Pastor: Clinton, Obama Should Focus on White Male Vote

The Rev. Floyd Flake is a former Democratic U.S. congressman and pastor of Greater Allen AME Church in Jamaica, Queens. Flake explains his recent Op-Ed for the New York Daily News, in which he suggests that the Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama should pay more attention to the white male vote.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, back talk from you, our listeners. And, while South Carolina voters are about to go to the polls, we find out what other attractions the state has to offer.

But first, much has been made in this political season about Democratic voters weighing questions of loyalty to either race or gender when making their choice about who will get their party's presidential nomination. The candidates themselves have all sworn that their campaigns are not focused on categories -blacks, whites, Latinos, women, and voters are certainly free to judge the truth of that or not. But an opinion piece in the New York Daily News this week by the Reverend Floyd Flake, a former Democratic congressman and a leading practitioner of faith-based community building, warned the leading candidates that there is one category they ignore at their peril and that's white men. Reverend Flake joins us now from WLRN in Miami. Rev. Flake, welcome. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us.

Rev. FLOYD FLAKE (Pastor, Greater Allen AME Church): Thank you, Michel. It's happy to be on the show.

MARTIN: And we should mention upfront that you've endorsed Hillary Clinton for president and without - if I can get you not to filibuster, if I could just ask to tell us just briefly why. I know she's your senator, but why else?

Rev. FLAKE: Well, because over the years from '92, I've had to deal with the Clintons and that was - by senator, she's there. They have been a major part of the empowerment of my community. As you know, I've built homes and built senior housing, and all of the things that I need to have access to government for. So there is a demonstrated record of a capability of empowering urban communities. And if you know my community, what it was and what it is, a lot of it happened because of my relationship to the Clintons, and I do believe that that will continue if she's in the White House.

MARTIN: Okay, well, thank you for that. So, let's talk about your piece. Race and gender certainly taking center stage over the past week or so. You say in your piece that Democrats need to eclipse the white noise - your words - of a nihilistic identity campaign. So, certainly, your church is coming out there, but why is it nihilistic if those issues are important to people?

Rev. FLAKE: Well, it's nihilistic when you begin to compartmentalize it in such a way that you cause rifts and the groupings that are necessary to come together to make a political process and effective one and a victorious one. And when you look at the elections, and - from 1980s when Reagan came in, until now, 70 percent of those elections have been won by a white Republican male. And the reality is that we cannot afford to continue to ignore the group that generally is responsible for the election and that is the white male. And we act as if they don't exist, and the reality is, if they're not a part of this process, by the time you get to the southern states, what you realize is that they are not coming out and voting for Democrats, and regardless of what color or what gender they are. And we cannot afford to just past them over, ignore them and act as if they don't exist.

MARTIN: Is your concern practical or political? That this is bad for the country or just bad for Democrats to ignore a white male?

Rev. FLAKE: I think it's bad for the country and bad for Democrats. I think in the final analysis, if you cannot have some balance in the process, where it's measured, not only of bipartisanship, but reality of what it takes to be able to have a cross-cultural kind of leadership, where a person feels responsible and accountable to all people. We're not going to have success once that person makes it in to the White House.

MARTIN: Some people might argue that the Democratic Party already caters to the white male vote. Issues like gun control, most Democrats have walked away from that issue, even though if you ask the voters, most voters supported strongly that not talking about poverty, although John Edwards is talking a lot about poverty this year, not…

Rev. FLAKE: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: …talking about poverty is a way that - in fact, some would argue and I don't where you are on this, that the Democratic Party's sort of hesitation on the matter of the Iraq war, it's sort of divisions is in part that - they can't really find their voice on Iraq because they're so concerned about the white male vote. But what do you say to that?

Rev. FLAKE: Well, what I say to that is that the reality is that it's really not about gun control, not about gay rights, not about abortion. The real issue is about economics. I think for the average white male, because they had so much of control of the economy of the nation, that there is the center of our economics. You rarely hear a Democratic candidate really talk seriously about an economic agenda. And if we don't build around an economic agenda, all of the other stuff seems to kind of fall off the plate when it comes time for the general election. And we must realize that begun, this primary season, there is a general election and if we don't begin to focus early, then it's almost too late to get into the game for the general, and have a possibility of winning it.

MARTIN: What efforts do you have that it is possible to create that kind of unifying coalition? I mean, some people might argue that this is just where elections are these days. They're built on coalitions and you win on the margins. So what evidence do you have? Is there - do you have a role model or template for a person who's put together the kind of message that you feel does appeal across all these lines that is unifying?

Rev. FLAKE: The truth of the matter is I don't see anyone in this particular race that is able to reach across all lines. John McCain might do the best because he does not seem to be locked into just the one centrist idea about what it means to be the leader, but there are other issues, which I think would preclude the possibility of his being able to be as effective as some of the other candidates in this race.

MARTIN: What about Mike Huckabee? He's a minister, as are you. He's a lot like you in some ways. I mean, he's a minister, he's been in public life, in elected life, as have you. Do you think he has any appeal to - particularly, the communities that you serve most closely?

Rev. FLAKE: Well, the difference between myself and Mike Huckabee is that we're both ministers, but Mike Huckabee is exclusively partisan. I am partisan to Democratic ideas, but I'm also able to reach across the aisle and deal with the reality that, if you're going to be successful, you have to have the ability to have relationships on both sides. I have not known that to be a part of Mike Huckabee's existence in the political process and I don't think that he will find it easy to do it once he's elected, because he is running on an agenda that's pretty narrow.

MARTIN: Okay. What's next for you? What are you going to be doing in this campaign? Are you going to be campaigning actively for Senator Clinton? Just briefly.

Rev. FLAKE: Yes, I'm in Miami, doing a (unintelligible) conference today and then I fly out of here and go down to South Carolina for the next several days, and work on the campaign a bit, and then back to church Sunday to preach.

MARTIN: And what are you preaching about?

Rev. FLAKE: Oh, I'm preaching about - my Sunday message is encouraging words for discouraged people from First Peter. You can check it out in the Bible and you'll find that there is excitement about life, even if you don't have all of the things that you believe you need. But God has the ability to supply it.

MARTIN: All right. Well, thank you for that. Reverend Floyd Flake is senior pastor at the Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church in Jamaica, Queens. He's also a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Congressman, reverend, educator, all of that. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Rev. FLAKE: Thank you, Michel. Thank you for the invitation.

(Soundbite of music)

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