President Obama’s campaign strategists are receiving a lot of richly deserved praise in the wake of the president’s victory over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Nov. 6. Obama, who lost the majority of the White vote for the second time, won the election by assembling a progressive Democratic coalition pioneered by Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988.
I covered Jackson’s 1984 campaign for the Chicago Tribune and witnessed Jackson laying the groundwork for what would become two Obama victories.
“America is not like a blanket – one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same texture, the same size,” I heard Jesse Jackson say more times than I care to remember. “America is more like a quilt: many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread. The White, the Hispanic, the Black, the Arab, the Jew, the woman, the Native American, the small farmer, the businessperson, the environmentalist, the peace activist, the young, the old, the lesbian, the gay, and the disabled make up the American quilt.”
The concept was more frequently expressed in terms of a rainbow.
The organization Jackson heads is known as Rainbow PUSH, the result of a merger between Operation PUSH, the organization Jackson created in 1971, and the Rainbow Coalition, an apparatus he developed following his 1984 presidential run.
In his stirring speech at the 1984 National Democratic Convention in San Francisco, Jackson spoke at length about the Rainbow Coalition.
“…We cannot be satisfied by just restoring the old coalition,” he said. “Old wine skins must make room for new wine. We must heal and expand. The Rainbow Coalition is making room for Arab Americans…The Rainbow Coalition is making room for Hispanic Americans…The Rainbow is making room for the Native American…The Rainbow Coalition includes Asian Americans…The Rainbow Coalition is making room for the young Americans…The Rainbow includes disabled veterans…The Rainbow is making room for small farmers…The Rainbow includes lesbians and gays.”
According to exit polls, Romney won the White vote 59 percent to 39 percent for Obama, which was 3 percent lower than the president’s 2008 outing. Like Clinton before him, Obama demonstrated that a candidate for national office does not need a majority of the White vote in order to win.
Blacks, who made up 13 percent of the electorate in 2012, favored Obama over Romney 93 percent to 6 percent. Latinos, who made up 10 percent of the electorate, preferred Obama by a margin of 71 percent to 27 percent. Asians, 3 percent of the electorate, supported Obama over Romney 73 percent to 26 percent. The remaining non-White groups, with 2 percent of the electorate, backed Obama by a margin of 58 percent to 38 percent.
Obama won the 18-24 category – 11 percent of the electorate – 60 percent to 36 percent for Romney. He also won the 25-29 age-group, which is 8 percent of voters, 60 percent to 38 percent.
Those describing themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual – 5 percent of voters – favored Obama over Romney 76 percent to 22 percent, compared with straight voters – 95 percent of the electorate – who were evenly divided, with Obama and Romney each receiving 49 percent.
Fifty-eight percent of union households – 18 percent of the electorate – supported Obama this year, down just one percentage point from four years ago. They supported Obama at even higher rates in the swing states of Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada.
Despite Jackson’s early coalition-building efforts, it’s no secret that relations between Obama and Jackson are as chilly as the temperature was on the day Obama was first inaugurated as president.
The friction was exacerbated in July 2008 after Jackson had been interviewed on Fox News. When the television interview was over, Jackson, apparently unaware that his microphone was still live, told a fellow guest: “See, Barack’s been talking down to Black people…I want to cut his nuts off.”
Not surprisingly, the relationship between the two immediately went south, so to speak. An understandably miffed Barack Obama has since kept his distance from Jackson.
But as Obama reaches out to Republicans whose stated goal was to make sure he didn’t get re-elected, perhaps it’s time for Obama to have détente with Jackson. The legendary civil rights leader has done his penitence. Because of what Jackson later described as his “crude and hurtful” comment – made at a time African-Americans were hoping to elect their first Black president – many Blacks mentally shipped Jackson off to a political Siberia, a never-never land where they didn’t care if he was never heard from again.
As Obama extends the olive branch to his ardent political foes, he should invite Jackson to visit him in the White House. If nothing else, President Obama can thank Jesse Jackson for paving the way for his two memorable victories.