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November 14, 2003

The Dirty Little Secret of Black Politics

I had a long rambling conversation with my good pal David Thursday. He was staying in Westwood for a short while, taking care of some business on this coast. David and I go way back. The conversation wandered over to black politics. Well actually it went a lot of directions around that subject which gave me an opportunity to review what I am thinking with a real live brain.

My thesis these days (and I am not long likely to spout off about it as I ramp back up into the old career) is that there is some inevitability that blacks in the middle class and upper middle will migrate to the Republican party. My expectation is that within 10-15 years blacks will at least triple their representation from somewhere around 3-5% up to 15%. This is a modest goal and one I'm confident will take place, but it depends entirely upon the ability of these black Americans to make sense of their class interests. That may be a bigger hurdle than anyone suspects.

The fundamental axiom is this: There is only one black interest in American public policy which is driven by race and not class. That is the principle of anti-racism in all of its manifestations. Whatever else blacks ask of politicians today, is generally subsumed into everything the Democratic Party has done since the Depression. Consequently if all the blackfolks bolted that party, Democrats would still largely do the same things they have always done, just as Howard Dean clumsily suggested in his appeal to Southern whitefolks.

The 'natural' affinity between blacks and the Democrats is strictly class-based. Since the majority of African Americans are {poor, working poor, working class, lower middle class} their 'permanent' interest lie with the Left. Importantly, the historical imperative of the Talented Tenth has been to raise all boats of the race. This coincides with the aims of the Great Society programs. Unionization plays into this as well. It's all about getting people from square one to three squares a day. This is the logical consequence of all the assertions against the wisdom of being a black Republican. In return the Democrats tend to their specifically black constituency with very marginal pork. But, get this, the major content of that pork is rhetoric.

Rhetorical Patronage
I challenge anyone to show exactly what it is that the Democrats have done for African Americans that they haven't done for everyone else. Whatever you find, I will bet my nickel that it doesn't get any larger than a quarter of a billion in any one program out of the Federal budget. But what the Democrats do that the Republicans don't is insure that they say a lot of nice things about blackfolks. The dirty little secret is that this covers a lot of what the black electorate will settle for. If you ask someone who hates the idea of Black Republicans what it is that the Democrats will give blacks that the Republicans won't, it will all come down to warm and fuzzies. Try it. Get them to name programs when they disagree. Materially, most folks are hard pressed to talk about black patronage in dollars and cents. But they know what kind of rhetoric they like. Ask how much federal money goes to support HBCUs. Nobody knows. Ask what kind of support Affirmative Action should get and you'll hear a litany of legalese words, qualifications, provisos, tests, and other verbal requirements. What a twist of fate! It's not all about the Benjamins.

The corollary to this dirty little secret is that there is a significant amount of black resentment of 'Hispanic' politics. Why? Hispanics will get the same benefits from the Democratic party as blacks do. More in fact, when there are more Latinos than blacks. And the slap across the face of racial loyalty is that the Congressional Black Caucus is delivering up that agenda. Everything they have traditionally wanted in the Democratic tradition based on the class needs of the race applies doubly to new immigrant latinos at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.

Black Bipartisanship
I believe that since the Democratic party is going to stay its course with our without black voters, black political interests are better served throught bipartisanship. It may very well be the case that Republicans have nothing to offer blacks at all, but I find that doubtful. I think the Republican Party will serve the class interests of its traditional constituency, and since many blacks are parts of those classes they will benefit too. But this begs the question of party loyalty vs racial loyalty.

I'm going to refine and complete this over at Vision Circle, because it will sit here in draft form forever if I don't publish it soon. There's a lot more detail to this including Ideology. But the open secret is that a sizeable part of black America is conservative. They just don't like rednecks, snooty WASPs and American Gothic-type Protestants. But let me not get ahead of myself. I'll simply say that the ideological desires of African Americans are not coming from and will not come from the Parties. That is to say that black values are organically generated from their history and circumstances, not from Party thought. So the black vote should be more realpolitik than it is, but isn't because of this false fidelity to Democratic rhetoric.

