African-Americans have been a backbone of the Democratic Party for decades. Portraits of John F. Kennedy adorn walls alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus in the homes of many elderly blacks. There is a long history that explains this phenomenon. The Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln was the one that freed the slaves, but Democrat Lyndon Johnson ended segregation and declared war on poverty, and Democrats enacted affirmative action as well.
Black voters haven’t forgotten this, but two prominent African-American conservatives have felt the need to remind them. The first was former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. Speaking at DePaul University on April 20, 2009, he told the crowd (which I was in) that Republicans have given African-Americans no reason to join their party. The gaffe gained national attention, and was one of many flubs that led Steele to be a one-term chairman.
Most of what Steele has to say isn’t worth listening to. But his Freudian slip led into a larger issue that actually caused me to reconsider the way I thought about politics. Steele’s point, in brief, was that there are actually plenty of reasons African-Americans should consider the GOP.
The Republican Party, Steele said, offers African-Americans a chance not to be coddled by government. For too long, he went on, many blacks have relied on government assistance in various forms. Originally, this was intended to right the wrongs of the past. However, with the generational evolution of racism into a social faux pas, the only thing holding African-Americans back is the Democratic Party. Instead of going out and “pulling themselves up by the bootstraps,” blacks stay in the same socio-economic class because of the safety net Democrats provide for them. In turn, Steele concluded, African-Americans have become the most reliable voting bloc for Democrats.
I hate to admit it, but his speech should actually be an inspiration. Many African-Americans don’t like the stigma of affirmative action—they want to be recognized for the hard work they’ve done for themselves without any assistance. It’s a bit too much to say that we live in a post-racial society, but we live in a far more accepting world than that of the 1960s. So should we still be righting old wrongs?
That question continues to be debated, and I feel wise in saying that I don’t know the correct answer. I do, however, know that the loss of the African-American vote would be devastating for the Democratic Party, which brings me to “black, conservative politician No. 2”: Herman Cain.
Cain has soared in the polls recently, surpassing Texas Gov. Rick Perry as Mitt Romney’s chief rival for the nomination. He is, as I mentioned before, black—which is a surprising trait for a GOP presidential contender to have.
So far, it doesn’t seem that Cain has gained much support from African-Americans. He recently said blacks have been brainwashed, and that explains why so few support the GOP. His “9-9-9” plan to scrap the current tax code and replace it with a flat 9 percent income tax, 9 percent national sales tax and 9 percent business tax would hurt many lower and middle-income African-Americans. It’s not clear if Cain is serious or if he’s just trying to one-up the craziness of his rivals, but there is something in his message that black voters should listen to.
“It’s not about color,” Cain recently told Newsweek. “It’s going to be about the content of ideas.”
Good point, Herman Cain. And sure, his ideas might be terrible, but he’s on to something here. Our world becomes less about color every day. The next generation of African-American voters has less of a reason to be Democrats than their parents. Social safety nets, affirmative action and desegregation have given many African-Americans the chance to get a good education and a good career in the past. Now, more of these voters don’t need government devices. So why should blacks vote Democrat, if not for tradition?
There is no way Cain is going to win the Republican nomination—he’s the flavor of the week, as Perry and Michele Bachmann were before him. But if African-Americans realize that they are no better off under Obama, they might find reason to move to the GOP. Of course, Republican candidates have no interest in equal rights; they only want votes. Hopefully, Obama can find a new message that resonates with dissatisfied black voters before it’s too late.