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Face-off: the battle for Black America's vote.

Voter anger and the impact of the faltering recovery have provided the Democratic Party with its best chance of recapturing 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. since 1980. The reasons are clear. Many Americans admire the President's foreign-policy savvy, but they say he is incapable of resuscitating a comatose economy. Democratic National Chairman Ron Brown recently outlined his party's aggressive new strategy to recapture the executive branch in an exclusive BLACK ENTERPRISE interview.

What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, Saddam Hussein was cowed, communism was collapsing and GOP analysts saw President Bush cruising to a 1992 victory. Now, the impact of a double-dip recession threatens his reelection bid. Republican National Committee Chairman Clayton K. Yeuter is concerned but not worried about Bush's chances. Recently, he told BLACK ENTERPRISE how Bush plans to retain the White House and expand his party's political base.

BLACK ENTERPRISE: How does the Democratic Party plan to recapture the White House in 1992?

RON BROWN: I see George Bush as being extraordinarily vulnerable in 1992 because the election is going to be decided on what I term kitchen-table economic issues. I think it is becoming increasingly apparent to American voters that George Bush's declarations for the last year-and-a-half that the recession is over have been untrue. And what is more troubling to the American people is that this administration doesn't seem to have a clue as to what to do about our economic problems.

President Bush seems to have an economic recovery plan for the Soviet Union; he's got one for Kuwait and one for Eastern Europe. I think most of the American people are saying, "Mr. President, we need a recovery plan for America."

As the issues become more clearly framed, voters are going to be able to distinguish clearly between what Republicans believe and what Democrats believe.

BE: Are you saying that President Bush is invulnerable in foreign policy but is ignoring what is in his own back yard?

BROWN: I think that is right. However, you can't just concede foreign policy to the President. For example, we still have a defense budget that proposes spending $200 billion a year defending Japan and Europe. From what? In effect, we've got two secretaries of state. We've got James Baker and we've got George Bush. We need a president who is going to focus on economic issues that affect Americans; on domestic issues from health care to housing; on employment and the environment.

BE: The Democratic Party is routinely lambasted for being "held hostage" by so-called special-interest groups. How can the party project an image that shows it has the support of these groups, but maintains its independence from them?

BROWN: I think that's a bogus change. It's a change crafted by people who use a political strategy of what they call "wedge" issues--issues that separate Americans from Americans. Are women a special-interest group? They happen to be a majority of the American people. Is a minority that numbers 30 million in America, African-Americans, a special-interest group? I think the Democractic Party will continue to attempt to earn the respect, trust, confidence and votes of our core constituents who have been loyal Democrats. I guess we could assert that the Republican Party is the party of the right-wing ideological special-interest groups that control it, and that would be no more valid than their assertions about us.

BE: Political observers say Republican Party appeals to race and opposition to taxes and "special-interest groups" have wooed white, mostly male moderates and conservatives. What is your response?

BROWN: Underlying that set of assumptions is a myth. The myth is that there has been a tremendous political realignment in America, and that conservative Republican politics has taken over America. The fact is that there are more elected Democrats now than there were in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected president. The fact is that we haven't done well as a presidential party.

BE: Who is your core constituency?

BROWN: It has basically been low- to moderate-income people across ethnic and racial lines. It has been the middle clas and it has been people who are struggling to attain middle-class status.

We also have to reach our more effectively to young voters. New immigrant voters are particularly important in states like Texas, California and Florida, especially Hispanic voters and young people who have only known a Republican president. But even that isn't enough. We also have to get back those voters we have lost in the last several election cycles.

BE: The white, male moderate-to-conservative voters?

BROWN: They happen to be middle-class, middle-income and moderate-in-political-view voters. One of the reasons I am optimistic about 1992 is because I think we are speaking to the everyday concerns of the middle class. The Democratic position is that if anybody ought to get tax relief in America, it is the middle class.

BE: What are specific Democratic planks?

BROWN: We've got to reinvest in what is a decaying infrastructure. That creates jobs and economic growth. We've also got to invest in education so we can have a competitive work force. We've got the best health care system in the world for those who can afford it. The unfortunate thing is that only about 5% of the American people can afford it.

