Tuesday, February 3, 2009

My Challenge for Republicans

Ten days after Barack Obama, a Democrat, was sworn in as the country's first black president, the Republican Party elected its first black party chairman, Michael Steele.

And everyone scratched their heads and said, "I didn't know there were any black Republicans."

In fact, there aren't. Well, OK, there's at least one, and he's now the party chairman. What's that you say? OK, yes, there are some more--but barely.

Let's look at some numbers from the last 10 presidential elections:

In 2008, Barack Obama (D) won
95% of the black vote and John McCain (R) won 5%.
In 2004, John Kerry (D) won
88% of the black vote and George W. Bush (R) won 11%.
In 2000, Al Gore (D) won
90% of the black vote and George W. Bush (R) won 10%.
In 1996, Bill Clinton (D) won
84% of the black vote and Bob Dole (R) won 12%.
In 1992, Bill Clinton (D) won 83% of the black vote and George Bush (R) won 10%.
In 1988, Michael Dukakis (D) won 86% of the black vote and George Bush (R) won 12%.
In 1984, Walter Mondale (D) won 90% of the black vote and Ronald Reagan (R) won 9%.
In 1980, Jimmy Carter (D) won 85% of the black vote and Ronald Reagan (R) won 11%.
In 1976, Jimmy Carter (D) won 83% of the black vote and Gerald Ford (R) 16%.
In 1972, George McGovern (D) won 82% of the black vote and Richard Nixon (R) won 18%.

That's about as unanimous as it gets in politics. And this leads me to the challenge I would like to issue:

I challenge any Republican to explain to me, in writing, why the Republican Party faces nearly unanimous opposition from African-Americans. Please explain to me the historical reasons that Democratic presidential candidates have averaged 87% of the black vote and Republican candidates have averaged 11% since 1972. I believe you cannot do this without offering up a damning critique of your own party. You may leave your response as a comment to this post, or, if you need more room, email it to me at BetterThanMachines@gmail.com. I will post thoughtful explanations, unedited, on the front page of this blog.


Camp Papa said...

I'm certainly no Republican, and the man who says otherwise is spoiling for a fight, but I think I know the general tone of any "thoughtful" responses you are likely to get. They are likely to contain some account of liberals having made African-Americans dependent on big government handouts in a calculated attempt to create a permanent constituency.

Sara said...

I'm going to go out on a limb here for the sake of adding to the discussion, and I hope that you won't want to string me up on said limb.
Maybe I need to re-evaluate but, I've been registered republican for as long as I could vote, but not because I'm some great believer in the party. I registered that way originally because my family registered that way. I don't even understand the necessity of associating with a party (is there one? maybe that's my problem!) because NONE of them fully represents my views. (Correct me wherever you feel I'm wrong here--I honestly have so much to learn and believe it or not-I am open-minded. It's true!)And I don't just vote straight party, I vote for the candidates that I most agree with. Period.
That said, I hope you'll take my word for it that I'm not an evil, greedy,selfish, prejudiced, etc. etc. person that seems to be the stereotype of a republican. I really respect what you're doing with this blog and read it without concern for party. I read it as someone who wants to see responsibility and accountability for and from everyone in this country from top to bottom. Someone that wants to be part of the solutions.
I won't pretend to really know how to intelligibly answer your question as to why there are currently far more black democrats than republicans, but my guess is that in most recent history (half century or so?) the republican party has put their money on the chance that the disenfranchised black (and all colors of young) voters weren't going to vote in these old rich white guy elections (believe me, I can understand that sentiment,) so they didn't bother courting them. They weren't worth the money. They weren't worth their attention.
This is a hard thing for me to entertain because, while I appreciate that this is a meaningful election because it's our first black president I feel that it can be counterproductive to make so much of that part of it. Being black or white is a non-issue to me (it's skin pigment, people. just like hair color. Time to grow up about it.)It's about him being intelligent, hard working, sincere, etc. and I hope that he is. I hope that he's successful. I hope that we're all successful together. I hope that everybody, black, white, whatever can become encouraged that their vote does count, that they should participate positively. To educate themselves and not be sheep.
I think we just have to remember that each party is flawed simply because it is made up of people, and people are flawed. I hope you don't think the republican party (or it's oblviously flawed parts)is beyond redemption!
If I didn't really respect what you're doing here I wouldn't put this out there for public ridicule. Ima lover nota fighter. Have mercy! :)

Camp Papa said...


The esteemed author of BTM will doubtless have a more comprehensive response for your comment, but I'll chime in, in part.

First, no one who takes even a little time with your writing will think of you as anything but a sincere and loving person of good will.

Second, I think there is a reason for identifying with one party as opposed to another. In the American system, legislative agendas are set and the law making process in controlled by the party holding a majority of the seats in each chamber of the congress. So, if you agree more with the broad sweep of a particular party's platform, it only makes sense to help them gain control of the legislative apparatus, e.g. leadership and committee chairmanships.

