This election year, more than any other in recent U.S. history, has changed the national discourse for many people. With one White female candidate and one Black male candidate, the national interest in all things politics has grown to a peak level.
But in this year of political change, some things stay the same. It appears, at least for some presidential candidates, that the issues and constituency of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) are not pertinent.
In the lead up to U.S. presidential elections, the NAACP, like many other interest groups, worked with leading civil society organizations to prepare a questionnaire on issues of public policy important to their communities. The responses were to be reproduced and distributed to the NAACP members and communities so that they could make informed decisions when going to the polls.
No single Republican Party candidate took the time to reply. Sens. Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton both completed the NAACP survey. In brief, but concise answers, Obama and Clinton addressed most of the top domestic issues, as well as issues that affect the African Diaspora such as, the genocide in Sudan, African debt relief, U.S. relations with Cuba and the issue of African and Caribbean trade development. I am struck today by the fact that not one Republican candidate took the time to respond to the questionnaire at all.
Does this mean that the issues of people of African descent are not pertinent to our leading Republican presidential candidates? Does it mean that that issues of political, educational, social, racial, and economic equality and the need to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination are not a priority for a potential Republican president in 2008?
Perhaps it is because the NAACP cannot endorse a candidate? Perhaps it is due to the overwhelming number of questionnaires, forums and other events sponsored by special interest groups on the candidate's dockets?
Many interest groups from the Human Rights Campaign to the League of Conservation Voters issue candidate questionnaires. These groups also face the reality that many candidates in both parties neglect to respond to the concerns of their constituents. But the NAACP is different from most human rights organizations. Its history demands recognition from the presidential candidates from both sides of the aisle.
According to professor of public policy and political analyst Michael Fauntroy, author of Republicans and the Black Vote, "Presumptive Republican nominee John McCain's decision to ignore the NAACP – in its survey and its candidates forum during its 2007 convention – coupled with skipping the Tavis Smiley-PBS forum at Morgan State University in September 2007 will be duly noted by Black voters."
In an election year when race has been called a "non-issue issue" the issues that face African descendants around the world are very much an issue and the Republican Party has elected not to address them to the world's leading civil rights organization and its constituents. Despite the fact that these issues are vital to the majority of U.S. Americans, regardless of political party affiliate, for the Republican presidential frontrunners, the NAACP is as passé as hanging chads.
Whatever the reason, for many who see the NAACP and its constituents as a litmus organization on issues pertaining to rights and equality, the lackluster engagement by the Republicans raises eyebrows.
For African descendants in the United States — whether they immigrated over the last 100 years from Latin America, the Caribbean or the African Continent or they are the descendants of enslaved Africans brought to the United States over 300 years ago—there is widespread recognition that racial and ethnic factors are a constant undercurrent of the U.S. political debate.
Many political pundits have swept aside the implications of what it means to essentially ignore a powerhouse like the NAACP and have instead opted for an ongoing discourse about "Post-Racial Politics" in the United States.
The Republican Party ignoring the NAACP questionnaire will be a constant reminder that the Grand Old Party is just that. This issue will come back to bite the Republicans in November.
Nicole C. Lee is the executive director of TransAfrica Forum