We have to reject and reverse Reaganomics. The result has been that the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is getting squeezed.

We've got to have some kind of national industrial policy. You can't compete against the Taiwans, the Koreas and the the Japans of the world, where government and the private sector are working hand-in-hand, when you have no such coordination between the public and private sector in America.

American workers do not need sympathy; they need help. You give help by retraining. You give help by providing incentives to retool factories, so they can be put to other uses immediately. We need a lot of assistance whether it be tax incentive assistance or other kinds of assistance to retain workers and to get factories producing things that the world needs.

BE: Doesn't the budget deficit rule out those sorts of solutions?

BROWN: There's no question it is tricky. But it's trickier than it needs to be, because this administration has been sitting on its hands for two years. [Now, because of the deficit,] we cannot use the direct governmental resources that we could have used. [But] these are creative ways, which include middle-class tax relief, which I think is the best way to get the economy jump-started.

BE: Why should African-Americans, particularly younger blacks who have never seen a Democratic victory at the presidential level, vote Democratic?

BROWN: As far a African-Americans are concerned I think there is no contest between the two parties. Every major gain that has had a positive impact in the African-American community has been made through, with and because of Democratic leadership and with horrendous Republican opposition.

Now it is fine for the Republican party to say that they are reaching out to the black community. But they show great disrespect and disdain for the black community to think that it will not pay attention to what they are doing. All of us know that there has been a tremendous erosion in the area of civil rights and social justice. There are a lot of people who would say that George Bush is a man of good faith in matters of civil rights. And frankly I was hopeful. There was some kinder and gentler rhetoric. But the fact is that there has been no kinder and gentler action.

The whole strategy of the Republican Party is to split the African-American community on issues of economics. In other words, they would like to peel off about 10% of the top wage earners in the African-American community. I think that is a shame. I would argue that racism is such that better-off African-Americans will not allow themselves to be split off from their less well-off neighbors. I hope that we as a community will be sensitive enough to not allow them to do that.

BE: The Republican Party has skillfully used race-tinged issues and code words--from Willie Horton to GOP hostility, from "affirmative-action quotas" to the Clarence Thomas nomination--to influence public opinion and win elections. What is your response and how do you counter it?

BROWN: First, the strategy is nothing less than disgusting. It is dangerous not only for the African-American community, but also for America. We have Willie Horton, Willie Quota and Willie Thomas to show us there is a pattern.

White Democrats like Sen. Bill Bradley [D-N.J.] and Gov. Mario Cuomo [D-N.Y.] have got to stand up to challenge [Bush] on issues of race and say "Hey, wait a minute. What you are doing isn't true, it isn't right, and you've got to stop it."

BE: A number of presidential contenders have come forth. But popular Democrats, such as Sam Nunn, Bill Bradley and Jay Rockefeller are on the sidelines. Does that bother you?

BROWN: No, it doesn't. I think we've got a very strong field of candidates. They are all change-oriented, anti-status quo and for the most part outside-of-Washington candidates. Those are the kinds of candidates it is going to take to beat George Bush.

BE: Your party has been criticized for its inability to create a bipartisan coalition to override Bush vetoes.

BROWN: There are only two ways to solve that problem. One is to have a veto-proof Congress. That is, to have enough Democrats in the Congress so we don't have to worry about getting Republicans to override a president's veto. The preferred way and the way I would suggest is to get a new president.

BE: Stepping away from presidential politics, what is your view of Congressional reappointment?

BROWN: Let me just say that there is probably nothing more political in our system than reappointment or redistricting. It is estimated that the Republicans have spent about a billion dollars getting ready for redistricting. In state legislative races, Democrats win overwhelmingly. So they [the Republicans] made a determination that they were going to do it [compete] through redistricting. The fact is that we are in total control of the redistricting process. We control the governor and both houses of the legislature in 15 states.

BE: Does it bother you that the Republicans are setting up minority districts so they can nip off the neighboring suburban districts?

BROWN: It bothers me a great deal, because it is clear that if the Republicans could shove every African-American and Hispanic person into one congressional district that is what they would love to do. They think that would enhance their chances in all the other remaining congressional districts.

