Take a good look at the picture above. That is a meeting at one of the two major political parties. Notice anything peculiar? Yes, everyone is white, but that shouldn't be shocking. That would be the case at an Idaho Democratic officials meeting. But this photo wasn't taken in Idaho. This is a picture of former Senator Fred Thompson delivering the keynote speech at the 2007 Mississippi Republican Elected Officials Tribute Dinner. Mississippi, the state that has the highest proportion of Black Americans of any state in the country. This photograph is a snapshot of a party that has a big problem.
Haley Barbour may have been...less than diplomatic, in his comments about racial integration in the South. But the reaction to it typically ignores the elephant in the room: why are so few Black Americans Republicans? There is no other major demographic group that so routinely votes 90-5 in favor of Democrats and against Republicans. Latino Americans are approaching it, but the GOP typically gets a reasonable share of that vote. Jewish Americans are close behind. Even in races where the issue stances between the Republican and the Democrat are almost indistinguishable, the black vote still goes lopsidedly towards the Democrat. In multiracial megachurches where conservative evangelical values are commonly held by white, black and brown alike, the vote still splits along the lines we see among the secular. Why? The answer is obvious, but nobody ever talks about it.
The bottom line: Republican officials are hostile to people of color, especially blacks. That hostility is due directly to the Civil Rights Movement and the GOP's adoption of the Southern Strategy. Simply put, all the racists in the south and everywhere else became Republicans in response to the Democratic Party's acceptance of equality for people of all backgrounds. They didn't and still don't like that. To Black voters, this is as plain a truth as the sky being blue.
During the Great Depression, Black Americans moved solidly into the fold of the Democratic Party due to the social policies and positions of FDR. Prior to that, they voted heavily Republican because of the legacy of Lincoln. Still, Southern Democrats largely remained Democrats as they had been since Reconstruction. During the era of the Civil Rights Movement, White Southerners began moving away from the Democratic Party due to an open appeal on the part of Republicans. They promised to be the party of White Citizens Council members. It was no accident Ronald Reagan started his campaign for President in Philadelphia, Mississippi. In 1964, three civil rights activists were lynched there by white supremacists. The Republican party was planting its flag in the South, and they made it clear whose side they were on. If the Democrats had turned their back on keeping people of color in their place and white folks on top, the GOP would gladly take up that cause in return for a vote. It was very simple and it worked. The GOP is now completely dominant in the South. White flight and the growth of the Sunbelt states fueled this dominance.
It is a shame. I believe that black folks would be better served by competition for their votes, rather than see it taken for granted by one party that can always count on it. While the GOP's stances on a number of economic and social issues are out of step with the majority of Black Americans, we never even get the benefit of focus that an "in play" demographic does. The GOP wont bother to compete for our vote. While conservative ideology is a big reason for the GOP losing the black vote, that is not a sufficient explanation for losing 90% of it. I dare say that many wealthy or upper income Black Americans who may find a Republican candidate compelling still can't cross that line because the GOP is so hostile to minorities. If Republicans could ever get out from under their racism, the Democrats would have a real fight on their hands.
After this Barbour mess blows over, and it will, the current political state of affairs will continue to exist. The issue is easily swept under the rug by the occasional token Black Republican getting elected from white precincts. It is somewhat mitigated by the adoption of ideological conservatism as a convenient cover for racial prejudice. Things will not truly change until rank and file Republicans demand better character from their officials. The Republican Party will have to make the case for racial equality if they want these perceptions to change.
Maybe they should listen to the late, great Jack Kemp in the beautiful letter he penned to his grandchildren shortly before he died:
The party of Lincoln, (i.e., the GOP), needs to rethink and revisit its historic roots as a party of emancipation, liberation, civil rights and equality of opportunity for all.
That would be a good place to start.
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