The Plight of Black Republicans

Black Republicans are a rare breed. About 85% of the Black vote goes to Democrats, so they are perhaps the most reliable voting bloc in America. Blacks' loyalty to the Democratic Party stems from several factors:

1. Black voters tend to view the government as a protector, rather than an obstacle. This automatically places Blacks at odds with Republican conservatism, which advocates less government regulation and intervention. Protecting affirmative action, redress for civil rights violations, and government programs for the poor have wide support among Black voters. The government is not the enemy, as it gave them the right to vote. When they hear Republicans talk about entitlement reform and limiting government's influence, Blacks view these Republicans as a threat.

2. Blacks question Republicans' interest in their problems and their communities. Democratic politicians are far more likely to venture into their neighborhoods and listen to their concerns. Republicans are more likely to "hunt where the ducks are" and avoid campaigning for Black votes because they feel they could make better use of their time and money elsewhere. This may have worked with relative success thus far, but it betrays the notion of the Republicans' "big tent" and is not a viable long term strategy because of the nation's changing demographics. While winning a majority of Black votes is probably out of the question for Republicans, winning about 20% of the vote could make a huge difference in a competitive state like Missouri or Michigan.

3. Blacks sense a double standard when it comes to holding people accountable for racial insensitivities, racist behaviors, and the transgressions of members of their own race. When a prominent Black person says something ridiculous, Whites commonly call on Blacks to denounce the remarks. But when a White person says or does something equally stupid or offensive, the outrage among Whites is comparatively muted or the offensive remark or act is somehow explained away. And because there are so few people of color who are Republicans, the Republican Party has come to be synonymous with the "White party." So while many Blacks may actually agree with some parts of the Republican platform, they view the Republican Party as a hostile party.

Nevertheless, there is a small, but significant cadre of Black Republicans: Amy Holmes, J.C. Watts, Condoleeza Rice, Ken Hamblin, and Clarence Thomas are some of the most prominent Blacks who don't fall into the same crowd as Michael Dyson, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton. These Republicans are pro-self-reliance, pro-life, and pro-entrepreneurial. And as the number of Blacks entering the middle class rises, the less appealing the same old arguments about "the government keeping people down" and "the government not giving people a fair shake" become, thus making conservatism get a second look.

Barack Obama's candidacy has presented a conundrum for these Blacks, however. Armstrong Williams and Colin Powell are two of the latest high profile Black Republicans to publicly state that they were at least considering voting for Obama. Even though they may not have much in common with the liberal senator from Illinois, they do think he may be able to help their communities in a way that the Republican Party has failed to do so thus far.

Obama's story is an example of the conservative story. He was not born into a wealthy family, and he did not have "friends" in high places to take care of him regarding getting a job or getting into school. And now he is the first person of color to have a real shot at winning the presidency. All Blacks, regardless of ideology, want to look at Obama and tell their children that anything is possible if they work hard for it. Seeing a dark-skinned man addressed as "Mr. President" will mean far more to a Black child or Black teenager than any rhetoric (even if from a Black person) about "personal responsibility" and "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps."

While these Republican voters are indeed conservative, they are also Black. And they do not want to see their communities fail. Republican outreach in Black communities has been abysmal. At least the Democrats show up, even if their ideas are not necessarily what's in their best interests. Many of Hillary Clinton's supporters want to teach the Democratic National Committee a lesson by voting for John McCain. Many Republicans want to teach John McCain a lesson by voting for the Libertarian or Constitution Party nominee. And because of the poor track record Republicans have with courting the Black vote (such as the "scheduling conflicts" that prevented so many Republican presidential candidates from participating in the debate on Black issues last fall), many Black Republicans are considering giving their votes to Obama. After all, Democrats are not the ones who are using his
middle name as an instrument of fear.

At this point, a lot of people would criticize these Black conservatives for "voting for Obama just because he's Black." But if John McCain is able to attract votes from White Democrats without anyone saying anything, why can't Barack Obama attract votes from Black Republicans? Whites have been voting for Whites for centuries without anybody calling them out on it, so why is it such a big deal with Obama?

If you are Black and you support Obama, it's because he's Black. (And you're a racist.)

If you are White and you don't support Obama, it's because he's Black. (And you're a racist.)

If you are White and you support Obama, it's because he's Black. (And you're a racist who's trying to prove that you aren't.)

If you are Black and you don't support Obama, it's because he's Black. (And you're trying to prove that race doesn't matter by voting against him.)

So it would seem that nobody can support or oppose Obama at all without their motives being questioned.

