- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

There was a long line last night at the woodshed outside Morgan State University in Baltimore, and Rudy, Fred, Mitt and John stood at the front of that long line. The hickory stick was long and knotty.

The Republican Party might not be hurt in the short run by top contenders who turn down major debates, such as the one at Morgan. But voters’ memories aren’t short. Next year, they’re likely to turn their own backs on the Republican Party. Voters registered as independents (and voters who simply are independent-minded) have a tendency to do that.

Rudy, Fred, Mitt and John were on the receiving end of the hickory stick for turning their backs on PBS, the public broadcasting network that carried the Republican portion of its “All-American Presidential Forums.” The forum was held at an historically black university and the moderator was Tavis Smiley, who is black.

Rudy, Fred, Mitt and John — instead of focusing on the “All-American” aspect of a national debate, misread the banner as if it said, “For Coloreds Only.”

“All-American” means all Americans. It’s enough of a rainbow for the Democrats, but not for Rudy, Fred, Mitt and John.

Each of the top-tier Republican candidates said he wouldn’t be positioned to accommodate the invitation to address America, so each declined. Their alibis? Coincidentally, that old standby: the ever-convenient scheduling conflict. Hmm.

What could such a conflict possibly be?

Family matters? Haven’t read or heard a peep about Rudy, Fred, Mitt or John having a family crisis. (Besides, Judi knows Rudy will take her calls no matter the forum.)

Pressing concerns on Capitol Hill? Let’s see. Neither Rudy, Fred nor Mitt holds a congressional seat. Yet, their Republican colleague who does, Rep. Tom Tancredo, and who is running in the same race they are, found a spot for the forum on his busy schedule.

Botox treatment? Voters don’t expect a public admission.

Are Rudy, Fred, Mitt and John — and their handlers — nervous nellies around black folk in general and Tavis in particular? Tavis is no pushover; regardless of whether you root for the Red Team or the Blue Team, you’ve got to admit that Tavis’ pitches are as tight as those thrown by Chris Matthews and Chris Wallace.

Rudy, Fred, Mitt and John definitely imagined what many considered a “black debate” being held at Morgan. But they also were seeing green. And money trumps race every time. That is to say, they turned their backs on blacks and other voters so they could turn their full time and attention to the greenback.

It just so happens that the “All-American” forum — which was scheduled months ago — coincided with the end of not only a month but a quarter, and the candidates were — are — trying to rake in every campaign dollar they can possibly get their hands on. And Rudy, who’s running on an inside track (and probably wouldn’t have shown up anyway) is still basking as the lead horse. Rudy wants to get it while it’s hot, as the rappers say.

For his part, Mitt conceded the fund-raising reality in an interview with the Christian Broadcast Network. As for Fred and John? Well, Fred and John are being Fred and John. See how they run.

Then again, the black voter never has flocked to the Republican Party in recent years — and it’s not an anti-Bush thing — because it was cemented when the Republican Party pitted conservative Barry Goldwater against Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Ever since JFK and LBJ laid hands on the tenets of the Civil Rights Movement, blacks have voted in-kind. Pick a presidential election year. Look at the polling and look at the results. It doesn’t matter who the Republican candidate or Democratic candidate was.

Will 2008 be any different? Rudy, Fred, Mitt and John are still reading the 2006 playbook. There was considerable hope that year that black America would finally flex its considerable political muscle and at least stand up against the Democrats. But no.

There was so much in play and so much at stake in 2006. Senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus — Democrats though they are — were poised to capture committee chairmanships when America voted in a Democratic majority to control Congress. Finally, many blacks thought, blacks will be in charge and run the agenda. Also, black Democrats and Republicans of national stature were running for seats of national stature — Michael Steele and Kweisi Mfume, and Deval Patrick and Lynn Swann among them. But no.

The results on Election Day 2006 prove black America couldn’t win for losing when voters put all their eggs in one basket.

We can’t afford to let 2008 become an instant reply of 1964 — when LBJ won by a landslide. There’s too much at stake (and it has nothing to do with Iraq). More importantly, Rudy, Fred, Mitt and John didn’t “disrespect” black voters because PBS’ reach spreads wide and deep. What Republicans did by rejecting the invites was turn their backs on “All-American” voters.

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