Thursday, May 29, 2008

Blacks in the GOP

There are 199 Republicans in the House of Representatives. Not one of them is African-American. There are 49 Republican Senators. Every one of them is white. There are 22 Republican governors. None of them are black (though in fairness, there is only one elected black Democrat governor). The Republican party does not have even one black Congressman, Senator, or governor. African-Americans vote overwhelmingly Democrat, which explains some of the disparity, but that situation is intolerable.

Making this situation all the more incredible is the fact that so many of the conservative movement’s most influential thinkers are black. Thomas Sowell is arguably the most influential living conservative economist. If he isn’t, an argument could be made that Walter Williams is. Michael Steele is one of the most popular politicians among conservatives in the nation. Hoover Institute fellow Shelby Steele is very much admired among conservatives, Jesse Lee Peterson is very influential on race matters, and Deroy Murdock, Star Parker, and Armstrong Williams are all widely read conservative columnists. Larry Elder has a large talk radio audience. Black thinkers form a crucial segment of conservative thought.

Many liberals respond by saying that black conservatives are little better than Uncle Toms; that they simply repeat what their white masters tell them to say. But that is obviously wrong. Thomas Sowell’s word is law in conservative economics, Walter Williams is one of the most read columnists on the conservative website townhall.com, and Deroy Murdock is one of the most popular writers in National Review. Black conservatives don’t parrot conservative talking points—in many cases, they create the conservative talking points

And Republican leaders select many African-Americans as political appointees. The only current black Supreme Court justice is conservative Clarence Thomas. The first black Secretary of State was Colin Powell, and the second was Condoleezza Rice. The Republican party does not lack for blacks in appointee filled offices—only electoral ones.

If blacks are not held back by conservative racism, and are some of the conservative movement’s most influential scholars, why can’t they get elected as Republicans? There are at least three reasons.

The first reason lies in the fact that well over 75% of blacks vote Democrat. This limits the number of possible black Republican politicians—only a tiny fraction of people have the skills and the inclination to enter politics, and the fact that three quarters of the black population are staunch Democrats narrows the field still further. This means that there really aren’t many black Republican politicians to begin with.

Another reason for this disparity lies in the fact that most politicians are politicians first, and ideologues second. It is much easier for a young black politician to gain party support and funding if he is a liberal Democrat. In fact, being anything can hurt an aspiring black politician’s career—black Republicans are often taunted as “Uncle Toms”, pelted with Oreo cookies (get it? Black on the outside, white on the inside), and are sometimes referred to (in Condi Rice’s case) as “house n*ggas”. Being a black Republican politician is like crime—it doesn’t pay.

One of the reasons it doesn’t pay lies in the fact that the Republican party does not make much of an effort to find strong black candidates. While Ken Mehlman’s Republican National Committee made an effort to attract black candidates (many blacks ran as Republicans in 2006, although they ran mostly in long-shot races), many GOP strategists believe that such efforts never became an important part of the RNC. After Mehlman left the chairman post of the RNC, these efforts were mothballed.

The Republican party has few black politicians—and that is a pity, both for the GOP and the African-American race. The Republican party is missing out on some strong leaders whom would strengthen the party. The black community is losing an opportunity to lift itself out of the culture of government dependency in which so many blacks are enmeshed. (This is hardly a phenomenon unique to blacks—many, many whites are entangled in the same culture, as are many members of other races). The lack of black Republicans hurts both blacks and the GOP—and the Republican party should seek to change that. The black community has much in common with the conservative movement (many are religious social conservatives, and blacks form a large part of the military), and the Republican party should take advantage to this common ground.

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