Super Tuesday? Titanic Tuesday? South’s Stake Large On Super Tuesday
James Clyburn and Victor Mcteer
Vol. 9, No. 2, 1987, pp. 16-19
Sidebar: James Clyburn
I want to thank you for inviting me here this evening, but before I say anything I want to make it clear that I’m not too sure exactly why I should be discussing the Southern regional primary. South Carolina, as you probably know, decided to forego changing anything regarding presidential elections and we still are planning to nominate or select our delegates by caucus. Of course, that will take place in March and it may influence a few votes.
The Southern regional primary comes almost naturally from the 1984 presidential elections when the South voted overwhelmingly for Ronald Reagan. That fact led many Southern Democrats to complain that the National Democratic Caucus did not heed its warnings and did not give ample opportunity to a more conservative candidate for president. Southern Democrats also felt and did not hesitate in expressing their feelings that the Republican caucus in 1984 was much more in tune with the South’s problems as well as the South’s concerns.
Tom Murphy, the Georgia Speaker of the House, summarized [a common] attitude when he said that “the South is tired of the Northern press saying who is going to be the next president.” Therefore, we now have in front of us the Southern primary which is supposed to give the South a different say-so in the political agenda of the country.
Proponents of the primary, or Mega Super Tuesday as it is now being called by the Northern press, have several goals. Number one, they hope to increase the number of Southern candidates and hopefully increase the chances of winning.
Second, they hope to increase their chances of at least influencing the presidential nominee and hopefully capturing the vice-presidential slot.
Three, they are attempting to influence the nomination of candidates who have views that they consider more in tune with what they consider to be the Southern way of thinking.
And fourth, they hope to encourage both parties to focus on regional issues.
Inherent in all of these reasons is the desire to attract
many white male voters back into the Democratic fold. Whether or not the South shall rise again-as some have said will happen as a result of the regional primary-to my way of thinking is open to question. The Iowa and New Hampshire primaries will take on added significance in the wake of a Southern regional primary. It is possible that a Northern liberal could do quite well in the Southern regional primary just because of the appearance of being a winner.
A more crucial question to me is, what will be the impact of the 25 percent black vote that makes up the electorate in the Southern region? There is the opportunity for further strife and division. If the regional primary is used as a platform for a conservative agenda, what will be the position of black leadership in terms of their agenda?
Any question of a Southern primary also has to take into consideration the so-called Jesse Jackson factor. Jackson, who is all but certain to run in 1986 could walk away with a lion’s share of the black votes and also a good many white votes. Now, if this scenario develops, what will be the position of the white voter that’s left in the South as well as white voters in the other four or five distinct regions of the country? There is a possibility of further alienation and therefore a repeat of 1984.
I have several concerns about the motives [behind] the Southern primary. First, there is the presumption that the primary backers are trying to create a bloc of Southern delegates to use in bargaining or trading at the convention. Now I don’t know how many of you have had the opportunity to participate in the Democratic convention as official delegates, but it’s been my pleasure or displeasure to participate as an official delegate in the last four national Democratic conventions, and in two of those conventions, especially the one in 1972 and then the one in 1980, I was in the middle of the trading and bargaining that goes on behind the scenes. If you think black delegates who happen to have gotten elected in their state caucuses or their primaries wield any kind of influence in those back rooms, you’ve got another think coming. What happens when these blacks get together? I can tell you there are just a few people who will end up controlling those blacks. I’m not too sure that that is what we have in mind, those of us who are sitting in this room.
Another concern is that it seems to me a little bit ironic that all of these years of hearing the black vote described as a “bloc vote,” we now see our white counterparts finding that same strategy appealing.
Secondly, what are the compelling issues which create the community of interest among these Southern states? When you start looking at the Southern Democratic voters you have to realize that there is a big difference in the interest of the black Southern voters and the white Southern voters.
