Much of the political world snickered this week when most of the Democratic presidential candidates announced that they will not participate in the Congressional Black Caucus Institute’s scheduled debate, because the event will be co-sponsored and aired by the Republicans’ Fox News Channel. When the dust settled, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel — arguably the three candidates with the longest odds at winning the nomination — were the only hopefuls who had agreed to attend.
This isn’t necessarily a surprise. Obviously, candidates who are struggling to break through want as much exposure and publicity as they can get.
But Biden ought to know better than to start going down this road.
“The single most important constituency in the Democratic Party — African Americans, led by the Black Caucus, which are the leadership of the black community, asked us to show for a debate and we’re not going to show up?” he said.
“Let me put it this way — if the African American community stayed home or voted Republican, we’re not going to elect another president.”
Kucinich issued a statement this week with similar rhetoric, arguing that Clinton, Edwards, and Obama decided to “snub” the CBC. “This is particularly troublesome because the concerns of African Americans should take precedent over what network is broadcasting the debate,” he said.
Obviously, in the midst of a presidential primary fight, candidates are going to throw the occasional elbow, and score cheap points when they can. And in this case, neither Biden nor Kucinich explicitly accused their rivals of not caring about black people — but they came rather close.
The heart of this flap is whether Democratic candidates, vying for the Democratic nomination, should legitimize the Republicans’ news network. Two-thirds of the field has shown the good sense to effectively tell the CBC Institute, “You picked the wrong co-sponsor.”
If Biden and/or Kucinich want to make the case that Fox News is a perfectly legitimate, credible news outlet, and that Democrats should have no qualms about appearing at a FNC event, fine. Let them make the case.
But instead, they’ve chosen to play the race card. Indeed, Biden’s response to questions about this focused on the role African-American voters play in national elections, as if this were somehow relevant. It was hardly a subtle message — to bypass this debate is necessarily to give the African-American community the cold-shoulder. As Biden and Kucinich see it, they care about black people; their rivals care about Fox News’ partisanship.
This is cheap and they know it.