Saturday, March 19, 2005

Republicans and the Black Vote

Why won't the vast majority of Black people even consider voting Republican today? What can the GOP do about it? By way of preface, I've done a lot of research and a ton of dialogue on this question. Here we go:

Even though the Democratic Party didn't elect its first Black congressman until 1935 (the Republicans' first Black congressman was in 1869), the hugely popular Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the Black vote away, starting in 1932 during the Great Depression, and it can't be surprising to Republicans that he did. With World War II breaking out in 1939-41, circumstances and his leadership in both peace and war made FDR an irresistible force of nature.

Still, most would be surprised that Richard Nixon got a maybe third of the Black vote in 1960.

It was 1964 candidate Barry Goldwater's support of "states' rights" in opposition to the Civil Rights Act that sank the GOP share to a shocking 3%.

The Dixiecrats' bolt to the GOP sealed the deal. The Republican Party was now the home of American racism.

Black folk know what's what---getting them to vote Republican again is not a matter of technique or championing cosmetic issues.

(Although make no mistake---affirmative action is an article of near-religious faith. Payback is owed, if not for slavery, then for Jim Crow. If not for Jim Crow, then for its residue which must be admitted continues to this day. To be against it, regardless of how principled the opposition [states' rights again, anyone?], is to be anti-Black, case closed.)

Frederick Douglass said the best thing whites can do is leave Black folk alone. Bush largely does that, engaging only the churchmen. He upped his share of the Black vote to 11% in 2004, mostly from Black evangelicals.

But the GOP still shows its tin ear when it associates itself with Rev. Jesse Peterson and Armstrong Williams. When Black folk draw up lists of Uncle Toms (and they do), Peterson and Williams are consistently at the top.

Surveys show that the younger the Black voter, the less married he is to the Democratic Party. The sea change won't really happen until those who came of age in the 60s die off.

Strom Thurmond finally kicking the bucket helped. But Trent Lott, with just a few ill-chosen words, perpetuated the Dixiecrat legacy and remains a symbolic liability. And the Armstrong Williams debacle, especially in its sneakiness, was a bigger disaster than white GOPers can conceive.

The Democrats don't really walk the walk; Black people, even Farrakhan, know that Democrat policies have decimated them. But Black folk were happy enough that The First Black President could talk the talk. That's a sign of respect.

Until and unless the GOP learns how to show that respect, and takes the trouble to learn who's who and what's indeed what, best we restrict ourselves to going about our colorblind business, leave Black folk alone and quit with the clumsy and frankly lazy attempts to woo them, and bank on the attrition of the (very loud) 60s crowd and, ultimately, the strength of our ideas.

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