April 14, 2005


GOP's faith-based quest for a touch of color (Salim Muwakkil, April 10, 2005, Chicago Tribune)

The Republican Party's attempt to cultivate new black leadership through appeals to moral concerns and faith-based funding has had some success. And for good reason.

The black church, which often has been portrayed as a monolithic hub of progressive activism, has a strong conservative tradition. Like most religious institutions, its primary emphasis is piety, family and personal morality.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, was bitterly opposed by much of the clergy leadership for his social activism. But King's notions of civic protest and social agitation also have a strong following in the black church, and that wing is reacting strongly against the GOP's new religious outreach.

The GOP is trying to exploit this venerable split by aggressively courting blacks through appeals to so-called moral issues and by channeling educational resources through faith-based institutions.

As the party of Abraham Lincoln, the GOP historically was the first electoral home of blacks. That political allegiance began to change after the New Deal presidency of Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt. After President Lyndon B. Johnson linked the Democrats to the civil rights movement--in rhetoric and legislation--the black electorate became the party's most dependable bloc of voters, where it remains.

The GOP has used a variety of tactics to redress this electoral imbalance. In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon sought to appeal to the surging black nationalist community with a focus on "black capitalism." In the 1980s, then-Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) famously urged Reagan Republicans to abandon all attempt to convert the civil rights fraternity and "to invent new black leadership. ... "

The GOP then tried to incubate a corps of right-leaning black intellectuals to challenge the liberal arguments linking African-Americans to Democrats. Scholars such as Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Shelby Steele and Glenn Lowry (who has since turned left), among others, were heavily recruited and dispatched to public punditry. These attempts were hampered by, among other things, a lack of connection with the cultural currents of the black community.

Even the high-profile appointments of folks like Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice by GOP leaders have failed to cause a significant change in black electoral behavior.

But Republicans now see the Bush administration's "faith-based initiatives" as a new opportunity to wedge the party into the black community. The church is the black community's dominant institution, and its religious values always have encouraged social and cultural conservatism.

Although those values share much with those of the religious right and conservative Republicans, black voters had powerful reasons for shying away from an American right wing that often welcomed racist ideology. Republicans think that sordid history is old news to most black voters and the time is right to exploit common cultural ties.

If not now, when? If not us, who?

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 14, 2005 8:32 PM

"black voters had powerful reasons for shying away from an American right wing that often welcomed racist ideology."

Maybe somebody should remind Mr. Muwakkil which party the second syllable in the word Dixiecrat stood for.

Posted by: Ed Driscoll at April 14, 2005 10:11 PM

Oops--preview is my friend! Third syllable, actually.

Posted by: Ed Driscoll at April 14, 2005 10:18 PM

There is no good reason for a Salim Muwakkil to be in the US, much less commenting on its politics.

Posted by: bart at April 14, 2005 10:20 PM

Geez Bart, trying to prove his stereotype?

Posted by: Ed Driscoll at April 14, 2005 10:25 PM

If you don't understand that civilization is at war with Islam, I can't help you.

Posted by: bart at April 14, 2005 10:47 PM


If we killed them all tomorrow, you'd still be complaining. Who's next?

Posted by: ratbert at April 14, 2005 11:00 PM

Bart, if you'll scroll through my site sometime, I think you'll see that I understand quite well that civilization is at war with Islamofascism. That doesn't necessarily mean that it's at war with a reporter from the Chicago Tribune because he has an Arab-sounding name.

Posted by: Ed Driscoll at April 14, 2005 11:04 PM

Nor at war with Islam generally.

Posted by: oj at April 15, 2005 12:35 AM

The problem with blaming Democrats for Dixiecrats is that all the Dixiecrats left to become Republicans precisely because of racial issues. There's a reason LBJ said that he los the South for the Democratic Party for a generation. Both parties have shameful pasts regarding racism. As the generations that propagated it continue to die off, both parties can move on.

Republican promotion of blacks is an investment. There is still a lot of distrust and blacks won't abandon their marriage to Democrats just because they're being courted. You stay with the spouse who stuck by you. It's the same reason blacks continued to support Republicans earlier even though the GOP did nothing after Reconstruction and abandoned them after the Tilden Compromise. Yet if the GOP does this long enough to prove they really want to serve black interests, eventually the votes will come. Just as it did with FDR and LBJ.

A situation where blacks feel both parties protect civil rights is best for the country as it frees both parties from pernicious influence inside it. It gets the racists out of the GOP, and it allows the Democrats to drive the race-baiters out of their party who are currently sheltered because of their 'civil rights activism.'

Posted by: Chris Durnell at April 15, 2005 12:51 PM


Forget the race-baiters, the Democrats are suffering more from outright racism within their party than from the hucksters like Sharpton and Rev. Jesse.

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 15, 2005 10:56 PM