What causes the assumption that these states can find national candidates who agree with their positions? In fact, agreements under these kinds of issues are pretty hard to come by. If there is agreement, I suspect it has a lot to do with what you might call traditional Southern thinking about things.
Thirdly, if the South can have a primary, how long will it be before we have a mega Super Wednesday in the West or a super, super Thursday in the Midwest or a big Saturday in the East? Is that the direction we wish to see our politics headed?
And finally, if we create this bloc of Southern states loosely by the so-called traditional Southern issues, where does that leave black voters? Keep in mind that black citizens of the South have not fared all that badly with presidents from states like Missouri, Massachusetts, or Texas, for that matter. Will we be creating a bloc within a bloc? Does the Southern primary even further dilute black influence in these states…just when it seemed that we were about to find our way into this nation’s political and economic mainstream?
Sidebar: Victor McTeer
I wish to preface my comments by saying that I’m not speaking for Jesse Jackson; I speak for myself and as a Jackson delegate.
I handed out some documents listing the dates of each one of the caucuses or primaries. My secretary and the person that did these forms made a mistake. I had told them to call it “Super Tuesday” and inadvertently they called it “Titanic Tuesday.”
Super Tuesday, as a concept, grew out of white conservative [thinking]. The concept was basically that the South was the key to electoral success; that it would allow for a heightened impact and heighten attention to the area.
In the South we know that this will be the weekend where the minority vote will have the greatest single impact. This is obviously due to the large percentage of black population there. It is also an area, however, where whites predominated in terms of their historic control.
We know that in the rural South the party has suffered a massive white disaffection from traditional party alliances in a startling move towards two-party politics. Now this disaffection is a crucial fact. Why is it that the white folks decided to leave?
Number one, I suggest, is because of the entry of blacks into the process. Number two, the use of racialist politics and tactics by Republicans to play upon and benefit from historic anti-black attitudes of the white community. And number three, a distinct inability by white Democrats to be able to produce anything for black candidates other than very substantial noise.
Therefore, in states like Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, we have seen some of the greatest black advancements in politics coupled with the most stringent white opposition. It is this area that the Democratic Party chose to make its Super, Titanic Tuesday primary the showplace of the nation.
Well, now that we’ve moved from the outhouse to the White House, from slave ships to championships, now that the ships on the bottom have started to edge up, and now, while we know we prefer Roosevelt in a wheelchair rather
than Reagan on a horse, now that we know that we’re picking up our rocks all over the place, we must ask ourselves the essential question, will the white folk ever get out of the ditch?
I want to ask Jim [Clyburn] here a few questions.
Will whites essentially return to the party primary process in the party elections? Will the white folks come back?
Number two, will Democratic Party candidates attempt to organize both the white and the black communities or will Rev. Jesse Jackson’s obvious and potential advent into the process (1) assure him the minority vote and (2) assure that whites will not attempt to organize in the black community?
Will the solid South (at least as it is perceived by some white candidates) actually become the split South?
Now think of it like this. Suppose you give up as a white candidate on being able to take Mississippi, Alabama. Why? Black folks. You know Rev. Jackson’s gonna do well there. What you do is you go to Florida and Texas. Why? Strong, white, traditional leanings. Texas. The Chicano vote has not yet crystallized at all. There is not yet the strong black activity. You can pick up enough delegates in those two states to counteract the rest of the remaining South.
Is it possible that Bert Lance, Charles Manatt and Rev. Jackson sat down one day and said, “Let’s assure Reverend Jackson 600 votes for the Democratic National Convention.” What do you think about that? We had 384 in 1984 when the highest projection prior to the convention was that we would come out with approximately 200.
What will be the impact of Jackson’s candidacy? First, I suggest to you that it will be very difficult for most black people to walk into a polling place and see Jesse Jackson’s name on a ballot and not cast a ballot for him. I suggest to you that black moderates, who in 1983 and ’84 scoffed at a Jackson candidacy, would be extremely hard-pressed to scoff at that same candidacy in 1988.
