Ross offers a response to my response on conservatives and justice policy:
Here we have an issue - the design of our criminal-justice system -
that's of burning concern to the African-American community. It's not
an easy issue to wrestle with by any stretch: My preferred approach to
reform, for instance, would marry a reduced incarceration rate to a
substantial increase in the police presence on America's streets, which
if implemented clumsily (as most policy shifts are) could mean fewer
black men behind bars, but more tragedies like the death of Ta-Nehisi's
friend. But it's also an issue where conservatives could embrace policy
shifts without compromising their core beliefs - the question of where
to strike the "build prisons or hire cops" balance is a practical
rather than a philosophical one - and in the process, I think,
substantially change the way the Republican Party is perceived in the
black community. Also, it would be the right thing to do.
This is something I think that arguments like Steele's - which are common on the American Right - lose sight of. As I remarked
in the context of the Europe-or-America debate, there are a lot of
big-picture political issues that boil down to philosophical
differences, and that can't (and shouldn't) be resolved or finessed
through clever policy thinking. But there are also a lot of political
issues that boil down a question of resource allocation: We're going to
spend X dollars on prisons and police (or on the military, or on the
school system or the highways or what-have-you), and the question is how.
And getting that "how" right can make an awfully big difference - to
the African-American community, and to many other people as well.
I basically agree with this, and I think, if, say, a Mike Huckabee, took this stance, he'd find a lot of allies in places where Republicans traditionally don't. I do think it's worth looking a little harder at the Shelby Steele argument that Ross is referencing. Steele basically argues that the GOP won't have much success recruiting blacks because our identity is built on alienation and grievance. I think the GOP won't have much success if it listens to people like Steele.
Steele's argument that black people exist in a "grievance-focused identity" is kind of amazing, given that he supports a party who held grievence as an integral part of their strategy. What was the Nixonesque "us against them" rhetoric, but grievance? What was the silent majority, if not a grievance? What was Sarah Palin's small town snobbery? Oh, right. That's not grievance. That's patriotism. In all seriousness, I don't know how you become a politician if you fon't have a grievance--that's the point.
Anyway, let us remember how Steele's poster-child for black grievance, Al Sharpton, did amongst black voters:
Mr. Sharpton's showing in the other state primaries was even worse,
but he had staked his credibility on South Carolina, spending more time
here than in any other state, hoping the large number of black voters
would accept him as the defender of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King
Yet polls of voters who had cast ballots
showed that he had received 19 percent of the black vote as against 32
percent for Mr. Kerry and 36 percent for Mr. Edwards.
Let us also remember that Steele claimed Barack Obama would lose largely because black people wouldn't support him if he wasn't grievance-focused. That's the sort of proclamation that comes from spending too much time on a campus and at conferences, and not enough time at cook-outs and barber-shops. Steele's analysis of black people always amazes me, because there are rarely any actual recognizable people being discussed. What we mostly get are symbols and automatons, ripped from some debate circa 1994 between him and Cornel West. His columns always give me that feeling of watching a lit professor deconstruct a text.
Sorry for the digression. The upshot is that I think Ross is right. It's also that I'd do well to spend less time annoyed by Steele. One day I'll be as humble as my rhetoric.