Tuesday, April 08, 2008

McCain Doesn't Care About Black People???

Sen. John McCain's MLK Holiday Vote Apology Speech @ The National Civil Rights Museum In Memphis April 4, 2008

During much of the country’s racial tumult of the 1960s, McCain was in Vietnam, including 5½ years in a prison cell having little contact with the outside world.
Photo: John Shinkle

Arizona Blacks: Where's McCain?
By: Jonathan Martin
April 8, 2008

Oscar Tillman heads the Phoenix area branch of the NAACP and is a former statewide president of the group. He has been a leader of Arizona’s small, tight-knit African-American community for decades.

So it comes as something of a surprise to learn the name of one person, over all those years, with whom he has never spoken. It is the state’s senior senator better known these days as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

John McCain, said Tillman, “has pretty well zero relationship with the African-American community that I know of.”

“I don’t recall him ever attending any function with the NAACP,” Tillman added. “Each year we send them an invitation [to an annual banquet], and each year they say no.”

Interviews with black civic and business leaders in Arizona found no one who suggested that McCain holds racial animus. And McCain can point to some warm personal and political associations with blacks, some of whom cited his responsiveness to their concerns when they approached him on official business.

But the widespread perception of activists in the state’s traditional civil rights organizations and the African-American press is that McCain has consistently treated them with indifference.

He had few if any important relationships with these usually Democratic-leaning institutional pillars. The main reason, say leaders of these groups, was that McCain never demonstrated much interest in building them.

“In a word, none,” said Ron Busby, president of the Greater Phoenix Black Chamber of Commerce, when asked to describe the senator’s relationship with Arizona’s African-American community.

In the 10 years that the organization, which represents about 300 black-owned businesses, has been in existence, Busby said McCain has never been to any of its events.

Busy, who owns a large janitorial services firm that cleans businesses, hospitals and the home of the Arizona Cardinals, said his organization is not a traditionally liberal black group.

To the contrary, it would seem tailor-made for the kind of appeals that many Republicans say the party should be making to break the Democratic Party’s historic lock on the black vote the very type of line-crossing politics at which McCain has excelled in other contexts.

“We have African-Americans that are typically affluent, have moved here from other portions of the country, and have our views that are more conservative, at least from a national perspective,” Busby said.
The choice McCain faced in Arizona is familiar to Republican politicians in many states: how much effort to invest in political base-touching with constituencies that they know will vote strongly Democratic under any scenario?

In Arizona, civil rights activists say they get a far more responsive hearing from the state’s junior senator, Republican Jon Kyl.

“I deal with Sen. Kyl’s office,” said Tillman. “Sen. Kyl will get on the phone and call you.”

But some Arizona blacks tell a different story, saying McCain has been talking to and helping them for years. Some of these individuals were contacted independently. Others were identified to Politico after McCain allies were told of this story.

“He tries to build liaisons and build relationships across all lines, and he’s been very effective at it,” said Art Mobley, a longtime broadcaster in Phoenix who has known McCain for more than two decades.

Trying to get the first black-owned radio station on the air in 1992, Mobley ran into resistance from the Arizona National Guard, which claimed the signal would cause interference problems.

McCain stepped in, he said, and helped get KMJK on the air.

As for the criticism of some African-American leaders, Mobley said they are grumbling over not being sufficiently courted in ways that some blacks have come to expect as a ritual.

“They expect, unfortunately, symbolic gestures from politicians across the board,” Mobley said. “People need to look at substantive policies.”

Even so, symbolism can prove important in presidential campaigns. This could be especially true if McCain finds himself in a general election contest against Democrat Barack Obama, a campaign in which Obama’s precedent-shattering status would virtually guarantee racial issues a prominent role.

McCain’s discomfort with this kind of touchstone politics underscores a central part of his political persona: He has great difficulty feigning interest in subjects in which he lacks genuine personal interest.
Civil rights organizations are hardly unique in this respect. Whatever the constituency or issue, if McCain doesn’t care deeply about it, his feelings tend to be obvious over time.

Further, McCain spent most of his formative years removed from the racial conflicts that played such a central role in the lives of many people in his generation.

He attended prep school and college at overwhelmingly white institutions before entering the military, one of the few integrated professions in the 1950s. And during much of the country’s racial tumult of the 1960s, McCain was in Vietnam, including 5½ years in a prison cell having little contact with the outside world.

Raising a family, flying jets, trying to stay alive and then crafting a post-POW naval career with grievous war wounds, he simply was not immersed in the great themes of the civil rights era.

McCain touched on his own history with one of his state’s most racially charged issues whether to honor Martin Luther King Jr. with a holiday in a speech last week marking the 40th anniversary of the civil rights leader’s assassination.