BE: Gov. L. Douglas Wilder was able to appeal to the state of Virginia because he was seen as fiscally conservative and socially compassionate. Does he represent the new Democratic Party candidate?

BROWN: I would choose the words fiscally responsible rather than fiscally conservative. We have some realities and one of them is that we have a tremendous budget deficit in America. And once again, the Republicans are pointing fingers at Democrats. When Ronald Reagan became President and rode into Washington on his white horse, the federal deficit was about $800 billion. When he left it was $3 trillion. You can't just blame Democrats for that. Congress has not been the one responsible for the dramatic rise in the federal deficit. The budget emanates from Republican responsibility.

BE: Corporate America links diversity with total quality issues. Does the same strategy apply to your party? Critics say diversity, i.e., special-interest groups, whether formal or informal, splinter the Democratic message.

BROWN: I don't agree with that. Frankly, it is the diversity of our party that is one of the things I am most proud of. I happen to think that diversity is the strength of the Democratic Party, just as diversity is the strength of America. I think that it is our diversity that has almost by definition made us better to lead and govern American because we deal with the real problems of America everyday. America is not a homogeneously country. The Democratic Party is not a homogeneous party.

BE: So in 1992, will Democratic candidates proclaim that these are their issues? Dukakis would not even say that he was a liberal.

BROWN: Without getting into labels, we need to do something in the 1992 campaign that we didn't do in 1988. We need to define ourselves as a party. When you allow your adversaries to define you, you can be assured that the definition is going to be a very unpleasant one and that you find yourself on the defensive trying to dig yourself out of a hole. We can't let that happen again. We have to lay out to the American people what we stand for, who we believe in and who we stand with in America.

BE: Will you attack race as a Republican strategy?

BROWN: It is clearly a part of their strategy. It is reprehensible, and it has got to be countered in a very aggressive way. First, it has to be seen for what it is--as something that is not good for our country. We have to say it is a lie, and I think you are going to see that happening more and more as we get into the 1992 campaign.

BE: Despite obvious leadership abilities some political critics say the Democrats are weaker with you at the helm. Is this a direct attack on the growth of black influence in the party?

BROWN: No, I don't think so. A lot of that was said when I was running for chairman or was first elected. I think I have had a unique opportunity because I am a unique chairman. And I have tried to use that forum in a constructive way that has attempted to unify the party.

BE: Whether the Democratic Party wins or loses, what is next for Ron Brown?

BROWN: If you remain serious about work, but keep your ego and sense of self in perspective, the future will take care of itself.

BLACK ENTERPRISE: Mr. Chairman: Is the average American better off now than when George Bush was elected?

Clayton K. Yeutter: It depends on how you make comparisons. One can always find data or numbers to demonstrate the Democratic viewpoint that people are worse off in economic terms, but the Bush term is not yet through. Clearly, when we experience a recession in this country it causes economic turmoil. We've been going through that in recent months, but remember that when Mr. Bush was vice president under President Reagan, we had the longest peacetime recovery period in the history of the country. With a cyclical economy, we're goint go have recessions from time to time. I think the more relevant factor is how we handle ourselves as a nation.

BE: If the economy doesn't revive, the Republican Party could lose the White House. How do you avoid that fate?

Yeutter: Well, first of all, to add a noneconomic dimension to a Democrat/Republican comparison, I'd argue that Americans are better off as a consequence of George Bush being President because of the leadership he's provided on a global scale.

But we'll put all that aside for a moment and concentrate only on the economic side. First of all, Americans will have to decide if blame is to be assessed for any of the economic turmoil that exists now or around Election Day. Americans will have to determine which party to attribute that blame to, Democratic or Republican. And whether it will be attributed primarily t the Congress or to the President, or vice versa. If one looks at the polls, one would conclude that all of the American public is distressed. Far more Americans place the blame for that distress on the Congress than they do on the President.

BE: The GOP advocates cutting capital-gains taxes. Critics charge that that would assist only the wealthy, have a short-term benefit and be used mostly for personal consumption. So why do it?