The great opportunity and irony is that blacks would vote for a Republican who said the right things, but they are suspicious that the stuff that makes one a Republican renders one incapable of moral authority. They are Bush Haters like the rest of the Bush Haters. But I know other secrets too.

Posted by mbowen at November 14, 2003 11:08 AM

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Ya Know.... from Dean's World
Black America is never going to be really healthy until it learns how to deal with people who don't toe the party line with a... [Read More]

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false fidelity to Democratic rhetoric from E Pluribus Unum
Pssst! Cobb has a secret he wants to share and it's worth stopping to listen to it: ...the open secret is that a sizeable part of black America is conservative. They just don't like rednecks, snooty WASPs and American Gothic-type... [Read More]

Tracked on November 14, 2003 07:09 PM

They just don't like rednecks, snooty WASPs and American Gothic-type Protestants. from Negrophile
I had a long rambling conversation with my good pal David Thursday. He was staying in Westwood for a short while, taking care of some business on this coast. David and I go way back. The conversation wandered over to... [Read More]

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Tracked on December 14, 2003 01:46 PM


From the outside looking in...

If it all comes down to warm fuzzies, how to explain the dislike/distrust of Thomas, Powell, Rice, et al?


Alright, that's not really the question I wanted to ask.

I agree with you on the conservatism of many blacks. Particularly here in the rural/semi-rural south. The folks I work with talk Republican but vote Democrat. Never asked them why. It'd be like asking a Baptist why they get drunk and dance on Mardi Gras.

This is what I wanted to ask...

If your thesis is true, would Bush get votes this coming election if he said the right thing often enough? Or would the entire media front for the GOP itself have to get warm&fuzzy to bring blacks to vote for Bush?


Posted by: CBK at November 14, 2003 01:56 PM

I think GWBush has blown his wad with black voters. As I said recently, a lot of people are pissed off about Shoshanna Johnson and quite frankly GW lacks the charm. More importantly, most of the blackfolks who voted for Gore are not about to forgive him simply for being president given what went down in certain Florida precincts. The fact of the matter is GW got away with something that got Rodney King beat.

Now look at somebody like Lieberman. He's a virtual republican. He doesn't have the negatives associated with him that Bush does and neither do dozens of other Republicans who are unknown to the general population. Schwartzenegger didn't scare black voters. They may not have voted for him in droves but he also didn't alienate them.

It lies to Republican candidates to show some initiative. They will still bear the burdens of their brothers' bad deeds, but they will be heard out if they speak up.

Posted by: Cobb at November 14, 2003 02:15 PM

Thanks for the reply, Cobb.

I was aware that a number of the ladies in my workplace were venemous about Lynch. Not all but many. None of them (to my knowledge) directly linked the administration to the "Lynch Phenon". But maybe they just didn't mention it in my presence.

We do try to avoid politics at work.

Now, you mention Leiberman (a DINO) and Arnold (a RINO). I'm not sure you can hold their popularity up as a clear example. Not that I don't think you're right about clear speaking real republicans. I think you should be right, and probably are, if logic has any bearing.

I always found it rather odd that Republicans must atone for their sins but Dems don't seem to need to. I think one could argue that, comparing the histories of the two parties as they relate to blacks, Republicans bear out no worse then Dems. But that's a discussion for another day.

Again, thanks for the reply. I ran across your blog from Dean's sometime back (Thomas Sowell was the topic you chimed in on). I've been browsing back since then. I enjoy your writing.

I do think both you and Black Glenn have points re: Black America. I've lived in the rural/semi-rural south all most of my life. My home state has varied several times, and even different communities within a larger metro area has varied. I've noticed there isn't a cultural monolith but perhaps there is a political monolith. Even when the issues benefit blacks in my community they will frequently vote against their own interests. A lot of it comes from suspicion. Valid historical suspicion too. That may be a southern thing though. Southern politics is a strange and often ugly beast.

Thanks again.


