By the time the first presidential primary in 2016 rolls around there may two dozen candidates running for the party ticket. Each will offer a new vision of America, one that they feel benefits every American citizen. African Americans, a key constituency for any contender in 2016, have a special set of concerns, policy issues and asks for anyone running for president that are seldom directly addressed, and we here at NBCBLK hope to remedy that problem.
Throughout the campaign season we will take a look at every Republican and Democrat running for president, examine their statements, campaign, history and policies and find out what they have to offer the black community. Every policy area and every candidate is fair game, from the far left to the middle right to the squishy center.
How do we decide what African Americans should ask each candidate?
Rather than trying to fit the candidate into some pre-established mold we will look at their existing policy, statements and legislation, and ask questions based on what the candidate has already laid forth and hopefully their campaigns will feel compelled to respond.
We begin with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) the second Democrat to officially announce his bid for the Democratic nomination for president.
"Not only will I fight to protect the working families of this country, but we're going to build a movement of millions of Americans who are prepared to stand up and fight back." - Bernie Sanders, 5/26
1. Can You Win This Thing?
While this may seem like a particularly basic question for any Democrat running against Hillary Clinton in 2016 it has a particular resonance for Sanders. Sanders is an independent even though he caucuses with the Democrats in the U.S. Senate. So essentially when he’s running for president he’ll have to create most of his own infrastructure, not just because he’s running against the Clinton Machine but because he has no political party to rely upon.
For African Americans who have seen an aggressive retrenchment of policies meant to directly or indirectly harm black voters (Voter ID laws, attacks on hiring policies, attacks on immigration reform) it is risky to vote for a candidate with slim to no chances of winning.
Sanders has to convince African American voters that he can not only beat Hillary Clinton in a primary, but that he can also help flip key races in gubernatorial and congressional races…. And then actually win the presidency. African American voters didn’t even believe in Obama until he won the Iowa Caucuses in 2008, so Sanders has his work cut out for him.
2. What About the Veterans?
Senator Sanders is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs which is tasked with caring for our mentally, physically and emotionally wounded soldiers as they return home from the field. However under his watch the state of American veterans, especially veterans of color has remained deplorable. While African Americans make up only about 10% of U.S. military veterans they make up almost 40% of all homeless veterans. Black women make up almost a third of enlisted soldiers in support positions in the Army.
And while Senator Sanders can proudly say that he did not vote for the War in Iraq, he has been pretty hawkish on just about any other issue. So if he is strongly in favor of putting soldiers in harm’s way this should be a top issue he addresses with African American voters. Sanders’ responses to V.A. hospital scandals have been less than stellar so far, and with the rise of mental health and legal issues for returning veterans he needs to explain why so many scandals have happened on his watch and what he plans on doing about them.
3. Do You Understand African American Voters?
Vermont has the lowest African American population of any state in the United States. African Americans make up 1% of Vermont’s state population, and that’s an increase since the last census. With literally less than 7,000 actual African Americans in the state at any one time during his political career, African American primary voters should ask Sanders what specific policies he has enacted that benefit black voters.
Further, he should be able to explain how with so few connections to the African American community he plans on galvanizing this crucial demographic in order to win a national election. Bernie Sanders can’t change where he’s from, but if he intends to represent all of America he needs to show in his hiring, policy or relations that he envisions an America that includes African Americans.