Yeutter: I would alter your premise because the Democrats argue that the primary beneficiaries of the capital-gains tax cut could be wealthier, upper-income Americans. I don't believe that to be the case. Without doubt, upper-income Americans who own capital assets would benefit. But what the Democrats don't bother to tell people is that there are literally millions of Americans in middle-income categories and even lower-income categories who own capital-assets--stocks, bonds and homes.

One of the reasons I'm attracted to capital-gains provisions as one of the answers to this particular recession is because it's so real estate-dominated. It seems to me that if we can arrest the deterioration of real estate values in this country, we'll see almost an immediate benefit in consumer confidence.

BE: That's almost the chicken-and-egg theory, because figures on the housing stocks are down.

Yeutter: They are down. We need some changes to help them. Why buy if they're going to continue to go down in price? Of course people worry about deterioration of their own home values, which discourages them from buying refrigerators or automobiles or other durable goods. I'd like to see the nation focus on that and it may required a combination of actions by the executive branch and the legislative branch.

BE: Many people are looking for a so-called peace dividend. Is that expectation viable?

Yeutter: We ought to have an economic growth package. Capital gains would be one element. I would add depreciation provisions, investment tax credit provisions, and research and development credits as part of a total package that would stimulate capital investment in the long-term productivity of our economy.

I would do that irrespective of whether we have a "peace dividend." We ought to do that as a nation because we have to be internationally competitive if we're going to create jobs for black people or any other segments of our population. A good number of these provisions are already sitting on Capitol Hill because the President submitted them earlier. With respect to peace dividends, that's not terribly helpful between now and Election Day.

BE: Because any change takes at least a year?

Yeutter: Exactly. There will be a lag time on almost anything that's done except perhaps restoring consumer confidence. Secretary [Dick] Cheney pointed out that people should not look for a peace dividend overnight because most of the defense department's expenditures are for personnel and he'd have to trim forces. There's great opposition on Capitol Hill to having that happen.

This is another case of the Congress wanting to have its cake and eat it, too. Either there isn't going to be a peace dividend if the Congress decides it wants to prevent installations from closing and prevent people from going back into the private sector, or it has to bite the bullet in these areas.

BE: American taxpayers face a crumbling economy, international competition and a $286 billion dollar budget deficit. Some political critics say that GOP policies during the 1980s helped to create the climate of greed and excess that led us to this point. What is your response to this?

Yeutter: I don't share that assessment. The problem during the 1980s was a spending problem, not a problem with tax revenues. Tax revenues went up during the 1980s for the federal government. As I recall, about 78% for the decade as a whole. We simply became profligate spenders as a nation. Both the executive and legislative branches have to take responsibility for that. The fact is, President Reagan and President Bush were essentially the only restraints in town, along with some of the Republican members of the Congress. The appropriations were being done by Democratically controlled appropriations committees.

BE: That may be true, but you're not placing any blame on Presidents Reagan and Bush for the enormous growth of the budget deficit during their years.

Yeutter: Well, I suppose one could suggest that they were less than successful in restraining the Congressional spending pattern. In that context one would have to say that members of Congress are primarily responsible for their own decisions and the President of the United States is only secondarily responsible for having been unsuccessful in restraining them.

BE: During five of the past six presidential elections, Republicans were successful in getting the majority of white males who were registered Democrats to cross the line and vote Republican. How can the GOP maintain this trend?

Yeutter: Some of our Democratic friends would suggest racism behind that shift. I don't concur. It happened because of the economic agenda of President Reagan and then President Bush. The Republican presidential candidates reflected the values and concerns of a lot of Americans, black and white, and in particular middle-class Americans. The Democrats have obviously recognized that because they're now making a big pitch, in my view, a demagogic pitch, to regain the allegiance of the middle-class voter. They've lost those voters over a decade or more but they deserved to lose them because the Democrats tilted toward segments of our population that didn't hold middle-class values. Republican candidates argued for the benefits of self-reliance, economic opportunity, entrepreneurship, a market-oriented economy and family values.

BE: What were those segments that did not share middle-class values?

Yeutter: Those groups on the left side of the political spectrum that most Americans would consider to be on the liberal trend. They are environmental extremists, social extremists, femist extremists. There are a number of groups on that side whose views were reflected in the platform and policies of the Democratic Party. Those views simply do not reflect middle America.