Third, you're absolutely right that neither party is wholly right all the time. (I confess that I am one who engages in a little partisan hyperbole from time to time, mostly for dramatic effect.) One of the points BTM makes is about our responsibility to turn the government, whoever is "in charge", toward what is right as God gives us the light to see the right.

Finally, I believe that power tends to corrupt human beings. If that's true then the only safe repository for power is the whole of the people. We have to try to create institutions that are responsive to the will of the people and not just to the power of a few of us...whichever party we are affiliated with. I wish the Republican party had more people like you in it...but not too many more ;)

Better Than Machines said...

You are never gonna be ridiculed here. I think I understand your sentiment about party affiliation. It’s true that no party fully represents what any individual wants, because every party is a coalition of many varied--sometimes competing--interests. From what I’ve seen, people react in one of five different ways to this situation:

1. Some people pick a political party and then turn off their brains. They will defend every policy and action of their own party and criticize almost everything from the other party. They sort of treat politics like a team sport—whatever helps your team win is good. Among other bad things, this leads to lots of people advocating policies that they know in their hearts are wrong.

2. Some people see the flaws in both (or all) parties and use that as their ticket to disengage from politics/public life altogether. If everything is tainted, then better just to mind our own business. This means, of course, that these people submit to the status quo and those who currently wield power.

3. Some people see the flaws in both parties and decide that the truth must lie somewhere between what each of the major parties advocates. I wrote about this in one of my firsts posts, called “Politics Ain’t Geometry.” In my head, I call these people “Sleepy Centrists,” and I plan to write a future article about this group.

4. Some people decide that their political energy is best spent in activism outside of partisan politics. Unlike a lot of other liberal/progressive bloggers I read, I have a lot of respect for this stance. I respect it because I see how non-partisan activism often achieves change through direct action (without politicians) and that it eventually does have an effect on one or both political parties.

5. Some people recognize the flaws of both parties and decide to become a member of the “least bad party that has any chance of doing something good.” These people are constantly working not just to help their own party but also to change their party for the better. These are activists inside the parties.

I consider the best stance on political parties to be a combination of #4 and #5. The values that I believe in--and the kind of place I think this country ought to be--place me somewhere on the left side of the historical progressive/liberal American political tradition. I believe the Democratic Party is currently (and has been for decades) an important conduit for achieving some things I believe in, even if the gains have been incremental. If you go back far enough in history, the Republican Party has achieved things I believe in too.

I know this ramble-jamble didn't respond to all of the points you raise. Anyway, this is just what comes to mind. I'd like to continue this kind of discussion on this blog later--and in the future posts.

Sara said...

Thanks BTM (and Camp Papa)!
This is why I've really enjoyed reading your blog--I'm learning so much!

jen said...

I think our two party system pushes people to pick a party, because (at least in Maryland and in many other states) if you aren't a registered democrat or republican you have no say in choosing either of the two majority candidates, one of which is certainly going to win. So many people feel to have a real say in who is elected, they need to pick the party that is more closely aligned with their beliefs and values and work within that party structure to elect candidates.

I disagree that the lack of black republicans is attributable to the republicans assuming that courting them would be futile. It may be true that republicans don't court the black vote out of a sense of futility, but as an answer to the question it is a circular argument. The democrats have largely ignored the concerns of african americans because THEY assume that it's unnecessary, that african americans won't vote republican no matter what the democrats do. So both parties are assuming that all african americans will vote democrat, which begs the question: why? Why do the democrats have such a lock on the black vote? I think it was a very astute question to ask, and I'm hoping someone steps up with a plausible answer.

Finally, and I say this with respect and without any "stringing up on limbs" intended, but Sara, I disagree with your comment about skin color. I understand that you meant this in the most well-meaning sense possible, i.e. "we shouldn't discriminate," but I don't think we have the luxury of seeing race as a non-issue yet. The fact is that for many many Americans of color, the color of their skin is something they are FORCED to think about every single day. And whether we realize it or not, whether we intend it or not, white people are benefiting from the color of our skin every single day. As long as this is the case, I don't think we get view skin color as a non-issue.

Better Than Machines said...

Jen, I'm hoping some die-hard Republicans will answer the question too. The problem is finding them. Maybe I should post "The Challenge" somewhere like RedState.com. I just don't want them to unleash spambots and trolls on this blog though. I'll see what I can do.

Chris said...

Here's a notion. Party affiliation is ingrained in culture. I know white Anglo-Saxon protestant Americans in the south vote Republican because their families do. It's just seen as the right thing to do because everyone else they associate with does it. There's not a lot of thought put into why. That's just the way it is. Perhaps it's the same way in black culture.

By the way, I'm trying to get my black Republican coworker to post a comment here. He would have a lot to say on this subject.