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Why Is the Black Vote in the Democrats’ Pocket?

The belief that government must "do something for us" has deep roots in the community.

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July 30, 2008 - 12:00 am
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Why do 90% of eligible black Americans vote Democrat and call themselves liberal?

A few weeks back, I lambasted prominent black conservatives for even thinking of voting for Barack Obama, a man who embodies only one part of the two-word description “black conservative.”

Several black conservatives were quoted in the article to which I was responding. However, the most revealing quote came from former U.S. Representative J.C. Watts (R-OK):

J.C. Watts, a former Oklahoma congressman who once was part of the GOP House leadership, said he’s thinking of voting for Obama. Watts said he’s still a Republican, but he criticizes his party for neglecting the black community. Black Republicans, he said, have to concede that while they might not agree with Democrats on issues, at least that party reaches out to them.

“And Obama highlights that even more,” Watts said, adding that he expects Obama to take on issues such as poverty and urban policy. “Republicans often seem indifferent to those things.”

Watts’ turnaround suggests one of three things to me: 1) that he has changed his political philosophy and should probably change parties; 2) that when he was running for office he was saying what he needed to say to get elected in conservative Republican Oklahoma, rather than saying that in which he believed; that is, he was never really a conservative Republican; or 3) that he realizes the futility of trying to attract most black Americans to his party on the basis of principle.

I don’t know which is the answer, but there’s a logic to Watts’ statement regarding Obama and that logic undergirds the astounding Democrat/liberal/Left success among the black electorate in contrast with the Right’s failure in the same area. The key to understanding lies in the assumptions inherent in the phrase “reaching out.” Who should reach out to whom on the basis of what? What smaller actions fall under the large umbrella of “reaching out”? Here are the blanks filled in:

  1. Who: the Republican Party should do the reaching out.
  2. To whom: the party should reach out to the black community, that is, to black people as a singular entity — a collective.
  3. How: the outreach should be done on the same basis as is performed by the modern Democratic Party.
    1. Programs
    2. Policies

In short, the Republican Party must “do things” for black Americans which it does not do for other citizens and which are identical to the things which the Democratic Party does. Or better. But the Republican Party can’t be what it isn’t.

The bottom line: Republicans want black Americans to pursue happiness and the Democratic Party wants to provide happiness to black Americans.

A party and its principles

The Republican Party that Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan (re)built has not been designed to reach out to a group on the basis of identity, but on the basis of a given group’s ideas and values. By the party’s very definition — its basic principles — this precludes reaching out to groups which have race, ethnicity, and/or gender as their sole criterion for coalescing as a political entity. So when some observers wonder what the Republican Party is going to “do for” the “black community,” most Republicans will have a certain look of puzzlement on our faces, as if someone just asked why we don’t offer attachable wings so that our prospective party members can fly.

Many black Americans cannot shake the notion that a political party is supposed to provide quid pro quo. That the Republican Party won’t do anything for them besides get off their backs, get other citizens off their backs, and get out of their way so they can pursue happiness just isn’t good enough. But where did the idea come from?

That the government should step in when overt oppression is being practiced but should not help or hinder black American advancement certainly precedes Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan. And, in practice, as Bruce Bartlett (HT Sigmund, Carl, and Alfred) and La Shawn Barber point out, before the Civil War and during the century that followed the abolition of slavery, the Republican Party was responsible for several federal measures designed to protect Americans of African descent from their fellow citizens and to punctuate the basic citizenship rights guaranteed to the freed slaves and to their progeny. Fact is, however, the Republican Party would not have had a leg to stand on had not the founders of the United States based the principles in the Constitution on certain philosophies.

Obviously, black Americans were happy to receive the protection. However, after the Republicans clamped down on the racists, they (mostly) removed themselves from the equation to allow the country’s black citizens to be free. But when they did that, the nemeses fell in, masquerading as friends.

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