BE: Our audience is decidedly middle American. But they criticize the President for not having a domestic focus. Do you see any specific approach to the concerns of African-Americans?

Yeutter: I hope the administraion will do an effective job of responding to the domestic policy concerns of all Americans, whether they are African-Americans or any other segment of our population. Fundamentally I would not distinguish between any of the various groups. We ought to provide a political and economic environment in which everyone has an opportunity to succeed and prosper and enjoy the rising level of living in this nation.

BE: Now that the Russians are no longer our enemies, and the Israelis and Arabs are meeting at a peace conference, shouldn't there be a need to provide greater weight to the domestic side?

Yeutter: That's a fair assessment. President Bush is clearly beginning to respond to that by making sure that he devotes adequate time to domestic issues. It's a question of retaining the confidence of the American public and the President being able to handle those responsibilities along with his international responsibilities. But I would go back to my prior point that we should not underestimate the demands on the President of the United States. In my view, notwithstanding the great success that the President had in provoking the very positive changes that occurred in the Soviet Union, the Persian Gulf and elsewhere, we cannot draw a conclusion that everything is satisfactory forevermore outside the borders of the United States.

BE: Did President Bush sign the 1991 Civil Rights Act because he felt pressure after the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings and David Duke's campaign?

Yeutter: No, I don't believe so. Let's analyze it a little bit. The President wanted to sign a Civil Rights bill from the very beginning. What he didn't want to have was a bill that would be de facto quota legislation. Or for that matter, de jure quota legislation. The threat was that the terms would be interpreted by small and medium-sized businesses in a way that would suggest the wisdom of their hiring on the basis of quotas. The President wanted to avoid that because he doesn't believe that's in the interests of the country or the long-term interests of minorities. Now, admittedly the difference between what was talked about in legislative language two weeks ago and what was ultimately signed was very, very small.

BE: Why should African-Americans be attracted to the GOP?

Yeutter: In my personal view, blacks should have shifted in the Republican direction a long time ago. There was ample reason to do so all the way back to the early Reagan years. But these shifts of voter allegiance take time, whether the groups involved are African-Americans or Hispanic Americans or anyone else. Tradition is an important part of one's political background and affiliation.

But there are a number of factors today that are persuasive. One is that the Republican Party creates more private-sector job opportunities than does the Democratic Party. That's simply a fact. There are about 20 million new jobs that were created during the 1980s under the Reagan and Bush administrations and even though we're in a recession today where some of those jobs have since disappeared, the net figure is still impressive.

BE: But isn't it true that of the 20 million jobs created, the vast majority were low-paying service jobs? The manufacturing sector was hollowed out in the 1980s.

Yeutter: Sure. But there are a good number of service jobs that pay better than manufacturing jobs. But that gets into the whole question of educational preparation and it is important that African-Americans keep up in that environment. But the fact is that job opportunities have been much greater under the Republican administrations.

The traditional approach of the Democratic Party to the African-American community and other minority communities has been one of insuring their dependency on the government. Their attempt has been to outbid the Republican party for the allegiance of black voters by providing enough governmental help. That's not a very self-satisfying environment.

It seems apparent to me when one observes people such as Associate Justice Clarenc Thomas and Rep. Gary Franks (R-Conn.) that we're beginning to see a substantial number of black citizens who do not find much self-satisfaction in the Democratic approach.

Additionally, the Democratic opportunities are traditionally in the public sector rather than the private sector. In the judgment of a lot of folks, including the black middle class, the psychological and financial rewards are a lot greater in the private sector.

BE: How can African-Americans embrace a party many say is opposed to affirmative action, includes among its ranks former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, advocated ending educational scholarships to minorities, and used a black man, Willie Horton, as a symbol of Democratic Party softness toward the issues of crime and punishment?

Yeutter: If I were an African-American, I would be very comfortable in all those areas because I believe that any criticism of the Republican Party in each of these cases is bogus. It does not reflect the attitude of the chairman of the Republic Party nor the party as a whole, nor the attitude of President Bush.
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Author:McCoy, Frank
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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