The essential problem for Rev. Jackson is a problem of get-out-the-vote and get it out in a massive nature. Of course, we know the black church will be available to help him. But it also seems evident that the Democratic Party process will not be effective in attempting to organize.
The next question is how will whites react to the Jackson candidacy? There is something called the Jesse Jackson mystique: on one side of the coin that Jesse was able to bring black people out to vote in a fashion unlike any other politician in the South. But there is a negative side to the mystique, primarily fostered by Democratic politicians, which is damaging to Rev. Jackson’s campaign as well as damaging to the overall democratic process, and that is that Jesse’s involvement in the political process will assure substantial white opposition.
It is possible that as a result of Super Tuesday we will see a redefinition of the term “South.” There will probably be a little South and a big South. The little South will be everything that Jesse wins, the big South will be everything that everybody else wins.
I suggest to you that there are serious rumors afoot that many of the potential candidates will simply give Jesse the little South and will not engage in significant get-out-the-vote, believing that there are two aspects to this campaign; pre-the convention and post-the convention. Pre-the convention they will attempt to ignore the issues of the black community in an effort not to upset the white men. Post- the convention, since they will judge that black folk have nowhere to go, they will expect that blacks will in turn support the Democratic nominee. There will be no discussion about patronage, appointments, restructuring of priorities. There will be little organizational discussion about issues in the black community-in the little South.[Do] you remember the term “brokered convention,” the scenario where there’s no clear winner and there must be negotiation. It is not inconceivable that a Jackson candidacy with four to six hundred delegates, in the absence of a clear candidacy for numerous whites, could develop into a brokered convention. That could mean something substantial, not just for Jackson delegates, but also for the black moderates who may choose to support other candidates.
Jesse, if he is to have a vital candidacy, unfortunately must do well on Titanic Tuesday. Its interesting to know that while the Manatts and the Lances created this evident monster in order to benefit a Southern candidacy, it has in a sense become a linchpin for Rev. Jackson. If he does not do well on Titanic Tuesday, then he will have problems in other parts of the country. On the other hand, because of the likelihood that he will do well, it seems evident that many Democratic party leaders will attempt to downplay the importance of Titanic Tuesday.
It seems unlikely under these circumstances that we
can win. I would suggest to you that Jackson as well as the other blacks who will run on his coattails in legislative, federal, and other races will do certain things.
First of all, they will personalize issues. One of the most interesting aspects of the Mike Espy campaign [See Southern Changes, Vol. 8, No. 6] was the affirmation of issues in a Mississippi campaign. The fact that the farm issue should become a distinct linchpin of a black candidate’s position in the state of Mississippi was indeed unique.
This will not be an unusual tactic in 1988. What should happen and will continue to happen is that blacks will demand their fair share of the political process. I’m really not sure that this Democratic Party is prepared for massive numbers of Southern blacks to feel disaffected as a result of the events occurring at a convention as occurred in 1984. Black people may vote with their feet. They may not come.
It will be essential, I believe, that either we approach the prospect of a brokered convention or that we make demands for specific benefits, specific announcements, specific guarantees, appointments, patronage, and other aspects of the party process if we will effectively play the game in 1988.
Titanic Tuesday, in all likelihood, will be an event that we may never see again. I earnestly believe that we will see a heightening of black participation. We will probably see more black candidates running than ever before. We will probably see black candidates and black leadership in the South defining issues. The important questions for white Southerners and Democratic purists is whether they will join in the redefinition of issues as opposed to the constituency of race.
EDITORS’NOTE: The theme of the 1986 annual meeting of the Southern Regional Council, held in November at a retreat center near Atlanta, was “Electoral Politics and Political Participation in the South: Strategies for the Future.” James Clyburn, South Carolina Commissioner of Human Affairs, and Victor McTeer, a Greenville, Miss., lawyer and Jesse Jackson supporter, were among the panelists at a session considering the potential impact of the 1988 Southwide presidential preference primary. Edited portions of their exchange follow.