Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The GOP Celebrates Black History Month - Really

The Republican Party is celebrating Black History Month...

No really!

Now before you go ballistic (or celebrate too wildly), I prefer to take this as a sign of the GOP's coming of age. Seriously. Too many Republicans want to act as if black people don't exist or as if they are dark skinned white people who really haven't tried hard enough. An acknowledgement of the contributions of black Americans who happen to be Republican is a significant thing. 

Outside of Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell or Alan West, most people probably wouldn't believe that there are any black Republicans. They'd be surprised to know that Frederick Douglass, Jackie Roberson and Edward Brooke (the first black Senator from Massachusetts) were all black. And they by far, are not the only ones. They might also be surprised to know that former Black Panther Party member Eldridge Cleaver, author and poet Zora Neal Hurston, Alphonso Jackson and James Weldon Johnson were all...you guessed it: Republican!

Believe it or not, black people are not congenitally opposed to GOP politics. Their political ideology regarding business, their ideas about self-help and their notions about freedom appeal to the longings of black Americans. So the party is absolutely right recognize their contributions. 

Why so few black Republicans now? A couple of reasons. First there can be a difference between Republican and conservative. The GOP as currently constructed, ascribes to a political ideology that sees the world through an almost entirely different lens than the party of Jack Kemp and Nelson Rockefeller. The influence of the TEA Party is still another reason. And yes, the treatment of the first black President in ways that go far beyond disagreement on policy issues, has something to do with the near lily-white appearance of the Republican Party. The 2008 Republican Convention had 36 black delegates.

There are also some fundamental political differences between Republicans and Democrats. The Republican Party was celebrated by blacks from the time of emancipation forward as 'the Party of Lincoln'. The Democratic Party was the party of South, which meant the party of segregation. It remained so initially until the presidency of FDR. Roosevelt's policies brought the country out of the Depression which helped a number of blacks. 

In 1948 when Strom Thurmond walked out of the Democratic Convention over the Democrats insistence on adding a plank to its platform that included integration it would nearly solidify the split among blacks, particularly in national elections, for at least another decade. That was about the time presidential candidate John F. Kennedy intervened in an arrest of Martin Luther King, Jr. and was judged more sympathetic to the cause of Civil Rights than his opponent Richard Nixon who considered the same action but did nothing. Still the rift became more complete after Kennedy's assassination and Lyndon Johnson's ascendancy to the Oval Office and his inaction of policies which would cement Kennedy's legacy by the passage of JFK's Civil Rights bill and Johnson's own passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. 

Afterwards a series of missteps by the GOP dealing with race, from the popularity of George Wallace, to Nixon's 'Southern Strategy', to Reagan's mythical 'Welfare Queen' to Bush's Willie Horton ads all told blacks that they were no longer welcomed in the Republican Party. 

Is an homage to blacks by a celebration of their history enough to make up for this history? No? But it can be a pretty good start. If Republicans can listen to black people, talk about issues that are in their interest in a way that appeals to them, broaden their solutions beyond tax cuts and smaller government, in short give blacks a real choice between the two parties, it's possible. 

But for now, I'm willing to accept this at face value as a pretty fair good faith effort. 

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