Let's be honest. If Al Gore's selection of a Jew as his running mate costs him votes, it's not going to be with Southern rednecks, who weren't going to vote for him anyway--or with evangelicals, who seem to like Joe Lieberman's religiosity. It's going to be with African-Americans.

This is a hard thing to contemplate or talk about, so let's start with two caveats. Most blacks are not anti-Semitic, and even those who are might not like George W. Bush any better.

The question is whether there are enough blacks who do think this way to turn the election.

I can think of at least one. Lee Alcorn, president of the Dallas NAACP, told a local radio station: "I think we need to be very suspicious of any kind of partnerships between the Jews at that kind of level, because we know that their interest primarily has to do with money and these kind of things." The NAACP national office condemned his remarks.

But let's just say Alcorn is not the only black in America to hold those kinds of views. The Joint Center for Political Studies, which studies black voting patterns, found that 37.1% of blacks feel that "Jews have too much power in the United States." Only 19.5% of whites answered yes to that question. A 1996 Gallup survey asked whether "liberal Jews are to blame for much of what is wrong with America." Blacks were far more likely than whites to say yes (the group most likely to say yes, intriguingly, was Jews). According to the Anti-Defamation League, blacks are three times more likely to hold anti-Semitic views than whites.

Blacks may also be nervous to the extent they view Lieberman as a Clinton basher. "No one loves Clinton more than blacks," says Dr. David Bositis, a senior policy analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a black-issues D.C. think tank. "Why shouldn't they see Lieberman as a slap at Clinton? Maybe that's something to worry about. On the other hand, he's pious, and blacks are very religious."

But the biggest source of resentment may be a sense that it shoulda been one of us.

On July 24, well before the official dis of Lieberman's selection, BlackElectorate.com ran an emblematic editorial titled: "Al Gore Looks for a Vice-President--Blacks Need Not Apply." "To consider that in nearly 70 years of party loyalty a Black has not received the Democratic Party's nomination for vice-president is even more stunning when one reflects over the fact that for almost a year, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, a Mexican-American, was rumored to be a leading candidate to become Al Gore's running mate, and that just last week it was reported that Gore's top choice for vice president is former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, a Jewish-American. But no Black has been seriously considered for the position during campaign 2000," it read.

A. Asadullah Samad, writing in politicallyblack.com, fumed, "No blacks, No Latinos, No Asians, No 'serious' women candidates. It appears that the revenge of the 'Angry White male' has succeeded in convincing these two Presidential candidates that choosing an ethnic or woman is 'too risky' in this election.... The heartland aint ready for a black vice president."

Notice what's implicit in this formulation: A minority should, by right, have been chosen, and blacks deserve to have been chosen before other minorities. They've earned it with "all of the years of undying loyalty, [but] have never witnessed as much as even one of their own as a vice-presidential nominee," harumphs that editorial.

If that's so--blacks had it coming--then what went wrong? Racism? According to Askia Muhammad--White House correspondent for The Final Call, the newspaper of The Nation of Islam--the black political class itself dropped the ball on getting blacks on the short, or even long, list of VP hopefuls. Citing sources in the Congressional Black Caucus, Muhammad says, "blacks on the Hill were so busy with their own affairs, that just never happened." Muhammad says one CBC member admitted that "we just didn't politic it." Even that angry editorial concedes as much. "In October of 1998, while a guest on Meet The Press, Rev. Jesse Jackson told...Tim Russert, that a Black 'should be on the ticket' in the year 2000. Yet he and other Blacks have done next to nothing to advance the Reverend's stated position."

More to the point, however, may be the lack of viable black candidates for the No. 2. "Who should have been nominated? There's no black officials of national prominence who are electable," explains Bositis. "Regardless of what black leaders did or didn't do, name a [black] person who could have been elected Vice President. John Lewis? No. Sheila Jackson-Lee? No. Maxine Waters? No. Can you think of any one?"

No, though some don't want to face that fact. Blacks, liberals, and Democrats have made much of the GOP convention's "illusion of inclusion," where a body of delegates who were nearly 90% white (one in five a millionaire) watched often-obscure minorities placed center stage. Lamenting the unrelieved exclusion of blacks from the presidential ticket, one commentator argued that, "On the Republican side, this comes as no surprise."

Yet it's the Republicans who have literally begged Colin Powell to run either for president or vice president. Had he, assures Bositis, "He'd have strolled all the way to the White House. Both he and Condoleeza Rice will have highly visible, meaningful Cabinet roles in a Bush White House. There's just no room for complaint. You simply cannot say that no one wants African Americans on a Presidential ticket. Gore didn't choose one because there wasn't one to choose." (Indeed, according to The New York Times, Gore too approached Powell but was rebuffed.)

The Democrats' secret fear is not that they will switch en masse to the party of Lincoln. "No one's worried that blacks will vote Republican because of Leiberman or anything else," says Bositis. "The only real fear is that they might stay home." If blacks don't vote, Gore will be in real trouble.

According to the Joint Center, only 8.3% of blacks identify as Republican. Gore will need 90% of the black vote to win in November. Notice the lack of wiggle room between these two figures.

Leading black politicians obviously recognize this, which is why Jesse Jackson came out with such a forceful statement that Lieberman's selection opens doors to all blacks. Jackson must be aware that if Lieberman is perceived as having harmed the ticket, a Democratic candidate would have to think long and hard before choosing another minority as a running mate.

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