Kathleen Parker recently wrote an essay in the Washington Post titled Can the GOP Speak to Blacks? Before even reading past the headline, I thought to myself: the Republican Party is speaking to Blacks. It’s just that, what they’re saying doesn’t sound too good:
Stuff like that gets to the crux of the issue that’s not addressed in Parker’s article, which talks about a young black conservative who’s trying to convince other blacks to join the Republican Party:
Marvin Rogers, a 33-year-old former aide to South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis, has a plan for the GOP. He wants to change its complexion.
In 2008… he ran unsuccessfully for the SC state House of Representatives. “Unsuccessfully” in this case should be qualified. Rogers won 32 percent of the vote in a blue stronghold, running as a black Republican in the year of Obama.
(When Rogers started to think about his own political leaning), he began by examining issues on paper and recognized that he was philosophically more aligned with Republicans than Democrats. But then a funny thing happened. When he began attending political meetings, he noticed, “Oh, my, I’m the only black guy here. What’s up with that?”
That question led Rogers on a quest that has resulted in a book nearing completion, “Silence Is the Loudest Sound,” in which he attempts to explain how the party of Lincoln lost its black soul. Through five years of study and interviews, Rogers reached the conclusion that the chasm between the black community and the Republican Party is more emotional than philosophical. And, he says, that chasm is more a media template than reflective of reality.
The best explanation for what’s gone wrong, he says, was articulated by Jack Kemp, who told him during an interview: “The Republican Party has had a great history with African Americans and they turned away from it. The Democratic Party has had a terrible history, but they overcame it.”
Part of the turning away followed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy,” which tried to harness votes by cultivating white resentment toward blacks. Rogers is no Pollyanna and recognizes this period for what it was — a “bruise” on the GOP. But he insists that Democrats use the Southern strategy when it suits them.
The biggest problem for today’s Republican Party, he says, is tone-deafness, as manifested by conservative talk radio and TV. Rogers says he and most blacks can’t listen to Rush Limbaugh because all they hear is anger. “They might agree with Rush on the issues, but they can’t hear him because he sounds mad. People don’t follow fussers. People don’t follow angry men. They follow articulators.”
The article reminded me of a point made by one of my college instructors: a key to understanding American politics is to realize that this is a two-party country.
In other countries, especially those with a parliamentary form of government, there can be many parties. But in America, you have have the big two, Democrats and Republicans, and a few smaller parties that lack a record of sustained success.
This means that particular constituents and interest groups are forced to form coalitions with other groups that support one of the dominant parties. That often leads to uncomfortable alliances. But this is the reality of American politics.
And in fact, you will find many African Americans at BOTH the conservative and progressive ends of the spectrum who are not entirely comfortable with the Democrats.
Protesters at the September 12th march on Washington
How many black conservatives want to join with these people?
But consider what blacks would have to put up with, if they were in a coalition with conservatives and Republicans:
The Hate That Hate Produced: The Demonization of Barack Obama by the Republican Party
To be clear: it is unfair and incorrect to say that all Republicans, or even a majority of Republicans, harbor racist feelings toward Obama or African Americans.
But there’s a whole lot more of those kinds of folks, making and sending overt or implicitly racist messages, on the extreme edge of the GOP than there are at the extreme edge of the Democratic Party. And these crazies scare black folks a lot more than the Democratic crazies.
The bottom line is this: most black people will not tolerate, nor join in coalition with, the kinds of extremists that we see in the GOP. Until that changes, the Republicans will continue to get a small portion of the black vote.
See also: Why Do Blacks Vote for Democrats?