11/12/2007

Republicans and the Black Vote: Part 2

Today I read that the Democrats would participate in another presidential debate on Martin Luther King Day. The debate, sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus, reminded me of the Republican debate at Morgan State University in September which focused primarily on Black issues and how the four leading Republican presidential candidates did not attend because of "scheduling conflicts." These candidates' absences in turn reminded me of a blog I had written back in August about why Republicans generally had difficulty winning over Black votes. My point in that post was that ethnic minorities view the Republican Party as hostile to their identities and that this feeling that their identities and concerns aren't valued trumps the other issues on which minorities and Republicans may agree.

Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg took this issue to a whole new level in his excellent column addressing Republicans' difficulty winning over Black support. Part of his analysis reminded readers of one of the main reasons why issues like gay marriage, restricting abortion, and faith-based initiatives don't really translate into Black votes even though they may be more likely to agree with Republicans on these very issues:

"On certain social issues, black voters (and Hispanics, for that matter) are more conservative than their white, liberal allies. But that really doesn't matter, since they don't vote on those issues."
A good analogy would be examining why economically depressed rural areas vote Republican even though the Democrats would appear to be a better fit for them because of the social programs they wish to institute. Perhaps to these voters, gun rights and appearing less hostile to Christianity are more important than economic and social policy.

For Blacks, perhaps the single most important issue to them is the issue of racism. And in the minds of many, many Blacks, Republicans are on the wrong side of this issue. This is not to say that Blacks think Republicans are racist. However, they do think Republicans either "don't get it" or are less sympathetic to the "plight" of Blacks as it relates to race relations. For all of Jesse Jackson's and Al Sharpton's flaws, they still wield such tremendous influence over the Black community because civil rights and racism are at the top of their agendas--agendas that they share with millions of Blacks across the nation.

Other issues related to racism that Blacks are likely to think about include addressing reparations for slavery, reassessing the fairness of the death penalty, and most importantly, protecting affirmative action. And that is where Rothenberg makes his key point:
"Though it admittedly is a generalization and there are exceptions, the GOP's fundamental problem is that African-Americans think of the government as a protector and benefactor, while most Republicans (and all conservatives) see government as a problem. As long as that is the case, and specifically as long as affirmative action is an issue, Republican opportunities in the black community are extremely limited."
And therein lies the philosophical disconnect that prevents Republicans from breaking the stranglehold Democrats have on the Black vote. I believe Blacks moved to the Democratic Party in the 1960s as a result of the civil rights movement and President Kennedy's strides for racial equality. Richard Nixon's subsequent "southern strategy" also reminded Blacks of which political party was really looking out for their interests.

To Blacks, the government gave them the right to vote. To Blacks, the government ended segregation. To Blacks, the government gave them workplace protections with the Civil Rights Act. Basically, Blacks largely credit the government with giving them the rights and freedoms they enjoy today. These advances in their quality of life would not have been possible without government intervention and protection.

But it goes beyond race as well. Social Security benefits, welfare benefits, public housing, and public transportation are also extensions of the government. Blacks living in poverty, Blacks living in urban areas who regularly use city buses and trains, and elderly Blacks who no longer work can all cite something from the government that is of use to them. So Rothenberg's assertion is absolutely correct.

To Blacks, the government is indeed a protector. When they hear Republicans talk about "reducing the size of government" and how "big government is not good for America," Blacks interpret that as Republicans wanting to take away the very ally that has helped level the playing field for them and/or makes their lives a bit easier to live on a day to day basis. Blacks like government and often rely on it. Republicans want to reduce its influence. So it should be no surprise why the GOP can't seem to do better than winning 10-15% of the Black vote. This is akin to a gun rights voter being confronted with a politician who wants to institute strict gun control legislation. How do you think that gun-loving voter would respond to this gun-grabbing politician?

Of course, Republicans (especially Black Republicans) argue that the Democratic Party is really hostile to Black interests because it creates a sense of dependency rather than a sense of empowerment. As a Black male, I can appreciate both the Democratic and Republican arguments about the role of government in our lives. Thinking you need the government to help you succeed in life seems self-defeating and is more counterproductive to realizing your full potential than any bit of racism ever could. But at the same time, it can be good to have an entity oversee educational and corporate institutions because not everyone can be trusted to conduct their affairs fairly.

But how many voters actually think about issues in such detail? How many voters actually think about any major political issue in great detail, especially in our current superficial culture of petty soundbytes ("She talks like a dove in Iowa, but she votes like a hawk in Washington."), scare tactics ("The Democrats want to take your guns away!"), sloganeering ("Stay the course."), and oversimplifications ("We should cut off the funding for the war and bring the troops home immediately.").

It is my view that Republicans are not going to win over any substantial Black support unless they can articulate why the Democratic Party's views on the government's role in dealing with racism are counterproductive. Simply saying that the Democratic Party mentally enslaves Blacks or takes their votes for granted is not going to work. Of course, Blacks have a responsibility to seriously think about the issues that galvanize them as well. I think there exists an opportunity for Republicans here because there is a growing chorus of young Black voices saying that people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton don't speak for them. But until Republicans can thoughtfully present their arguments on as to why the GOP may be a better fit for them, I expect even these Blacks who are open to a change in their political loyalties to continue to default to the Democrats.

1 comment(s):

Nikki said...

As a white female who grew up in an extrememly white state (Utah)I really learned a lot form this post. The same rule applies with the Hispanic vote. While Hispanics are traditionally conservative they also tend to vote democratic. Perhaps it is the governmental reliance that keeps them voting left of their personal philosophy. I will continue to read your stuff. I feel like I could learn a lot from you. I may not always agree but I like your knowledged based opinions and informative style.........Nikki

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.