Black GOP Candidates Burdened by Weighty Millstones

Black GOP Candidates Burdened by Weighty Millstones

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The 32 black Republicans that will run for House seats in the fall mid-term elections comprise a historic high. The black GOP candidates, for their part, say they’re in it to win, and that they were even inspired to run by President Obama’s big win. That’s admirable. But the black GOP’s have some of the weightiest millstones around their political necks that any candidates could have.

One is the Democratic Party. Much was made that then-candidate Obama moved, revved up, and inspired black voters as no other presidential candidate ever has. He did. But Obama is a Democrat, and so are the overwhelming majority of blacks. If the Democratic nominee had been Hillary Clinton, the pre-disgraced John Edwards, or any of the pack of other Democratic contenders, blacks would have given that Democratic candidate a solid 85 to 90 percent of their vote.

They have given that percentage to every Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson’s landslide shellacking of Republican presidential contender Barry Goldwater in 1964. Black Republicans rail at this and call it political plantationism; meaning that the Democrats say and do as little as possible to meet black needs, knowing that the black vote is firmly in their hip pocket.

There is some truth to this. Past Democratic presidential contenders Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry, and to a degree President Obama, have deliberately downplayed race and poverty issues. But even so, black voter’s solid loyalty to the Democrats is not simply a case of blind and misguided loyalty. The entire Congressional Black Caucus is Democrats, and so are the leaders of the mainstream civil rights organizations. Despite the shots some blacks take at the Democrats for taking the black vote for granted, black Democrats and civil rights leaders are still highly respected. Most blacks still look to them to fight the tough battles for health care, greater funding for education and jobs, voting rights protections, affirmative action, and against racial discrimination.

Black Democrats still accurately capture the mood of fear and hostility the majority of blacks feel toward the Republicans. Even when black Democratic politicians stumble, they are still regarded as better bets than Republican candidates to be more responsive to black needs.

The other millstone around the necks of Black GOP candidates is their party. There’s the GOP's terrible and infuriating history of racial exclusion, neglect and race baiting. The endless foot in the mouth, racially insulting gaffes, racially loaded campaign ads by Republican officials and politicians and tea party activists and the refusal by GOP brass to loudly condemn them -- or worse, their tendency to defend them -- has continually ignited black fury. Then there was the fight of House Republicans against the Voting Rights Act renewal, the slash and burn of job and education programs, Bush’s Katrina bungle, as well as his many snubs of the NAACP and Congressional Black Caucus, the relentless low-intensity war by the GOP against virtually any and every Obama initiative, program, spending measure, and that includes measures that GOP congressional leaders would back in a heartbeat if proposed by a GOP president.

The take-no-prisoners warfare against Obama has deepened black suspicions that the GOP is chock full of bigots. And unfortunately for them, the GOP leadership’s blatant pandering to and backdoor encouragement of tea party attacks on President Obama have done even less to allay doubts about the GOP’s motives.

In 2000, Bush talked about making the GOP a true party of diversity. The GOP presidential convention featured more black faces than at any time in living memory. With Bush’s pick of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, and a handful of other high profile blacks to top policy making administration posts, it seemed like the GOP was serious about transforming the party from its insular base of Deep South and heartland nativists, rural and blue collar workers into a rainbow party that represented many different ethnic interests.

In 2004, Bush built on the diversity pitch and courted the black evangelicals, with a mix of bible thumping fundamentalism and support of school choice, and anti-abortionist and anti-gay rights rhetoric. This touched a nerve among many black evangelicals. It got Bush a mild bump up in the black vote in his 2004 presidential win. This stirred many black Republicans to hope for the unthinkable: that they could win big-ticket offices. Bush’s Katrina comatose response and GOP racism quashed that hope. It’s been downhill for the GOP among blacks since then.

The final test for the black GOP candidates, and their party, is whether Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele will actually put the GOP’s money and muscle behind any of their candidacies. They are all newcomers to politics, and in most cases are facing seasoned incumbents. They’ll need every penny and bit of party backing they can get. Whether they get it or not is one more millstone around their political necks.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).

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