People seem to ignore the fact that people simply tend to vote for people who are like them. And for better or worse, race is just another dimension by which people can assess one's commitment to "people like them." Even though the differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were minimal, Obama got routed in Appalachia. And Clinton got routed in the South. Republicans routinely beat Democrats among Christians, males, wealthy voters, and Whites. Democrats usually outperform Republicans among women, young voters, poor voters, and people of color.

While Barack Obama might not have much in common with Black Republicans in terms of his policies on national defense, taxes, or immigration, they may conclude that he is very much like them in terms of his commitment to the Black community. Their ideologies might not overlap much, but their concerns for their children and their communities do. This is not to say that the Republican Party does not care about Blacks, but that perception will remain until the GOP acquits itself though actual deeds. And that may very well explain why Black Republicans are up for grabs this fall.

10 comment(s):

S.W. Anderson said...

AP, I read the following several times and I stiil don't understand it:

"And as the number of Blacks entering the middle class rises, the less appealing the same old arguments about 'the government keeping people down' and 'the government not giving people a fair shake' become, thus making conservatism get a second look."

If your point is that, as they become more affluent, African Americans are more likely to buy into conservative nostrums, then I would think the arguments middle-class African Americans would find more appealing would about government making people dependent on handouts, and taxing too high to be able to do that.

S.W. Anderson said...

I notice you didn't mention Republicans' Southern Strategy, which I think is essential to any understanding of where African Americans stand regarding the Republican Party, and vice versa. The strategy is very much a deal that has kept the solid South a region Republicans don't have to compete hard for and spend big bucks to defend at election time.

In return, Republicans in Congress and the White House oppose aid to inner cities, affirmative action and a whole list of other things generally helpful to African Americans. When Democrats try to do things helpful in these areas, Republicans almost always vote them down, or try to. Or a president like the Bushes or Reagan vetoes the legislation. Just ask those in the Black Congressional Caucus.

Even most affluent African Americans must look at those deeds and turn away from the GOP in disgust.

Another thing that bears mentioning is Republicans two-facedness. Toward the end of his term as RNC chairman three or four years ago, Ken Mehlman made a big pitch to attract African Americans to his party.

In doing that, Mehlman didn't mention, and when interviewed about this enterprise wasn't asked, about Republican efforts in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and elsewhere to suppress the black vote. The tactics were ugly and unconcionable, and he should've been called on them.

Then there was Republicans' funding and otherwise supporting Al Sharpton's presidential run in '04. They had Sharpton pegged as a totally irresponsible, garrulous flake who would end up making a spectacle of himself in the candidate debates, embarrassing Democrats generally. Republicans also thought Sharpton's participation would send a message to bigoted whites that the Democratic Party is the party of Sharpton troublemakers. To their shock, I'm sure, Sharpton campaigned intelligently and responsibly. He handled himself with dignity and good humor in the debates, representing Democrats and African Americans well.

My point, though, is how do any African Americans line up with Republicans after an attempted, intended dirty trick like that?

Then, there's the matter of how Colin Powell was treated during his unhappy time as part of the Bush administration. Powell had a wealth of experience and policy-making savvy, yet he was treated as if he was an empty suit. Bush and his inner circle neither trusted nor wanted Powell's input on anything. As far as policy making, forget it.

I credit the overwhelming majority of African Americans of all economic levels with being aware of which party engages in things like those I've mentioned, and aligning themselves accordingly. And rightly so.

As far as conservative African Americans having no place to go, I'm sure they can at least get a fair hearing within the last true big-tent party, the Democratic Party. That has to be better than signing up to be token-black showpieces in the party that can't do enough to discourage or prevent other African Americans from even voting.

Thomas said...

I think what Anthony meant by that statement was that as an individual black person becomes successful, they can look to their own life as proof that the government isn't trying to keep them down. This is akin to what Mike Huckabee said about Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Huckabee said Wright needed Obama to fail in his quest for the presidency because that would show how racist this country really is.

I am not sure if this has been pointed out but all the people mentioned by Anthony as prominent Black Republicans were appointed to their positions. The Republicans seem to have the idea that they can appoint a few Blacks to prominent positions to show as examples of their inclusiveness. This method could also be somewhat seen in their drafting of Lynn Swann to run for governor of Pennsylvania in 2006.

A better method approach by Republicans would be a ground-up approach. Go out and meet members of the Black middle class and encourage to run for local and state offices. Build up your pool of Black candidates for future Senate and Presidential runs.

The Lynn Swann candidacy struck me as very clumsily handled. I liked Lynn Swann as a football player but what had he done to deserve to be governor besides being a Hall of Fame football player.

