Biden and the Black Vote: More Than a Matter of Faith

If he runs for President, will Joe Biden have to dance the 'Nae Nae' to capture the African-American vote?

Or, does he have to get 'The Nod' from his boss and buddy Barack Obama to be considered by black voters?

My answer is NO to both questions because each assumes that African-Americans need to be entertained or led to the ballot box. We are indeed capable of making informed decisions based on our needs and issues. Additionally, after over 200 years of continuously fighting for our voting rights, we do not want to be pandered to, or have our support taken for granted.

As our black political leaders gather this week in D.C. for the Congressional Black Caucus' annual legislative conference, attendees will no doubt be courted by the 2016 presidential candidates and their surrogates. They are all aware the African-American vote looms large in the 2016 election, just as it did in 2008 and 2012.

Earlier this year, Amy Walter and David Wasserman wrote a piece in the Cook Political Report describing African-American voters as 'The Overlooked Key To 2016'. They concluded:

It's tough to overstate just how critical black voters have become to today's Democratic coalition, particularly when it comes to the Electoral College. Deconstructing exit poll data from 2012, African-American voters accounted for Obama's entire margin of victory in seven states: Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Without these states' 112 electoral votes, Obama would have lost decisively. African-Americans also accounted for almost all of Obama's margin in Wisconsin. All of these states, except Maryland, will be crucial 2016 battlegrounds.

The article was written in early summer, before the Sanders surge and prior to strong indications that Biden might enter the race. Clinton was the presumed nominee with their conclusion being, "The key to 2016 may be whether Hillary Clinton and Democrats can motivate African-Americans to turn out in just as big numbers without Barack Obama on the ballot."

Then, as now, there is the assumption that Hillary Clinton has a lock on the black vote, however this may not be the case. There doesn't seem to be a lot of enthusiasm for her campaign coming from the black community. The same can be said of Bernie Sanders, although he has recently started to make legitimate efforts to introduce himself to the African-American electorate and better understand black issues.

Of course, we have a long way to go before the primary and general elections, and Clinton or Sanders may indeed secure black voters. But will either have the emotional connection with the black community that is required to produce the turnout that Obama inspired?

Can Obama's chosen Vice President, whom he recently said was the best political decision of his life, inspire enthusiasm among black voters?

Joe Biden will also be at the Black Caucus, fueling the speculation that he will soon be announcing a run for the Presidency. The question is: Will African-Americans take a 'faith walk' with Joe Biden? Will he be a viable alternative for black voters?

To many, Biden is the rightful heir to the Obama legacy and the one most likely to continue the President's agenda. Nevertheless, he will have to defend the administration policies, as well as his own voting record, to the black community - including those that have become disillusioned with the political process. As a black woman said to me recently, "For us Biden is a 'known, unknown.' We all know who he is, and that he supports the President, but we need to get to know him better."

Don't get me wrong. I have no doubt that an endorsement from the President will signal to the black electorate that this is someone who will carry forth his policies. However, Joe Biden, should he run for president, will have to make his own case to African-Americans.

To his credit, Biden, in addition to his stellar civil rights record, is already seen as authentic and not known for posturing or being poll-driven. His recent well-received appearance on the Stephen Colbert show displayed his ability to relate to the everyday person. For me, it reiterated what I expressed in an earlier article where I asked: Is Joe Biden the Uniter that we need? In the article I stated:

Biden has faced grief and knows that family and faith are more important than political posturing. Yet, after decades in the Senate and over six years as Vice President, he also knows the importance of standing up for the needs of everyday Americans and working with those who disagree with him.

Biden's emotional interview displayed his humanity and from all appearances, he is the rare politician who fosters compromise by stressing our commonalities rather than our differences. But more important, he honestly discussed his challenges and concerns regarding his family and his faith -- important themes in the black community.

During the interview, Biden bared his soul in a way not often seen in the political world. He discussed the importance of his faith saying:

I go to mass, and I'm able to be just alone even in a crowd. You're alone. I say the rosary. I find it to be incredibly comforting.What my faith has done is it sort of takes everything about my life, with my parents and my siblings and all the comforting things.

And all the good things that have happened have happened around the culture of my religion and the theology of my religion, and I don't know how to explain it more than that.

African-Americans, many of whom having grown up within the culture of the black church, can relate to this description of faith. It is not a judgmental, "holier-than-thou" type of belief. Instead, Biden's is the faith of a man who's been torn, twisted, and tested, and doesn't know if he has the strength to withstand too much more. African-Americans can relate to this. It is our story in America.

Biden, in his honestly, also spoke of when faith leaves us. This speaks to younger members of the black community who struggle to hold on to the faith of their ancestors while facing the injustices of today.

As a people, African-Americans have learned to keep "getting-up" in spite of never ending battles for basic voting, civil and human rights. Black parents still demand that our children be able to walk down any street in America without being accosted. We want our children to receive quality education and the opportunities afforded all in this country. These issues must be addressed by all of the candidates for president - Joe Biden included. As stated in the book of James: "faith without works is dead."

During the Colbert interview, Biden described relating to a note left on his mirror by his wife which quoted philosopher Kierkegaard's: "Faith sees best in the dark." These have indeed been dark times for Joe Biden and in his demeanor we see a man who is wrestling with God.

For as much as he wants to honor the wishes of his late son - who before he died asked his father to run -- Joe Biden, as a man of faith, understands the decision is between himself and God. Either he is called to do this, or he isn't.

I believe if he enters the race for president, Biden will be supported by many in the black community and he won't have to dance to earn their votes.

However, if Joe Biden does run, he will have to meet the black voter at the intersection of faith and action. We'll be waiting.

"We've come this far by faith
Leaning on the LORD
Trusting in His Holy Word
He never failed me yet
Oh' can't turn around
We've come this far by faith"
From the Black Spiritual "We've Come this Far by Faith"

Linnie Frank (Bailey) describes her personal faith walk in her book: This Far by Faith: How to Put God First in Everyday Life (Randomhouse)