Posted by: CBK at November 14, 2003 02:42 PM

The black political monolith is Democratic but it overlook a significant dimension. It's one thing to say that 80-90% of the black vote went to Democrats, but it's another to recognize that black voter turnout is somewhere around 30%. Most blacks, especially in the middle class and upper middle are sitting out on the sidelines.

The idea that African Americans are wedded to the Democratic party doesn't mean a divorce is not in the offing because the truth is that their heart and soul is not in it.

I think hatred for Powell and Rice is overrated. If Powell ran for President all the emnity would be forgotten at the drop of a hat. There are black progressives who don't like Powell - they have good reasons, and those are the same people who supported Bill Bradley in the race against Bush. That's not the core of the black electorate either.

CBK I don't know how close you are to Atlanta but if you know the city you know that blacks down in Fayette and over on the nice part of Cascade Road as well as those in Cobb County are not rolling over monolithically for the politics of Cynthia McKinney. Blacks in Decatur and Stone Mountain have different political interests than those in Cobb and North Fulton which are different from those living off Old National Highway.

Posted by: Cobb at November 14, 2003 04:22 PM

Interesting piece.

What you say about "warm and fuzzies" might be rephrased in this way (and correct me if I'm wrong):

If I'm convinced that you like me, then I'll give you everything you ask for. But if I'm convinced that you don't like me, I'll fight you every inch of the way.

This might explain why it isn't always about the money.

Of course this is just my opinion and I could be wrong. But I doubt it.

Posted by: Ara Rubyan at November 14, 2003 06:31 PM

Yeah, I like that. It resonates as a simple human explanation. It only goes to show how remarkably foolish people are being about who 'black leaders' should be.

Posted by: Cobb at November 14, 2003 09:57 PM

There's another side of it, which maybe you won't like, but which I'm quite convinced is true.

Black people tend to see racism a lot. Sometimes when it's there, and sometimes when it's not, but a lot of them are convinced that it's quite prevalent.

They also have to blame some political force for it. Since most elected black officials are Democrats, then it must be Republicans from whence the evil emanates, right?

Of course, why so many black elected Democrats? Actually it has more to do with demographics than policy. From the 1930s to the 1970s, there was a huge shift of blacks out of the countryside and into the big cities. There are no big cities which are majority Republican. This means that if you are black and came of age any time in the last 40 years, you would have seen almost nothing but black Democrats.

If you are a Democratic politician, regardless of your heritage, you do not spend more of your time attacking fellow Democrats. You attack Republicans if you attack anyone, except in the most extreme circumstances.

So what do young people see? Mostly black elected Democrats mostly criticizing white Republicans, since the Republican base has always been suburbia, and suburbia is where most blacks aren't.

Or weren't. Except there's more of them in suburbia all the time.

You can combine that with something stupid Barry Goldwater said to upset Martin Luther King in the 1970s, and a few other stupid incidents, and the result is not surprising.

I think all this is at least an equal factor, Cobb, because if you look at the dynamics, there has always been a substantial contingent of "cloth coat" Republicans--people who make little or no money and are still Republicans. Indeed, there was a Democratic Leadership Council poll recently (I'll dig around for it if you care) showing that of people who make $20,000 a year or less, still something like 40% of them vote Republican. Republicans would absolutely kill for 40% of the black vote, but what do they get? 10% in a good year, 5% in a bad year.

Having said all that, I think your prediction that a climb in black Republicans is inevitable sooner or later. I think it's going to be a combination of factors: rising black wealth and success, the increasing dominance of Generation X and Generation Y kids who don't have the baggage of their Boomer and World War II generation parents and grandparents, and the creeping out of the cities and into the suburbs that so many black people are making.

At some point the dam's gotta burst, especially because Democrats have pretty much reached the point where they take it for granted that they get black votes by default by just saying a few simple things.

By the way: if I were young, black, lived in the suburbs, and was interested in politics, I'd try showing up at a Republican Party meeting. They're in any local phone book. Those folks are eager these days to get black people involved, they really are, they just are utterly clueless and have no idea how to do it. They'd probably fall all over themselves to talk any intelligent black person able to speak reasonably well (not everyone can speak well in public) a position and even help him/her run for office.