Anthony Palmer said...


Thomas's interpretation of the passage you quoted is what I was trying to say. As Blacks rise into the middle class, they can tell their peers "Look at me--I'm successful. I made it. It is possible for someone like me to be successful in this country." This contradicts a lot of the race-baiting that Democrats are guilty of doing, as if Democrats NEED Blacks to feel the government is against them in order to keep Blacks in their political corner.

As for the Southern Strategy, I remember writing about that a few months ago, but I don't remember when unfortunately so I can't find the link. But yes, Nixon laid the blueprint for it and it was perfected by people like Jesse Helms. Blacks remember that stuff. And Southern Whites do too. This is probably the most obvious reason why Blacks don't vote Republican, but I would like to think that the nation has progressed just enough so that this type of race-baiting and fearmongering has lost a bit of its influence.

Thanks for the comment.



You make a very good point about rising through the ranks vs. being a token or a figurehead. After JC Watts retired, there was no longer a single Black Republican in Congress. I do think Blacks can see through the tokenism and photo ops, and I'm not sure if they are more offended by the notion of being used that way or by the idea that Republicans think that's the best way to go about earning their votes.

Good discussion.

S.W. Anderson said...

Thomas, thanks for the assist. I get it. And, your observation about the mentioned blacks being appointees is something I hadn't realized.

AP, I almost fell over when I read, "As Blacks rise into the middle class, they can tell their peers 'Look at me--I'm successful. I made it.'"

Last night I published a post, "Fathers in name only can ruin lives" which drew a pretty negative comment from a conservative reader. His comment hit on efforts of the kind Barack Obama made working with Chicago's poor as perpetuating the poor's problems. I wrote in response, in part:

"By his presence and efforts in behalf of Chicago’s poor, in addition to whatever work Obama accomplished there, he made a potentially powerful statement: 'Look, I grew up in modest circumstances, but by studying, working and hanging in there, I made it. If I can do that, you can too.'”

Let me add one thing about the conservative/Republican put-down of Democrats' programs and policies to help the poor, black and otherwise.

Over the years it's become clear many of the programs and policies needed modification or in some cases needed to be scrapped and replaced with something better. I've long felt more small-scale experimentation should be done to learn what works, and how, and why. And having learned that, policies and programs that prove truly helpful should be scaled up and applied broadly across the country.

But going at it that way requires a lot more legislative oversight and time. It requires a lot more executive-branch oversight and time, plus a willingness that's conspicuously absent during our many Republican administrations. Going at it that way also requires that bureaucrats be willing to admit what they've been doing for months or years isn't working, and for people in Congress who authorized and funded the so-so or failed program to admit it isn't worthwhile also.

That kind of admission is hard to do in any case, but it becomes completely impractical because Republicans always demagogue the failures and any admissions of failure for political advantage. Republicans do that both to discredit the whole idea of government acting to alleviate and end poverty, and to discredit Democratic officholders they want to replace at election time.

So, when a program underperforms or fails you don't get the kind of rigorous review, the ability to make changes on the fly or go back to the drawing board and start over. Democrats in Congress don't want to admit it's a failure and lay themselves open. They also probably look on a poor program as being at least better than no program at all, which could be the outcome if they go back into it and Republicans get (or have) the upper hand.

Thus, it's unfortunately true that lackluster policies and programs sometimes continue for years, until some scandal or crisis causes them to be reformed or shut down. This, tragically, is what happened with much of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty programs.

As I see it, therefore, America's problem isn't that Democrats are resorting to race baiting or trying to keep African Americans and others who are disadvantaged dependent on government.

The problem is that instead of helping to come up with forms of assistance and remedies that are genuinely helpful and cost effective, Republicans always turn it into a battle about helping at all — something they absolutely don't want to do — and an opportunity to savage their political opponents.

This makes our political system dysfunctional and too many well-intended efforts impotent. Not just out of partisan preference (which I admit to), but in light of how Republicans conducted themselves when they controlled the Congress for 14 years, and from '01-'06 the whole federal government, I think the best answer now is to give Democrats a chance to show they can do a better job.

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

u know on the real, i have an opposite take, but i dont want take up your space i will post about it one day and let u know

Thomas said...

A story on NPR today addressed this topic:


Anthony Palmer said...

Thanks for the link, Thomas.

You know, the number of Black conservatives is far higher than the number of Black Republicans. Many, many Blacks believe in personal accountability, tough love, self-reliance, and reaping what you sow. These are all conservative principles. But they don't trust Republicans at all, so they continue to vote Democratic. Blacks are not nearly as monolithic as politicians and the media would have you believe, but it will take more than symbolic gestures and rhetoric for them to vote Republican. The Republican Party is really going to have to rehabilitate their image among Blacks and earn their vote. Blacks remember Republicans like Jesse Helms and James Inhofe and how revered they are the GOP. That speaks volumes.

