Building a Winning Coalition is Not Pandering

The message of that ad is not subtle. What you have is Morgan Freeman narrating a story about how Clinton stands with the mothers of the victims whose death inspired the Black Lives Matter movement, the people of Flint, and the legacy of President Obama. In other words, it is a Democratic presidential candidate “pandering” to the African American community in order to win their votes. But let’s be clear…both Democratic candidates have done that. They have also both done their best to win the support of Hispanic voters. And that’s a good thing.

It has become crystal clear in this primary that people of color will play a big role in selecting the Democratic nominee. Let’s not let that reality pass without noticing the huge shift that means in electoral politics.

Steve Phillips has written a book that is very instructive about that change titled: Brown is the New White. While others are talking about how demographics will change the electorate in the future, he suggests that we are missing what is happening right now.

Most of the attention paid to the country’s changing demographics focuses on the trends showing that whites will one day be a minority of America’s population. … According to the most recent census projections, that year is expected to be 2044. [But] the focus on 2044 overlooks the equation that’s been hiding in plain sight, one that shows what happens when you add together the number of today’s people of color (the vast majority of whom are progressive) and progressive whites. It’s this calculation that reveals that America has a progressive, multiracial majority right now that has the power to elect presidents and reshape American politics, policies and priorities … today.

In an interview with Janell Ross, Phillips suggested what Democrats should do going forward.

Now, there is what I call a “New American Majority” consisting of progressive people of color and progressive whites. That’s the coalition that elected Obama, and when it has been uninspired and ignored — as happened in 2010 and 2014 — voters of color have stayed home, and Democrats have lost badly. We need to run toward people of color instead of away from them in order to win. I want to drive that message home in [2016], the first election of the post-Obama era.

In other words, Phillips is saying: “Bring on the pandering,” something that is only referred to that way when a candidate embraces the agenda of people of color. Remember how Barack Obama has been criticized for not reflecting back the fear and anger of the middle class? Were the pundits who engaged in that analysis not “pandering” as well?

After the Nevada caucuses, it looks pretty clear that if Bernie Sanders loses this nomination it will be because he failed to win the support of the majority of black and brown voters in the Democratic Party. If so, it will be up to Hillary Clinton to inspire the “New American Majority” to not just vote for her in the primary, but to replicate their turnout in the last two presidential elections. Let’s reject the notion that to do so has anything to do with pandering. It’s actually about putting together a winning coalition for a changing America. As David Simon said after the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012:

America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America in which it was otherwise is dying, thank god, and those who relied on entitlement and division to command power will either be obliged to accept the changes, or retreat to the gated communities from which they wish to wax nostalgic and brood on political irrelevance.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.