Schwerner, Goodman, Lieberman, and Chaney

The veep nominee's record as a civil rights warrior can help the Dems keep the black vote

If Republican efforts to woo blacks fail, it may be because of Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. The two Jewish civil rights workers, murdered along with James Chaney in Philadelphia, Mississippi, symbolize the historical alliance between blacks and Jews--and expect to hear about them a lot in the next two months.

Black Democratic activists act like they're taking seriously the Republican goal of getting 20% of the black vote, as well they should. And there was open concern that the selection of a Jew on the Democratic ticket would alienate some rank-and-file blacks.

But Sen. Joe Lieberman could not have been more welcome at the Congressional Black Caucus's meeting during the Democratic National Convention Tuesday morning if he'd brought Clarence Thomas' head on a silver platter. Unfortunately for the Republicans' best-laid plans, the black political class at least appears to have decided on a course of realpolitik: Don't self-destruct, play the game as it lies, and focus on extracting maximum concessions (and, oh my, is Lieberman conceding). Rather than focusing on his religion or lack of melanin per se, his black supporters have focused on his Civil Rights activism and a shared legacy of being oppressed by the same people.

The key is Lieberman's time as a "freedom rider" in the 1960s, when he went South to help register voters. Dating as it does from the time when such work was incredibly dangerous (that time Gov. Bush lauded in his acceptance speech last week but did not join as it was happening), Lieberman's distant past serves to leaven his immediate past of some less-than-liberal, less-than-Negro-friendly political positions (for example, school vouchers, affirmative action). Jesse Jackson Sr., sensing the magnitude of what was at stake (both for the party and for the souls of black folk) set the stage for magnanimity with his early endorsement of Lieberman and calls for blacks to support him. He said, "our natural desire for our time to come cannot blind us to the progress that Lieberman's choice represents."

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The Congressional Black Caucus has emulated Jackson enthusiastically. Every elected black Democratic official who is anybody was in the San Francisco Ballroom of the Bonaventure Hotel this morning, along with an adoring black crowd that rushed forward to snap the senator's picture and yell his name. In her introduction of Lieberman, District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, emphasized pointedly (and repeatedly) that black leaders had embraced Lieberman and insisted he campaign in their district, meaning that the members were going to put their personal credibility on the line to vouch for him to their constituents. Holmes admitted, delicately, that Lieberman had not been with the Congressional Black Caucus on "some issues," but "if you're with me most of the time, you're my man!"

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