He offered deep praise for King’s achievements and acknowledged that he had been mistaken in at first opposing a holiday.

“I was wrong and eventually realized that, in time to give full support for a state holiday in Arizona,” McCain said before a heavily black crowd outside the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, drawing cheers after his initial confession had been jeered.

But McCain’s efforts to honor King have not been matched over the years with any attempt to establish connections with black leaders, some say.

“As far as I’ve seen, he has no relationship with the African-American community in Arizona,” said Cloves Campbell Jr., publisher of the Arizona Informant and a Democratic state representative from Phoenix.
“He’s never been to the paper,” said Campbell. “We’ve called to get interviews, but there has never been any response. I’ve never talked to him.”

Founded in 1971 by Campbell’s father, also once a state legislator, the Informant is a weekly that serves the 4 percent of the state’s population that is African-American.

“We’ve had conversations with Kyl several times; we even had [former Rep.] J.D. Hayworth in the office,” said the younger Campbell.

Nor has McCain ever been to his church, Campbell said. Tanner Chapel A.M.E. is the oldest African-American congregation in the state and is located in downtown Phoenix.

“I’ve seen Barack Obama more times in person in my life than I’ve ever seen John McCain,” said Campbell, 46, who backs the Illinois senator.

And should New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton edge out Obama for the nomination, Campbell said, it will be very much in McCain’s interest to mend fences.

“You’re going to see a lot of unhappy black people looking for alternatives,” he noted. “The time is right to start talking to people just in case that does happen.”

McCain’s campaign said that the senator has every intention of competing for the black voter, even against Obama.

“The campaign’s outreach efforts are ongoing, and John McCain is proud of his support in the African-American community,” said spokesman Tucker Bounds. “Whether Sen. McCain is advocating a strong national defense, a revitalized economy or more flexibility in education, he is going to find a receptive audience with African-American voters.”

To underscore his desire to do well in a community that traditionally overwhelmingly supports Democrats, McCain will take a high-profile tour of places such as Alabama’s Black Belt and the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles later this month.

Wes Gullett, a white former McCain staffer in Arizona who is now a top state backer of his old boss, chalked up the animus to mere politics.

“They’re passionately for Barack Obama, a lot of them, so they don’t want to be talking nice about John because it doesn’t help their cause,” he said.

Gullett said McCain worked hard early in his tenure to reach out to Arizona blacks and especially pastors.

But many have passed away since then, he noted, and state politics have grown more partisan.
Still, McCain retains some voices of support in the black faith community.

“He’s fantastic,” said Bishop Henry Barnwell, former pastor of Phoenix’s First New Life Baptist Church, of McCain, noting that the senator had been to his church over the years.

“He’s been very instrumental in assisting us in a number of ways,” said Barnwell, citing McCain’s efforts with congregants stationed at Luke Air Force Base in nearby Glendale.

Now retired, Barnwell served his church for some 40 years and said McCain was a vital ally in his effort to bring the King holiday to Arizona. Mobley, also a mover behind honoring King, similarly praised McCain for his help on the holiday, which the state finally recognized in 1992.

McCain was also friendly with the Rev. Dr. George Brooks Sr., an iconic figure in black Arizona who, as head of the Phoenix-area NAACP and a Presbyterian pastor, led the effort to bring Head Start to the state in the 1960s.

“John McCain is a family friend,” said Brooks’ son, George Brooks Jr. “He and my father had an excellent relationship.”

Yvonne Hunter, a black lobbyist in Phoenix who declined to reveal her partisan leanings, offered an assessment of McCain’s failure to court some black institutions.

“In terms or priorities, it’s just not there,” said Hunter. “But then the majority of African-Americans in Phoenix and Arizona are Democrats.”

Even for McCain allies, the prospect of their friend facing a black candidate this fall has them torn.

After a long pause, Barnwell said he’d support McCain in a matchup against Obama. But Mobley, who has been to McCain’s home and knows his family, said he was unsure.

“I’ve always been supportive of John, but I haven’t made up my mind,” said Mobley, an independent.

© 2007 Capitol News Company, LLC

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I view McCain like I view Clinton. Although I do realize politicians are human, when they vote for or against something that I'm so deeply opposed to or in support of, I pretty much wipe voting for them out of my mind. I don't care what environment McCain was in. There's no way he could've not known about King's accomplishments. Hell, the FBI and CIA were on King like vegans on tofu! And Clinton being in support of the war made me x her out as a potential candidate immediately.

On Bill Maher's show, he asked people who they'd vote for, and I was so disappointed with the people who said if Hilary didn't win, they'd vote for McCain in a heartbeat. Not only does that not make sense, that says a lot about the people who are voting for Clinton!