Yes, Democrats have the right to criticize Democratic politicians
President Joe Biden listens to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as they speak to reporters from the Oval Office of the White House July 12, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kelponis-Pool/Getty Images)
Editor’s note: The following article is an editorial, and the opinions expressed are those of the author. Read more opinions on the Grio.
The Republican Party has become a cult. Party members reject democracy, embrace brutality and purge anyone in the group who gets up to the cult leader. This is what happens when a political party remakes itself in the image of a politician and refuses to recognize that person’s flaws, and this is why Democrats must avoid this fate as well.
For the most part, Democrats are far too intellectually and ideologically independent to allow themselves to fall into Trump-style fascism. But there is a anxious contingent who tried to police insider reviews.
I understand. Faced with a historic and existential crisis of democracy, many people are understandably apprehensive about anything that might allow Republicans to gain power by driving a wedge between the different factions of Democrats. That’s the point former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell made to me during the 2020 Democratic primaries whenever I criticized Joe Biden on CNN. Democrats »I don’t want to see the Democrats attack“, argued Rendell – a rule he ignored two months later, when he criticized Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren in an op-ed.
I see the rules differently. I think Democrats criticizing Democratic candidates and even a Democratic president is not only acceptable but necessary in a functioning democracy. Criticizing does not mean promoting false narrative that both parties are the same. It means holding the people we elect accountable.
I felt the same when Barack Obama was president. I attended Obama’s law school, donated to his campaigns, voted for him twice, and supported many of his policies. But when I disagree with him on major issues – his early opposition to same sex marriagehis drone policyhis deportation of immigrants, his decision to remove the public option of the Affordable Care Act – I’ve been criticized by some Democrats for doing that.
It happened with Bill Clinton too. I worked for Clinton in the White House, but disagreed with him on capital punishment, welfare reform, the crime bill, and his decision to sign the anti-gay law on the defense of marriage. I’ve been a lifelong Democrat, but black voters don’t owe absolute allegiance to any president or politician.
Each player in our democracy plays a unique role. The president’s job is to advance a political agenda. Members of Congress are responsible for passing laws. Voters engage through elected officials. And activists are pushing officials to do more.
The president has a tough job trying to balance competing interests, but our role as black people is to assert our interests, not to play defense of Joe Biden, Barack Obama or any president, no matter his party or race.
Throughout American history, the push for racial justice has often been “inconvenient” to presidential agendas. When Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to use the 1963 March on Washington to pressure Congress and “dramatize a shameful conditionPresident John F. Kennedy expressed serious doubts. “We want success in Congress, not just a great show at the Capitolhe told civil rights officials. But as King wrote in his 1963 book Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “freedom is never given voluntarily by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
After Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, not despite pressure from activists but because of it.
Abolitionist Frederick Douglass understood the same lesson in 1857 when he delivered an emancipation speech warning that “Power concedes nothing without a request.” It will take a civil war and a different assassination before the country finally ratifies the constitutional amendments that abolish slavery, guarantee equal protection of the laws and give black men the right to vote.
For the past few years, President Obama has handled demands from LGBTQ voters for marriage equality before “evolvedin 2012, and President Biden faced black demands for police reform. There is nothing wrong with citizens making one of these requests. The role of the activist is to push, and the role of the politician is to respond.
Politicians tend to be cautious creatures and rarely respond by adopting ideas that are ahead of public opinion. The job of the activist, on the other hand, is not to follow public opinion but to shape it. Dr. King described it as the difference between “a thermometer which registers the ideas and principles of popular opinion” and a “thermostat which transformed the mores of society. If you want to shape public opinion towards social justice, you can’t just be a thermometer, and you can’t be afraid to criticize any politician who gets in the way.
The election of President Biden illustrates this point. The criticism he received from Democrats during the 2020 campaign helped him become a stronger candidate by addressing the legitimate concerns of voters on his own base. If Biden hadn’t felt the pressure from black voters, he might not have chosen a black woman to be his vice president or a black woman as his first Supreme Court nominee.
This pressure surely contributed to Biden’s appointment of federal judges, 68 percent of them were black (28%), Hispanic (22%) or Asian American (18%), more than any president in history. The pressure also pushed the Biden administration to extend a federal moratorium on evictions last summer after Rep. Cori Bush slept on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to demonstration the expiration of the law.
The black agenda remains unfinished. Yes, Biden signed the Emmett Till anti-lynching law last spring, but Congress failed to pass a law. police reform projecta voting rights bill or one bill to study reparations. Proponents of these bills should not stop pushing, even when it upsets the Democratic Party. In fact, inopportune times can be the best times to negotiate concessions with politicians, because that’s when activists have the most leverage.
We know that Republicans will exploit any intra-party criticism of Democratic leaders to try to stop black people from voting, which is not a solution. But Democrats are poised for major victories in November, even after a year of criticism.
A new legislative package that is gaining ground will invest in slowing climate change, reduce the cost of prescription drugsand increase corporate taxes. This follows unexpected support from the Senate for bills to codify same-sex marriage and protect the right to choose have a child. The Department of Justice has indicated that it investigate Donald Trump’s efforts overturn the 2020 election. And even voters in the conservative state of Kansas decided to protect the right to abortion.
Additionally, President Biden recently abandoned inexplicable deal to appoint anti-abortion judge in Kentucky, proposed prisoner swap to bring WNBA star back Britney Griner of Russia and would consider a plan to cancel student loan debt for millions of Americans.
The point here is that the pressure works. Black voters shouldn’t be afraid to use our pressure to get what we want from the candidates we elect. Of course, we won’t get everything, but we won’t get anything if we remain silent.
Keith Boykin is the author of five books, including “Race Against Time: The Politics of a Darkening America.”
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