In 2008, 96 percent of black voters pulled the lever for Barack Obama. His current approval rating in the black community shows a possible, albeit slim, vulnerability — one that Florida Congressman Allen West is ready to exploit.
On a recent episode of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, West said Democrats have had black voters sequestered on a modern day plantation, and they are upset because “they have been disregarded, disrespected and their concerns are not cared about.”
West claims to be “the modern day Harriet Tubman to kind of lead people on the Underground Railroad away from that plantation….” The problem is, as West notes, the Republican Party’s outreach “has not done very well in reaching out.”
To some black conservatives, that’s an understatement of epic proportions.
Timothy Johnson is the chairman and founder of the Frederick Douglass Foundation. He is less than impressed with the Republican Party’s outreach efforts:
I’m a past party official, so I can speak from in house party politics. The short answer is the party sucks at it. That’s the bottom line. The party when it comes down to the black community is doing a terrible job, and is still doing a terrible job.
Johnson said that the GOP may have done a little better under the leadership of Michael Steele, but the current leadership has simply given up on getting black votes:
I have candidates who are honest with me and they say, “Tim, I’ve had people tell me ‘Don’t worry about the black community.'” That pisses me off. When they are honest with me and say, ‘Tim, we’ve been told, ‘Don’t worry about going to the black community, they’re not going to vote for you anyway,'” that’s a bold faced lie. You don’t know who I’m going to vote for. I’m an American.
Chris Arps, co-founder of Move-On-Up, a “social network of African American conservatives and moderates,” says GOP outreach efforts are very superficial, saying they are simply
designed to siphon off a few votes or to force the Democratic candidate to spend resources in the black community that he ordinarily wouldn’t spend.
If the party isn’t willing to make the effort, the onus then falls on individuals. Rep. Allen West is volunteering, but is he the right man for the job?
Kevin Jackson, author of The BIG Black Lie: How I Learned The Truth About The Democrat Party, says West is a good face for the movement:
West would be a great person on which this movement to hang its hat. He’s a true leader. But I think that he would be part of a long line of black conservatives who had begun this long before West, i.e., Herman Cain, Mason Weaver, Jesse Lee Peterson, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, and so on.
Lenny McAllister, political commentator and activist, believes the job is bigger than one man:
I think he’s a man for the job. I don’t think there’s going to be any one man that can turn everybody around.
Perhaps then, the job requires a nationwide organization focused on black outreach. Johnson believes that sort of movement will have to originate in the grassroots because the GOP isn’t taking the initiative:
When you think about what the party is not doing, or what the party should be doing, it should be doing a better job at building relationships, it should be building a national coalition around the country, but it doesn’t do that. So if we don’t do it on our own, then we won’t have it.
Presidential candidate Herman Cain doesn’t think a movement independent of the GOP is necessary, as long as the party “just involves black Americans in the effort that’s already going on.”
Whether it’s a grassroots organization or the party itself doing the outreach, McAllister says the focus needs to be on messaging:
Most Republicans don’t know how to message to the African-American community. They are still talking from a faith-based perspective and think a faith-based perspective is going to resonate with a 27 year old the same with it did with his or her grandfather. It’s not.
McAllister says Republican talking points are not going to sway people who are dealing with filthy public transportation and violence in the streets: “If they can’t speak to that, then their talking points might as well be sitting on a white board someplace.” He continues:
You have to show how you can change the suffering within black America from suffering and destitute to middle class within one to two generations. Anything you promise them past that that’s ideological or ethereal in any way, you might as well put the kids in the graves because they are going to be ghosts anyway.
Conservatives have their work cut out for them, but Obama may be helping activists reach black Americans more than the GOP. His approval rating among black Americans sits at 81 percent, tying the lowest rating ever. While that’s still a huge majority, Cain thinks it’s possible to pull black Americans away from the Democrats: “While they might not be die hard Republicans…they can vote for Republican candidates.” He says:
If you get the right candidate with the right message that resonates, they will vote for the right candidates. One thing that will help is that the DNC is so desperate that they stoop to name calling. A lot of people say they don’t want to be party of a party that does that. We have a great opportunity in the future, especially 2012.
Arps also says it’s not impossible to get traditional black Democratic voters to start voting their values:
All Republicans have to do is make an effort for our vote and put in the resources to act like they want our vote. If the Republican Party could garner another 5-10% of the black vote (they traditionally get 10%), Democrats will find it very hard to win elections. And they know that. That is why they pull out all the stops during election time to frighten blacks into believing that they will be back in chains if Republicans are put into power.
That explains why the Congressional Black Caucus has made an art form out of characterizing Tea Party members as violent racists. It also fits the characterization West made regarding certain members of Congress being the “overseers” of the plantation.
Without the proper support from a seemingly apathetic Republican Party, West will have a difficult time convincing black Americans they are voting against their best interests. However, it wasn’t the Republican Party that made the difference in the 2010 election. It was grassroots activists in the Tea Party who pushed the GOP to adopt its current agenda.
With similar effort, the same can be done regarding outreach to the black community. Jackson says with the right support, he can make a huge difference:
We have actual programs that I’m happy to have the Tea Party, other grassroots groups, and the GOP to piggy-back on. Come take credit, just give us the manpower and financing to make a difference. I know we have the solution, but I am no George Soros. I have put a lot of my personal wealth to get things to here, now I need the grassroots, and the GOP, to step up.
The ball is in the GOP’s court now. They can continue to accept black Americans as given votes for the Democrat candidates and dismiss the idea of reaching out to them, or they can accept the wisdom of black conservative activists across America who are already making a difference. With more and more black conservatives being elected to office, now is the time to reach out to a group of voters that have been neglected for far too long.