If Only We Had a Time Machine

Bruce Bartlett argues that black voters should give the GOP some consideration in November since, after all, "Historically speaking, the Republican Party has a far better record on race than the Democrats". There is, of course, a lot of truth to that. Certainly a black voter circa 1860 would have been slightly insane to vote against Abraham Lincoln. And if the Grant-Greeley matchup of 1872 were for some reason to be re-run in the modern day, you'd expect blacks to strongly back Grant.

But of course the fact that the Republican Party was, in the past, more in tune with the interest of black people is precisely why black people, in the past, tended to support Republican candidates. During the New Deal the picture became more complicated, and in the 1950s you had non-trivial levels of black support for both Democrats and Republicans. And starting in the 1960s, Democrats became the party that better-served black interests while the conservative movement incorporated white supremacists as a pillar element of their coalition. So since then, African-Americans have overwhelmingly backed Democrats.

In short, things are about as you'd expect -- the GOP used to be the better party on race, and they were rewarded for it. As the Democrats moved toward a pro-Civil Rights posture and the Republicans abandoned that posture, things changed. If John McCain were to go back in time and become Thaddeus Stevens while transforming Barack Obama into Theodore Bilbo, I'm sure black people would vote for him. But barring that, black voters are likely to do what white voters do and assess the parties based on their present-day positions rather than how things were back in the day.