black America? Ask Harry Reid?

“Senator Cardin” is a very frightening prospect.

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