Why Black People Won't Join The Republican Party

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There's an interesting debate about Obama's speech going on between Ross Douthat and Andrew Sullivan over at the Atlantic's site. Sullivan sees the Right's reaction to Obama's speech as tinged with racism, while Douthat thinks that the problem is that the Right is, well, Right. I think Douthat has a point, but with the following line, and Andrew's rebuttal, he really summed up for me why, despite a strong conservative tradition in the black community, there will be never be any black Republican presence in the near future. Here's Douthat on what white conservatives would like to see out of black people:

The conservative idea of a candidate who's "transformational" on race is someone who sounds like Bill Cosby and works with Ward Connerly

Here's Andrew's smart rebuttal:

I admire Connerly and Steele and Rice and even Thomas after a fashion. But they have obviously not brought black America along with them - or much of white America either. And all of them have failed to be elected nationally or even locally.

 

There's a reason why that last statement is true. Like a lot of white conservatives, Douthat seems to know Bill Cosby through the lens of his recent sound-bites. He knows nothing of his affiliation with TransAfrica  and Randall Robinson for instance. Or, more to the point, he doesn't even completely understand what Cosby himself thinks of people like Ward Connerly. OK, maybe some conservatives, know. Cosby has derided Clarence Thomas as "brother-lite" and attacked him because "he doesn't want to help anybody." It's true that Cosby is a black conservative--but for him, that "black" part is as important as the "Christian" part would be to a Christian conservative.

My point is that the Right really doesn't understand black America, and is much more interested in lambasting it then going out in the field, reporting and learning. Cosby has commanded large crowds of black people, pulling on a conservative tradtion that stretches from Booker T. Washington to Louis Farrakhan. The crowds who come to see him understand his message of hard work and "not blaming the white man," but they also find him credible and don't think he's trying to sell them out.

The same can't be said of Ward Connerly black conservatives, and there's a good reason why. The conservative position on black people is essentially a negative one. I don't mean that in a value sense, but in the literal sense. The idea is to either dismantle all elements of government which explicitly attempt to heal the old wounds of slavery and Jim Crow, and then do nothing. Of course one could argue that this is of a piece of conservative, small government ideology. Except that black people aren't stupid. They know, for instance, that most conservatives think that government should ban abortion, and some don't. They know that most conservatives are anti-illegal immigration, and some aren't. They know that many conservatives doubt global warming, but some don't. They know that many conservatives believe in standing strong with Israel, but some others don't. There even are a few David Brooks conservatives who believe in gay marriage.

Yet when it comes to black folks, for decades the most impoverished demographic in America, the policy is essentially (excuse my language, but it's appropriate)--Fuck them niggers. The saddest thing about Obama's speech is that there really is not a conservative rebuttal. Peek in over at The Corner and you'll hear a lot of folks taking issue with the speech, but virtually no counter-proposals. That's because conservatives believe that black America's biggest problem is itself, and thus they see no role for government. There basic ideology is if black people would start getting married and parenting, they'd be fine. There may be some truth to that, but from there perspective--despite decades of racist policies enacted by the government--there's absolutely nothing government should do to help.

Why would any black person, conservative or not, whose watched the War on Drugs, who watched the prisons fill up with black men, vote for a Republican if that's the party line? There isn't even a debate over what a conservative policy towards black people would be. None. Just scrap Affirmative Action. But then what? Nothing?  As you guys know, I'm a flaming lefty. But I don't think black people siding with liberals, because conservatives have nothing to say to them is a good thing for this country. I would love it if black folks voted Democratic because they saw the great wisdom of liberal policy. But that ain't it. They vote Democratic, because they know that the other party simply has nothing to say to them. Indeed, doesn't even want to say anything to them.

That's a sad sad statement. I swear this chasm, this black/white gulf is going to be the death of us all. And the Latinos, the Asians, the Native Americans, the Arab-Americans, God love them, they will not save us.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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