Andrew Dys

Black voters span entire spectrum of beliefs, ideas

So much has been said and written in the national media the past week about South Carolina's black vote. While it's true that black voters in this state vote more than 90 percent Democratic, and will likely decide Saturday's Democratic primary, these people must think all black voters think alike.

Of course, that is crazy.

Adolphus Belk Jr., professor of political science and African-American studies at Winthrop University, said there is "no monolithic black vote." There are divisions among blacks just like with white voters: Women, age groups, educational levels and social strata all shape voting patterns. Many of the issues facing all voters -- with a plummeting economy at the top -- affect black voters the same ways, he said.

At the Barack Obama campaign event Wednesday in Rock Hill, Harold and Theodora Menefee, retirees, black voters, talked to me at length. They have two grown children and two grandchildren. They have followed the candidates for months, through newspapers, television and in-person events.

Harold Menefee, 68, taught in schools for decades after college and after serving two years in Vietnam. He knows the economic, foreign policy, educational problems facing not just blacks, but all Americans.

The economy: "The economy is maybe the worst since the Great Depression," Harold Menefee said. "Outsourcing of good American jobs to other countries hasn't helped workers here. Corporate greed is at an all-time high. We are being abused by greed."

The war: "There was no doubt when the Iraq war started there were no weapons of mass destruction, and there is no doubt now," he said. "Bush and Cheney knew it and the war must end."

Menefee has traveled in the Middle East and said American-style democracy is not known there and doesn't work there. The idea that America can force its will over there, said Theodora Menefee, just doesn't make sense.

Education: "The will to make education of all children in this country a top priority just hasn't been there," Harold Menefee said.

Theodora Menefee said, "There is no more important investment than in our children and we aren't doing that. All the money spent on a war we shouldn't be in, and our schools are crumbling."

Health care: The idea that almost 50 million Americans lack any health care insurance or coverage at all infuriates both Menefees.

Social issues: The religious right in America, courted by the Republican party, has tried to corner the market on morality, Harold Menefee said. But both Harold and Theodora Menefee said the reality is the religious conservatism among blacks is very strong, the role of the black churches on social issues and family values is important and deep-rooted -- even if blacks don't often vote the same way as white religious conservatives.

Race relations: Both Menefees said they have concerns that any candidates promoting strides in equality in the country, and in this state specifically, should be cautious. There has been progress, Harold Menefee said, but much of the credit for that progress has to be given to the groups that pushed for progress -- civil rights groups, protesters and church groups, not the politicians.

Change: Change is a word used often by candidates Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. "Hillary Clinton is OK if you want the status quo," Harold Menefee said. "We really need change and Obama's change is specific."

Theodora Menefee said the idea of change has resonated even with older black voters, who have ties to the real and perceived successes that blacks had while Bill Clinton was president in the 1990s.

"We do talk about these issues, changes that can benefit not just blacks, but everyone," she said.

Race: "Race is influential, but not to the degree some would suggest," Harold Menefee said. "Race alone is insufficient for me in deciding this important election. What is most important to me is whether the candidate is the best and brightest we have."

For him, that's Obama.

"And it just so happens that he is a black man," he said.