Autopsy: an examination of a body after death to determine the cause of death or the character and extent of changes produced by disease.
In the aftermath of their November election defeat, the Republican Party set out to analyze the reasons for their second straight loss in the pursuit of the Oval Office.
Toward that end, the party faithful commissioned a $10-million research paper outlining the Grand Old Party’s liabilities and its overall failure to keep pace with the shift in the nation’s attitudes and opinions on lifestyle and morality.
Dubbed in many circles as a postmortem or “autopsy,” it is officially titled a “Growth and Opportunity Project” report, and weighs in at 100 pages. Among its observations are:
“Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country. When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us.”
In addition, it declared that:
“America is changing demographically, and unless Republicans are able to grow our appeal the way GOP governors have done, the changes tilt the playing field even more in the Democratic direction.”
Amid all these negative tidings, however, the report did offer up a few kernels of hope linking the past with the future:
“The African American community has a lot in common with the Republican Party, and it is important to share this rich history.”
Contemporary followers of the political process, however, might take issue with this last sentiment.
“It just does not seem–like not only are we not welcome–not only are we not welcome, but they don’t even care what we think.”
–Comedian and political commentator D.L. Hughley on the GOP’s perception of Black people.
On a recent weekday evening, the University of Southern California branch of the College Republicans held an on-campus screening of the documentary, “Fear of a Black Republican.” This film is notable for an attempt by its filmmaker, a New Jersey Irish Catholic, to address the scarcity of people of color in a party that actually freed them from the bonds of slavery.
Afterward, he took pains to point out that he and his family were not members of the elite classes commonly associated with the Republican constituency.
“I believe that anything is realistically achievable if we do not let others put barriers or boxes around us,” said director Kevin Williams, mentioning one of the major obstacles facing his party’s attempts at expanding its voter base.
“People of color could have a more positive impact on improving their communities as they would at least force the Democratic Party to work better/harder for their interests,” he said, in a reference to a commonly voiced sentiment that the Democratic Party, because it habitually takes the Black vote for granted, has no motivation to make an effort toward the pursuit of that group’s welfare.
In this, Williams echoes a statement made more then a hundred years ago by the author, educator, and orator Booker T. Washington, who alluded to the leadership of his era as “race-problem solvers” committed to not finding a solution since doing so would eliminate their positions in management.
Decades later, Williams agreed with this view. “White Liberals have much power, prestige and position to lose if Black voters begin to split their ticket or look for other options.”
Also in attendance at this screening and the following discussion was Marc T. Little. The East Coast transplant and USC law grad described his own pilgrimage towards conservatism during the 1990s as a break from the inherited allegiance towards the Democratic Party that was part and parcel of his African American heritage.
“Too many voters vote party because they inherited the vote from their parents or grandparents. Voters must think about their vote and align that vote with their values.”
“I did my research, not on a political party, but on my own beliefs and how they line up with the Word of God,” he remembers.
“That research led me to be firmly pro-life, a supporter of traditional marriage, a supporter of legal immigration, and a supporter of limited government, among other things.”
One particularly vexing issue he had with the Democrats was their promotion of anti-poverty and other social programs, resulting in a recruitment of food stamp and relief recipients. In short, he claims this amounts to a government that trains people to “work the system.”
A Clinton supporter in the 1992 election, Little began a political metamorphosis through a period of self-examination and contemplation.
“For me, that diligence led me to the Republican Party, and then to vote for George W. Bush in 2000.”
Rebranding versus core values
“Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.”
–Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain.
Political parties, and the candidates they select, may be likened to merchandise being prepared for presentation before the general consumer base.
The Republican 1980s stranglehold on the Oval Office (two terms for Ronald Reagan, one for George H.W. Bush) was broken by the Democratic embrace of a charismatic Bill Clinton, whose centrist policies were attractive enough to draw a voter base outside the liberal mindset of his core constituency.
This successful formula involved a blending of fiscal conservatism and liberal social programs. In brief, it involved adopting enough of the opposition’s principles to seize control of a majority voter base, by presenting itself as a pragmatic, more sensible option on Election Day.
This methodology proved so successful that it transcended American politics by cultivating adherents in Brazil, Germany, and most especially the United Kingdom, whose former Prime Minister Tony Blair has been among the most articulate advocates of what is now called “the Third Way,” embracing what he called ” … progressive politics distinguishing itself from conservatism of left or right.”
The success of such a transition is, of course, hinged upon a willingness of the party faithful to adapt to a platform attractive enough to appeal to a wide cross section of the voting public. Toward that end, a campaign also requires a candidate who can present the party message in a desirable fashion, and is willing to distance himself or herself from the more extreme factions of their political party. Bill Clinton felt obliged to repudiate Hip Hop artist/social activist Sister Souljah’s more caustic remarks (and, indirectly, her advocate, the Rev. Jesse Jackson), especially in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising and the Rodney King beat-down.
