September 19, 2004


Swallowing the Elephant: What the big-tent rhetoric ignores is that a more "black
friendly" G.O.P. might pay a price in white support. (HENRY LOUIS GATES Jr., 9/19/04, NY Times)

Some black Republicans will tell you that however important the legal reforms of the civil-rights era had been 40 years ago, blacks today will be well served by the party of school reform and faith-based programs, the party of the so-called ownership society. "These are going to be the pillars of the black community," Condoleezza Rice told me. "In my little community in Birmingham, Alabama, in the 50's and 60's, there were black-owned businesses everywhere, and everybody owned their own homes. That made our community strong. We've got to get back to that."

Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political strategist, says the Republicans' low levels of black support are unhealthy for the party - once the party of Lincoln, after all - and for the African-American community. Part of what's gone wrong, he told me, is that Republicans don't advertise in black media markets. "If the conversation in the community is predominantly Democrat, and we don't make the argument on urban radio and we don't pay attention to the African-American newspapers, and if we don't campaign in the community, then why are we surprised when people don't hear our arguments and don't vote for our candidates?"

What's more, many blacks are evangelical Protestants, and tend to be more conservative than their white counterparts on "social" issues like gay rights and capital punishment. "The Democratic Party is not 90 percent more black friendly than we are," Rove exclaims.

Why, then, are blacks such down-the-line Democrats? My Harvard colleague Michael Dawson, a descendant of a black Democratic congressman from Chicago, agrees with Rove that black people are socially conservative. But the issues they vote on are racial and, especially, economic.

It's not just rhetoric--the Administration is already forcing issues that might be called "black" issues but are really being driven by evangelicals. School choice, for example, is popular with blacks and generally unpopular with whites for the same reason: vouchers will mean more black kids attending what are now predominantly white schools. Opposition to gay marriage is a religious issue that just happens to find overwhelming support in the black community. And the crisis in Darfur and American involvement in Africa are not likely to appeal to many white voters, but Christians have been heavily involved in Sudan for some time now and their interests just happen to jibe with those of the few civil rights leaders who are speaking out about the genocide there. Being more "black friendly" is largely incidental to the GOP becoming more religiously based.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 19, 2004 9:53 AM

I want more blacks to be in the Republican party because it is good for blacks, good for the Republican party and it is good for America. Monolithic voting in any group is not a healthy thing. In any event, I hope the Republicans aren't actually counting on this vote to win like the Democrats have counted on black votes in order to win. For the GOP, this is a long term project.

Posted by: pchuck at September 19, 2004 10:12 AM

I admit I may be simple, I may not be nuanced, I may be injudicious, but I believe that the campaign "for hearts and minds" can be boiled down to one question:

"Do you want to be treated like an adult or not?"

Posted by: Barry Meislin at September 19, 2004 3:20 PM


Yes, but that's rarely better than a 50-50 proposition--never outside America.

Posted by: oj at September 19, 2004 3:27 PM

This is more a function of the passing away of older Americans from more racist days. During the Civil Rights era, racist Americans switched to being Democrats (because they were in the South) to being Republicans because they thought Goldwater and Nixon were less friendly to civil rights. So the racists switched parties. Now, however, all that generation is passing away and more and more voters are from the post-civil rights movement era. As such, the GOP is able to move back to the center on those issues. New voters simply don't care about things being the way they were before because they've never had any stake in Jim Crow.

Doesn't that fit OJ's 40 years in the Sinai rule?

Posted by: Chris Durnell at September 20, 2004 3:34 AM