This sort of change needs to come. It is just not healthy when one racial group in America is so overly taken for granted by one of its two political parties. Not for the parties, not for America, and not for the people taken for granted.

Posted by: Dean Esmay at November 16, 2003 03:51 AM

Oh, by the way, you may find this interesting:

Rosa Parks Laments

Posted by: Dean Esmay at November 16, 2003 03:55 AM

I think you and I disagree less than you think. But since I'm blogging for posterity, I don't mind taking a devil's advocate's position.

Nevertheless Goldwater stood in opposition to the entire organic movement of black assertion in American politics in the Post WW2 era. Everything blacks could do in American politics was encapsulated into the Civil Rights Bills of the 60s. Nobody can pretend that Republicans were as principled as Goldwater in the rank and file. It's a slap in the face of historical fact. Aside from that, let's see what he had to say about the decisions of Frank M. Johnson Jr. Federal judicial activism in contravention of state sovereingty. How could he support American soldiers in WW2 if he were so adamantly against intervention of superior morality with non-violent force? I don't buy it. Goldwater was just wrong, period.

As for blacks seeing racism, there are two reasons. Blacks understand that the safety of their children depends upon their ability to see race correctly. How often do whitefolks see it as that important. Aside from that, blackfolks are outnumbered. In the context of democratic politics, this is a very important fact and explains the radicalism of black politics. When mainstream politicians can do better, we'll all have a Coke and a smile. Until that day, we all put up with Sharpton's theatrics. It's not as if anybody whitefolks ever elected has done a better job, not since Lincoln.

Posted by: Cobb at November 17, 2003 10:33 PM

only three questions are really important here:

1. how many whites are explicitly racist? (ten percent? 20 percent? what?)

2. how does that number compare to the size of the black population?

3. who does this demographic vote for?

of course there is a lot more going on. but this is really the crux of the matter.

Posted by: lester spence at November 20, 2003 12:10 PM

I've got a quiz going and I've got over 400 responses, so I think it's fairly representative. I'll pub it up for while and see what I get.

here's the url:

i believe that the colorblind folks tend to be more politically active than anti-racists and that they don't counter the effects of racists. so a lot of critical stuff doesn't get the kind of scrutiny it deserves because the colorblind don't see an issue. this blunts the effect those who take public action.

the racists who take private action go under the mainstream radar anyway.

Posted by: Cobb at November 20, 2003 04:11 PM

what is the cronbach alpha of the various scales? that is, do the answers to the various "anti-racist" (for example) questions cohere?

how do you know the sample is representative if you don't have demographic characteristics of survey respondents?

i asked the "racism" question to my race and politics kids (largely white) a few weeks ago, in order to talk about why blacks tended to vote democratic. i thought ten percent was being conservative...they thought ten percent was VERY conservative. if ten percent of the white voting public is racist (whatever that term means)...then that means that there is ONE white adult racist for every black man woman and child.

the southern strategy works for a REASON. until the number of racists decrease...or the number of people of color significantly INCREASE...we should not expect a significant increase in black republicans at the national level.

Posted by: Lester Spence at November 20, 2003 09:47 PM

"the southern strategy works for a REASON. until the number of racists decrease...or the number of people of color significantly INCREASE...we should not expect a significant increase in black republicans at the national level. "

this assumes that racism cannot be combatted or that integration of the republican party will have no effect on its racism. that racism in the republican party can be defeated by a critical mass of blacks is a fundamental axiom of my activism.


i've already discounted the possibility that all american racists are republicans.

so in blacks not integrating the republican party is saying one of two things. either they have lost the will to fight racism up close and personal or the racism of the republican party is not sufficiently compelling, simply not worth fighting.

Posted by: Cobb at November 21, 2003 07:24 AM

"i've already discounted the possibility that all american racists are republicans."

what does the distribution look like?

Posted by: lester spence at November 21, 2003 01:24 PM