Democratic Candidates Emphasize Racial Justice Ahead of Super Tuesday
Phd student Robert Greene argues that there are a lot of major fights going on in the state and local level that progressives have to be a part of, because the future of progressivism is inextricably linked with the future of the American South
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
On Saturday, February 27 the South Carolina Democratic primary is set to take place. According to Public Policy polling, Hillary Clinton has a 19 point lead on Bernie Sanders in the palmetto state. Much of the support is coming from African-Americans, where Clinton has a 63-23 lead over Sanders. African-Americans make up 55 percent of the Democratic electorate in South Carolina.
Here to discuss the upcoming South Carolina primary, as well as Super Tuesday, is Robert Greene II. He’s a Ph.D. student in history at the University of South Carolina. His topics include the history of the American South since 1945. Robert, thank you so much for joining us today.
ROBERT GREENE: Thank you for having me.
PERIES: So, Robert, you are on the ground in Columbia, South Carolina. How are these two candidates doing to engage voters, especially on issues of concern to South Carolina? And I understand that some of the candidates have been on your very campus, so tell us.
GREENE: Definitely. Well, first of all, everywhere in Columbia right now you can see nothing but Hillary and Bernie signs. Both campaigns are pouring a lot of time and effort into South Carolina. Bernie Sanders himself just had an event here last week on campus. Hillary Clinton has been in the city a lot.
And both candidates are really emphasizing issues of racial inequality and racial justice. Hillary Clinton especially has really spoken a great deal about ending police brutality, ending systematic racism in hiring and education, while Bernie Sanders has of course looked at these issues from not just an economic standpoint but also a racial justice standpoint. So the ideas of race and fighting racism have been critical for both campaigns as they continue in South Carolina.
PERIES: Now, African-Americans have historically been the most progressive constituency when it comes to American politics in general. And Bernie Sanders, despite being the more progressive of the two candidates, has struggled to engage black voters. What accounts for that?
GREENE: That’s a great question. And I think part of it is, quite simply, African-Americans are more familiar with Hillary Clinton. She’s been in the national public spotlight for a long time, since the early 1990s, when her husband Bill Clinton first ran for president. Her own resume as senator from New York and Secretary of State have kept her in the public eye for quite a while. Whereas Bernie Sanders, while he does have some impressive civil rights credentials, is not as well known to African-American voters.
I think it should be noted that Secretary Clinton’s experience on the national campaign trail from 2008 is probably quite helpful here. And the fact that she knows that she needs the African-American vote to shore up a nomination and to win November I think certainly calls her to be more amenable in regards to speaking out to African-American voters. I think Bernie Sanders is doing his best, he’s trying hard. He’s had meetings with black leaders here in South Carolina. He’s even gained numerous black political support in South Carolina from major state politicians. But nonetheless I think Hillary Clinton is still a better-known commodity among black voters here.
PERIES: Now, the Congressional Black Caucus has, of course, endorsed Hillary Clinton. And I should clarify, the Congressional Black Caucus PAC has endorsed Hillary Clinton. Do you think that is weighing in her favor in South Carolina?
GREENE: I think it’s not hurting her. I think it helps her to some extent. But I think in terms of her support among black voters what’s a much bigger deal is, of course, the fact that she served alongside President Obama. I think gaining the support of Congressman Jim Clyburn, who’s a major political figure here in the state, has also gone a great deal towards helping her. And I think there was just an expectation in 2016 that once President Obama’s two terms were over that she’d be the next natural nominee for president from the party. I do think the CBC PAC’s assistance and their backing of her, especially that of John Lewis, has been important. But I think that it’s, it’s really a combination of all of those factors for her.
PERIES: Now, several days after the South Carolina primary on March 1 is Super Tuesday, which involves 11 states scattered all over the country. Could you go into some detail about Super Tuesday and the outlook in terms of what you think will be the results?
GREENE: Sure. Well, Super Tuesday is really the most important part of the calendar for the Democratic nominee. Most of those states are Southern states such as Georgia, Alabama, and Virginia, among others. And the Super Tuesday system as it’s known today was actually set up in the ’80s by the Democrats to make sure a more moderate candidate for president was chosen by the party. So for instance, Super Tuesday played a major role in guaranteeing Bill Clinton’s nomination in 1992.
I think this time around, since so many of those Southern states have large black populations, the assumption is that Hillary Clinton would do quite well in those states. Current polling shows her as being ahead in those states, although the gap is starting to narrow. Nonetheless, I think Secretary Clinton is, at this moment, at the advantage against Senator Sanders in those Super Tuesday states. If she does well in those Southern states especially, I think it will be difficult for Senator Sanders to catch up and make this race competitive into the summer.
PERIES: Now, what is accounting for the momentum in terms of Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the sense that in Nevada, you know, there was a wide margin of almost 24 percent when they were going into the primary, and yet when they came out it was only a 4 percent lead that Hillary Clinton won by. What accounted for that?
GREENE: I think what accounts for that is people listening to Senator Sanders’ ideas. I know on the ground here in South Carolina, when voters actually listen to the ideas Senator Sanders has to offer, they tend to like what they hear. And I think that’s what happened in Nevada. I think as time went by more and more Sanders campaigners went around the state talking to voters and talking to folks at the caucuses. They’ve really liked what they heard more and more.
So I think this is a sense of people already having an idea of where Hillary Clinton stands on most issues, but giving Bernie Sanders a fair shake and listening to him. I think it’s also part of a, a wider questioning of authority figures in American politics. I think in the Democratic party Hillary Clinton is seen as sort of the establishment figure. And I think someone like Senator Sanders offers for a lot of voters a fresh challenge and a fresh perspective.
PERIES: In a recent piece in the Nation magazine, titled Who Is the Real Progressive, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, you wrote the future of progressivism is inextricably linked with the future of the American South. Could you expound on that?
GREENE: Definitely. Now, the Democratic party, looking at an electoral map, knows that in November of this year they could win the election without doing particularly well in the South. They could win Virginia and possibly North Carolina, maybe Florida, and leave it at that. But I think for the nation as a whole to have a progressive future, it cannot leave any particular region behind, and that especially includes the American South.
Many ideas propounded and promoted by conservatives often have their origins in the South, and I’m not just talking about race and racism, although that has a big part to do with it. I’m talking about things like right to work laws and other legislation that is seen as threatening to any progressive change. Think, for example, about the Affordable Care Act and the fact that some of the states in the South don’t even accept the Medicaid money that has been offered by President Obama and the ACA.
So I think that if progressivism is to have a genuine bright future, it’s going to have to include being competitive in the American South. Having progressive Democrats who are actually competitive on a state and local level, because Southern states are generally dominated by Republican and often conservative state legislatures. Democrats have done quite well at the presidential level since 2008, going back to the 1990s as well. But on a state and local level it’s the Republicans who have all the momentum and advantage. And if that doesn’t change, then you know, by 2020 we’re going to have another election where Republicans have a chance to really control the way districts are redrawn for redistricting purposes.
So there are a lot of major fights going on in the state and local level that progressives have to be a part of. And if they aren’t then any progressive change at the national level will only become piecemeal change here in the South.
PERIES: All right. Robert, I thank you so much for joining us today and look forward to having your analysis throughout this election season.
GREENE: Thank you very much.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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