No party for old white men: Bernie’s race and gender is a liability in the Democratic primary

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

The Democratic Party is the overwhelming party of choice for minorities: blacks, LGBT, women, the disabled, the poor, the working class and organized labor. It is the party most people of color see themselves reflected in political leadership.

This diversity is precisely why Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Party’s nominee for president in 2016.

As laudable as the platform and campaign efforts of Bernie Sanders are, they just aren’t enough. The nominations and elections of Barack Obama have sealed the fate of Sanders and others like him. Old white men, no matter how progressive, are no longer the default leaders of the Democratic Party. The irony is that Sanders and his progressive white male contemporaries worked very hard decades ago to help make it this way.

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America is on the road to becoming a majority-minority society. This is a reality that most political observers on the right privately acknowledge but publicly deny.

This, by no means, is indicative of a national anti-white political undercurrent. Instead, it is the beginnings of the fulfillment of a vision the grassroots of the Democratic Party set out to make reality in the middle of the 20th century. The party aligned itself with the belief that people of color in the membership should enjoy the same political benefits and influence as its, at the time, liberal white majority.

Sanders, as the Democratic Party’s nominee for the presidency, would represent a form of political regression for many. Even though his populist barn-storming is exciting, it cannot overcome the subconscious hardwiring people of color have had since the Civil War era. One that says “not one step backward,” not even one well-intentioned step.

Blacks and Latinos understand this. As right as Sanders is about Wall Street reform, the need for affordable higher education, and a myriad of other issues — he remains the embodiment of what voters of color have grown impatient and irreversibly at odds with: older white male leadership.

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The recent primary elections provide the best proof of the truth asserted. Sanders won in New Hampshire, and he will win in every contest where a majority of a state’s voters are liberal whites. In states where white liberals still have concentrated power, Sanders is the great white hope.

The American South and the Southwest are a different story. The same could be said for states like New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois and others where garnering a majority of minority votes is synonymous with victory. Look no further than the recent Nevada Caucus. Sanders lost every majority minority area by embarrassingly wide margins. Blacks, and to a slightly lesser degree Latinos, overwhelmingly did not vote for the old white guy. Looking ahead to South Carolina and even further to Super Tuesday, this pattern is not likely to change. It is not personal, and it is not prejudice; it is progress.

Hillary Clinton represents the next step in the staircase of equality within the Democratic Party. Clinton is a woman. Her whiteness aside, the success she is experiencing in primaries dependent on amassing colored votes is due to the incredible thirst minorities have to maintain control of power. She, in the minds of many people of color, is the heir to Obama’s political legacy. Just as any other qualified candidate of color or minority status would have been.

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The inevitability of Hillary Clinton’s nomination is built not on a premise of dynastic political privilege but rather the deep desire of the historically marginalized not to return the reigns of power, even symbolically, to someone who represents a demographic they’ve struggled for so long and so passionately to overcome.

That is not to say that Hillary Clinton has not earned tremendous national political support on her own merits; she clearly has. Both Clinton and Sanders have championed issues that are of great importance to people of color and other minorities. Yet, the fact remains that blacks and Latinos have failed to fully identify with Sanders.

It is not popular or politically correct to identify why this disconnect exists. It is uncomfortable and, arguably, frightening to many white liberals to acknowledge this hard truth. But ignoring it has and will prove fatal to campaigns like Sanders.

The fact of the matter is that the sun is setting, in the Democratic Party, on the desire for nominating or willingness to follow an old white male candidate into a progressive or revolutionary political future. Meanwhile, it is high noon for candidates that are colored, women, or among the historically disenfranchised. As it should be.

The seeds for such a time as this were planted long ago by people, many of them radical left-leaning white people, who understood that might didn’t make right. The hour of the people who once were “sick and tired of being sick and tired” has arrived, and whether they or others are willing to admit it or not, the baton of leadership will not be returned so quickly. Not even to the old white man who says and does everything right.

After his big loss in Nevada, Sanders said we would all still witness one of the biggest political upsets in modern history. His prophetic political observations and instincts are strong. The upset will not be his electoral success but rather the prolonged drama surrounding the last stand of older white male presidential nominees in the Democratic Party. That’s just the way the Sanders and his ilk of the 1960’s wanted it to be when they joined in the call for “freedom now.” Perhaps they just didn’t see it happening so soon.

Rev. Jarrett B. Maupin, Jr. is a civil rights activist, pastor, and member of the Democratic Party. You can follow him on Twitter at @ReverendMaupin.