Brother X said...

An Open Letter to Senator John McCain and the Republican National Committee:

September 2, 2008

Dear Senator McCain and Mike Duncan, Chairman, Republican National Committee:

"Dear" is all you will get from me. By now you all should be in Minneapolis for your shindig that you call a “convention.”

I am an African-American, and I cannot hold back my anger any longer. It is a documented fact that the Republican Party before and during the Civil War supported and benefited from slavery. As a matter of fact, the Republican Party was started for the express purpose of defending slavery and holding down black people.

It is also a matter of record that the Ku Klux Klan was started by Republicans after the Civil War to terrorize and murder black and white Democrats in the South. Republicans hated the fact that many ex-slaves were serving in state and federal government. They also hated the fact that everyone of the ex-slaves were all members of the Democratic Party. All the white Democrats, before and after the Civil War, were sympathetic to the cause of abolition of slavery and of civil rights for blacks, therefore racist Republicans had no use for them.

The Republicans historically have been bitter opponents of the following Democratic initiatives:

• The 13th Amendment that abolished slavery in 1865
• The 1866 Civil Rights Act
• The First Reconstruction Act of 1867
• The 14th Amendment in 1868 that made all persons born in the U.S., including former slaves, U.S. citizens.
• The 15th Amendment in 1870 that give every citizen the right to vote
• The Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 which was to stop Republican Klansmen to terrorized white and black Democrats
• The 1875 Civil Rights Act
• The 1957 Civil Rights Act
• The 1964 Civil Rights Act
• The 1965 Voters Rights Act

In every case, the white Republicans in the Senate, especially Senator Everett Dirksen, and in the House of Representatives fought passage of these laws in every turn as well as being compelled to give up their slaves after the Civil War. The Democratic leadership, especially Senator Robert Byrd who has always despised the Ku Klux Klan and who discouraged white Americans from joining that gang, fought very hard to have those laws passed. Democratic Senator Al Gore Sr., not only voted for the Civil Rights Act in 1964, but he, along side of Senator Byrd, fought a 74-day filibuster by Republicans to defeat the legislation. The Congressional Quarterly of June 26, 1964 recorded that, in the Senate, only 69% of Republicans (46 for, 21 against) voted for the Civil Rights Act as compared to 82% of Democrats (27 for, 6 against) the Civil Rights Act. In the House of Representatives, 61% of Republicans (152 for, 96 against) voted for the Civil Rights Act and. 80% of Democrats, (138 for, 34 against) voted for it.

The Republicans have also opposed every Democratic anti-lynching bill to their shame. The Democrats have always been opposed to lynchings for decades.

For these reason, we black people deserve an apology from the Republican Party for the following:

• support of slavery, on record in their platforms
• support of the Dred Scott decision
• support of segregation and Jim Crow prejudice
• opposition to anti-lynching laws
• attempts to destroy black schools and colleges, and the burning of black churches
• efforts to defeat the Reparation Bill of 1866
• efforts to defeat every piece of Civil Rights legislation from 1863 to 1964
• efforts to have the 1875 Civil Rights Act declared unconstitutional
• support of the Ku Klux Klan, composed of entirely Republicans, and its vile and violent racist agenda:
• Republican participation in the lynchings of thousands of blacks.

History will also show the following:
• Eugene “Bull” Conner (the poster boy of American racism) was a Republican.
• The poll tax was a Republican institution.
• Black codes and Jim Crow laws were instituted by Republicans.

Africans Americans are even due reparations from the Republican Party since it supported and benefited from slavery as well as supporting KKK terror, racism, etc. The Civil Rights movement started because of the majority white racist Republican power structure in the South.

The Democratic Party, of course, has had its problems racially here and there, unfortunately, but it does not have the consistent racist legacy for decades and decades, stretching back to the early 1800’s as the Republican Party has had. The Democratic Party, in general, has always been supportive of and open and honest with African Americans throughout its history.

You Republicans have been very slick in ignoring and even hiding your racist past from black people. It is time for the Republican Party to come clean, tell the truth, and settle the debt.


Brother X

James said...

Brother x is just a troll. Everybody knows that the republicans freed the slaves. The kkk came from the democrats and the democrats tried to filibuster the civil rights act. there's racists on both sides. And stop asking for an apology for an act that you or your parents were never in, cause it won't happen.

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.