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Thursday February 15, 2001

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The art of courting votes

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By Dan Cassino

USA Today brought the White House chief of staff to his knees recently. Following a meeting with the national newspaper's editorial board - just another stop in the Bush administration's "why can't we all just get along" meetings - an offhand remark turned into the next day's top headline.

It is easy to say that no one really pays attention to what is said in USA Today. It is disdained in the journalism community for its unofficial motto of, "All the news fit to print in 50 words or less," but that doesn't mean that it can't get people's attention. Especially when the top headline reads, "Bush to close offices on AIDS, race."

For some reason, a headline like that gets everyone's attention. Apparently, Chief of Staff Andy Card had told the editors of the paper that those offices would be reorganized, like the rest of the White House bureaucracy, and this was taken to mean that they would be removed.

Card, saw what he wrote on the front page of the nation's most read newspaper and went to the Oval Office to plead for forgiveness. As this is a kinder, gentler administration, forgiveness was granted, and attempts began to kill it within the news-cycle.

Crises like these happen all the time - they move the White House off-issue for a day or two, and life goes on. In this case, however, it becomes evident how scared elements in the opposition are that no attention will be paid to racial issues for the next four years. They believe that it is necessary to put pressure on the administration or nothing will be done for the black community.

Such concern is warranted. Assuming that all politicians are merely concerned with re-election, there is no reason that President George W. Bush should be worried about the black community. Even with the remarkable turnout of the presidential election, only 9 percent of blacks voted for Bush. Since Franklin Roosevelt co-opted the blacks in 1932, no Republican has managed to win more than about 15 percent of the black vote.

Thus we see the creation of a vicious circle - since it doesn't pay for them to try, no national Republican efforts go toward getting the vote, there is no way for them to get the vote, so they don't try.

This doesn't seem like it would necessarily be a bad break for blacks. Republicans are uniformly mean, golf-playing misers anyway, and the Democrats are much nicer people to have working for you. There is, of course, one problem. As we live in a benighted two-party system society, any vote that doesn't go to the Republicans goes to the Democrats.

Since it doesn't make sense for blacks to vote for Republicans, they end up having to vote for Democrats. And since there is nothing Republicans can do to win the black vote, there is nothing that Democrats can do to lose it.

Democrats, surprisingly, find themselves in roughly the same situation as the Republicans. Assuming that they, too, are just trying to get re-elected, there is no reason that they should do anything to earn the black vote. Reasonably, they should spend their effort wooing soccer moms and securing their partisan base.

We've been told that to get a friend in Washington, the best course is to buy a dog. As long as the black community continues its unswerving dedication to the Democratic party, it should make a visit to the pound, as it has no friends on Capitol Hill.