The first debate among Democrats seeking to succeed Barack Obama as president may have been the first time a group of national politicians bragged on television about getting a failing grade.
Speaking in the third person, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders began the show-and-tell by saying in reply to a question from moderator Anderson Cooper regarding his record on guns, “Let’s begin, Anderson, by understanding that Bernie Sanders has a D-minus voting rating from the NRA.”
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, directing his remarks to Sanders, said, “And I have an F from the NRA.”
Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee didn’t have to brag about his grade when it was his turn. Anderson Cooper did it for him: “Gov. Chafee, you have an F-rating from the NRA…”
Cooper also said, “Let me bring in somebody who has a different viewpoint. Senator Webb, your rating from the NRA, you once had an A-rating from the NRA…”
One of the problems with the debate was there was so much back-and-forth on how the National Rifle Association graded the presidential candidates and zero emphasis on the grades they received on issues of primary importance to Blacks.
The NAACP has been compiling legislative report cards since 1914. It explains, “The NAACP Civil Rights Legislative Report Card demonstrates how every Member of Congress voted on the bread and butter civil rights issues and priorities important to the NAACP.”
Sanders, the only Democratic candidate running for president who is still serving in Congress, consistently earned an A, voting with the NAACP’s position on legislative bills 100 percent of the time in each of the four grading periods he has been in the U.S. Senate.
Former First Lady Hillary Clinton, who served as a senator from New York from 2001-2009, also earned straight-As from the NAACP in each full term in the Senate. She voted with the NAACP 100 percent of the time during the 110th Congress, her last before being appointed Secretary of State by President Obama, 96 percent in the 109th Congress, 100 percent in the 108th and 97 percent in the 107th Congress, her first full term.
Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee – who has been a Republican, an Independent and now a Democrat – has been at the opposite end of the spectrum. Serving in the Senate at roughly the same time as Clinton, he earned Fs in every complete session except the 109th Congress when he received a C. He typically voted with the NAACP only 42 to 51 percent of the time.
In the debate, Anderson Cooper reminded Jim Webb, who served as Assistant Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan: “…in 2006, you called affirmative action ‘state-sponsored racism.’ In 2010, you wrote an op/ed saying it discriminated against Whites. Given that nearly half of the Democratic Party is non-White, aren’t you out of step with where the Democratic Party is now?”
Webb tried to defend his remark by saying, “I have always supported affirmative action for African Americans. That’s the way the program was originally designed because of their unique history in this country, with slavery and the Jim Crow laws that followed.”
Webb is the most conservative Democrat running for president. NAACP report cards for the period he served in Congress were not immediately available.
When O’Malley was reminded by Sanders that he hadn’t served in Congress, O’Malley retorted, “Well, maybe that’s a healthy thing.”
CNN gets an unhealthy F when graded on including diverse voices in the questioning of the candidates. For the most part, it was left up to Don Lemon, the Black guy, to raise the “Black question,” though he asked a couple of others, and the Latino guy, Juan Carlos Lopez, to raise the immigration questions.
Fielding questions from thousands of viewers via Facebook, the first question Lemon allowed to be asked was perhaps the most feeble of the night: “My question for the candidates is, do Black lives matter, or do all lives matter?”
Was that the best questioner Lemon could find?
When he got his turn, Juan Carlos Lopez’s questioning was pointed: “Senator Sanders, in 2013, you voted for immigration reform. But in 2007, when Democrats controlled Congress and the Bush White House was onboard, you voted against it. Why should Latino voters trust you when you left them at the alter at the moment when reform was very close?”
It is evident that when it comes to the media – and these presidential debates in particular – Black questions matter.
George E. Curry is President and CEO of George Curry Media, LLC. He is the former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA). He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at twitter.com/currygeorge, George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook, and Periscope. See previous columns at http://www.georgecurry.com/columns.