We become more conservative as we get older, according to an old adage. I don’t quite buy that. I feel as though I’ve been staying pretty much the same while younger generations have moved further left — or, as the current jargon puts it, they’ve become “woke.”
For example, take my son. Please.
Just kidding. I’m not about to disown him. In his own way, he is living up to the obligation that every generation’s members feel to occasionally outrage their elders.
Thanks to him, our family fits a profile that media and pollsters have detected in many African American families like ours: Older folks who have helped former Vice President Joe Biden to reign at the top of the polls among black
voters, and their millennial children and grandchildren who prefer someone like, say, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, whom they view as more woke or, at least, closer to woke than former President Barack Obama’s running mate.
Last week, Warren actually pulled ahead of Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for the first time in a major poll of likely caucusgoers. The new Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll released Sept. 21 shows those three, out of the teeming multitude of Democratic candidates, as the only three to achieve double digits in the poll.
That follows a poll of black voters released Sept. 17 from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal that shows Warren making important gains among African Americans, a constituency that has been slow to warm to her. Although the poll showed her coming in second place with 13% to Biden’s commanding 49%, that’s a big jump from the 8% Warren received in a similar poll taken in July.
Others, including the two African American candidates, Sens. Kamala Harris, of California and Cory Booker, of New Jersey, remained in single digits.
Black votes matter, particularly to Democrats who have received 90% or more of the black vote in presidential elections since the mid-1960s. Black turnout dipped 7% in 2016, after hitting historic heights for Obama, a difference that cost Hillary Clinton crucial electoral votes and gave victory to Donald Trump.
Although black voters are a small percentage of Iowa caucusgoers or New Hampshire voters, they’re a big percentage in South Carolina, which comes next. Obama, you may recall, was beaten by Clinton by almost 2-to-1 in early polls of black voters in 2008 until he won the Iowa caucuses that year, which set him up for a pivotal victory later in South Carolina.
That’s why, as much as it has become a running gag to say that Biden name-checks Obama with almost every breath he takes, he owes much of his dominance in polls, so far, to the familiarity that Democratic voters feel about him. Among black voters aged 65 and older, for example, a recent Morning Consult poll found two-thirds preferred Biden.
But among younger and woke black voters in particular, the middle-of-the-road Biden has problems. Younger black voters, like my son, are more likely than their elders to populate the liberal party’s most progressive wing and, like young folks everywhere, demand ideological purity in an imperfect world.
My son, for example, bashes Biden for sponsoring the 1994 crime bill that many blame for accelerating mass incarceration, locking up a disproportionate number of black men and women.
I come back with memories of how Biden was joined in that effort by numerous other lawmakers,
including prominent black
Democratic lawmakers and other community leaders who were alarmed by the drug wars and other violence that seemed to rage out of control at the time. My son bashes Biden for working with southern segregationist Democrats years ago on the Senate Judiciary Committee. I come back with the unexciting reality that, to get things done in Congress, you sometimes have to work with those with whom you disagree.
And my son bashes Biden for opposing school busing policies that were imposed on his Delaware constituency years ago. I come back with memories of how a lot of black people were lukewarm or flatly opposed to having their children bused across town in efforts that too often led to resegregation, instead of using money to improve everybody’s schools.
If that makes me sound conservative, it is only because in my anecdotage I have discovered some things that I would like to conserve — including the old-school value of being able to disagree on some things without being disagreeable about everything. It’s worth keeping, kids.