Reaching the Minority Voters

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," September 20, 2004, that was edited for clarity.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: You know, President Bush has never done it; neither has Dick Cheney. John Kerry did it a while ago; and John Edwards just finished doing it.

I’m talking about sitting down with journalists over at Black Entertainment Television's news division for a one-on-one interview with the candidates on how they plan to help minorities in this country.

They all have formal offers from our next guest. He’s Robert Johnson, BET Founder and CEO.

Robert, good to have you.

ROBERT JOHNSON, BET FOUNDER AND CEO: Neil, delighted to be here.

CAVUTO: What are you hearing from either camp?

JOHNSON: Well, we’ve got a commitment from Senator Kerry’s camp, and we’re just working on a date. And we’ve got interest from the president’s camp. We do not have anything approaching a definitive date.

CAVUTO: Now, the president and many Republicans might feel that the audience is stacked against him. How would you respond to that?

JOHNSON: Well, I would think it’s this president’s responsibility to talk to all Americans. And we are offering an opportunity to speak to African-Americans on issues of primary concern to them. He’ll have a chance to answer the questions in his own way, and the voters will be the judge. And I think that’s a fair way to approach this kind of opportunity.

CAVUTO: What do you think, Robert, of Bill Cosby’s comments lately that there’s sort of an anger to the black community either at white America or beyond, that they’ve got to get — and I’m super paraphrasing here, so forgive me — the chip off their shoulder and move on.

What do you think of that?

JOHNSON: Well, Neil, I think it’s right that African-Americans should not look for the government to be the primary source of entitlements and opportunity. We have to be responsible for our own destiny, through hard work, through education and a willingness to take risks.

But, at the same time, when we confront blatant race discrimination or institutionalized racism, we have to point that out and ask the government to address that issue.

And I think both things are necessary. You have to show self-responsibility, and at the same time you’ve got to demand that a government of all the people, truly serve all people.

CAVUTO: But let me ask you. Do you think, as the president mentioned in a speech a couple months ago, that many African-American voters are sort of duped into the Democratic Party.

In other words, that they don’t demand much beyond just the sort of Pavlovian response to just voting Democrat, that the Democratic Party actually prove they’re not taking advantage of this voting bloc.

JOHNSON: I don’t think the African-Americans are by any stretch of the imagination duped by the Democrats. I think the African-Americans find a situation where they are somewhat taken for granted by the Democrats and totally ignored by the Republicans.

I think it would be in the president’s best interest to make this simple outreach to talk to African-Americans and make the case for the Republicans believing in an open tent, believing in opportunities within the party and believing in the Republicans’ philosophy have finding a real audience among African-Americans.

And at the same time, I think the Democrats have to continue to address issues for the African-American to make sure that they get the votes turned out and to get the support that they expect to have.

CAVUTO: But do you think though, Robert, that many Democratic Party officials do take the black vote for granted? They assume it’s a given. Where else are they going to go? So they assume that you’re in their pocket.

JOHNSON: Yes, I think there are some parts of the Democratic Party that feel that when we come down to an issue where we have to make a choice between coming down hard on an African-American issue or one that might be more for the independent voter or the so-called Reagan Democrats, they will tend to shade the African-American issue so as not to alienate the swing voters.

I think that’s wrong. If I’m delivering 85 to 87 percent of my vote every year, I should get the 87 percent the kind of support coming back.

CAVUTO: But you don’t. You don’t.

JOHNSON: I know. That’s the problem, and I don’t think that pattern can continue in a way that African-Americans are going to go turning out every year, throwing their support totally behind the Democratic Party.

And the Democratic Party has been a good friend of the African-American vote, but you just can’t be...

CAVUTO: If you’re George Bush, right, and you know that the expectation of a number of your African-American constituents is to look to the government for more help or aid, and you as a candidate or party aren’t for that, an economic improving economy will lift all boats. And you don’t buy the notion that the government should actively get involved in providing programs and that sort of thing, that’s intrinsically opposed to many people in your community, right?

JOHNSON: But Neil, if you believe that, and I know the president, and I think he believes that. And I believe he can make that case to African-Americans. And that’s why we extended him the opportunity to come on BET.

I think he can make a case for privatization of Social Security. I was on his Social Security commission.

CAVUTO: That’s right.

JOHNSON: I support that. I think he can make a case for eliminating the estate tax for — among many small business African-Americans and other wealthy African-Americans.

CAVUTO: Who are you for, Bob? Who are you for?

JOHNSON: I don’t think it’s important who I’m for in this particular case, because I’m here advocating...

CAVUTO: You’re for Senator Kerry, right?

JOHNSON: Well, I’m here advocating an opportunity on BET in a fair and journalistic way for both candidates, Senator Kerry and for President Bush to come before African-Americans and speak to issues that will cause them to make a determination on November 2, where they want to vote. And I think that’s the important way to do it in the country.

CAVUTO: OK, Robert, always a pleasure having you, thanks for coming on.

JOHNSON: Delighted, Neil.

CAVUTO: Robert Johnson of BET.

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