On the other side of the political divide, George W. Bush cleared a major hurdle on his march to the White House by dissociating himself from legal scholar Robert Bork, whose extremist views derailed his Supreme Court nomination during the Ronald Reagan administration. This, in turn, was no small achievement, because Bush’s public persona was built on his image as a born-again evangelist.
The most recent example of this is Barack Obama’s rebuff of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, when Wright’s inflammatory remarks threatened the then-senator’s initial quest for the Oval Office. This in itself was no mean feat, considering that this was the person who officiated at Obama’s wedding, baptized his children, and played a pivotal role in his spiritual growth.
In the latest election, Mitt Romney made a sincere attempt to reach out to a broader voter base when he responded negatively to conservative talk show host/political commentator Rush Limbaugh’s reference to a college coed as a “prostitute” and “slut” in response to her promotion of female contraception as part of insurance coverage. No stranger to the provocative sound bite, Limbaugh is noted for his controversial statements about minorities.
Toeing the Party line
This brings up the question of how willing the faithful are to compromise the party guidelines. Marc Little for one is enamored of his party’s policy, and would be displeased if it endured major tampering merely to attract additional votes.
“I do believe the Republican Party’s conservative message of limited government and personal responsibility is what America should embrace,” he says.
He continues, “The message is strong and clear, and I would not say there is an issue with the GOP presentation of its core principles.”
He then offers up the opinion that the past two GOP candidates, Romney and John McCain, had a common failing in that they were too moderate, declaring that “it will take charisma and relatability to penetrate the bias that currently exists against the GOP, as well as an unbiased media to give all voters the information they need.”
In this, he points to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as an individual of unquestioned brilliance who nonetheless might have problems relating to the man on the street.
Intent behind the rhetoric
“These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this; we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference. For if we don’t move at all, then their allies will line up against us and there’ll be no way of stopping them, we’ll lose the filibuster and there’ll be no way of putting a brake on all sorts of wild legislation. It’ll be Reconstruction all over again.”
–Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas), 1957
The present-day partnership between Blacks and the Democratic Party is the result of a generation’s long shift (see the accompanying side bar). Perhaps the pivotal figure in this was Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ), in his tenure as congressman, senator and president. The pinnacle of this protracted strategy came with the Voting Rights Act.
In Ronald Kessler’s 1995 tome (he later broke the story of Secret Service malfeasance during Barack Obama’s trip to Cartagena, Colombia), “Inside the White House,” he quotes LBJ in an Air Force One conversation with two like-minded, unnamed governors during this period.
“I’ll have those n****** voting Democratic for the next 200 years,” he declared.
The motivation behind courting this voting bloc had more to do with expediency than sincere concern for humanity. In this, one might detect a basic precept of politics. The core strength of the two-party system is that it should offer viable alternatives, giving credence to the notion that the constituency must remain vigilant lest they be taken for granted by whichever side they cast their loyalty. Whether the Republicans can produce a viable candidate within the next three years, their observations about self-empowerment, encouragement of handouts, and government dependence resound with some voters.
A short history of how–and why–Blacks became Democrats
FDR was the catalyst
By Gregg Reese
The Black vote was not always the exclusive domain of the Democrats.
Initially, proponents of the Republican “party of Lincoln,” emancipated slaves shunning a Democratic Party that installed many of the anti-Reconstruction “Jim Crow” laws and were responsible for the creation of the Ku Klux Klan.
The GOP traces its origins back to 1856 when northern abolitionists banned together to oppose the spread of slavery into the newly formed territories of Kansas and Nebraska. This arrangement resulted in the 1860 election of the “Great Emancipator,” Abraham Lincoln, and a continuation of its anti-slavery precepts until the 1876 election. In this contest, the Republican contender, Rutherford P. Hayes, was allegedly handed the executive office with the understanding that he would withdraw Union troops (in the Compromise of 1877) from the former Confederacy.
Regardless of the truth behind what became known as “The Great Betrayal,” the withdrawal of troops paved the way for an erosion of the gains secured by freedmen during Reconstruction, such as inclusion into the electoral process, and a return to power by Southerners who fostered resentment of the policies forced upon them in the wake of the Civil War.
From this emerged the phenomenon of the “Solid South,” whose electoral support shored up the Democratic Party well into the 20th century. During this time, the Democratic Party served as a refuge for dispossessed veterans of the Confederacy, and provided a revisionist foundation upon which they founded a paramilitary wing in 1865 to express their resentment at the havoc the Republicans inflicted on their way of life–the Ku Klux Klan.
By 1868 and the Democratic National Convention, the party faithful officially honored the Klan, along with its guiding light, Nathan Bedford Forrest (allegedly its first Grand Wizard), the legendary cavalry general and principal innovator of guerrilla tactics, also known as asymmetrical or irregular warfare.
Over the rest of the century and into the next, the Klan, in various incarnations built upon Forrest’s tactics where they conducted “night rides” in which the techniques of cross-burning, lynching, rape, and tar-and-feathering were perfected to intimidate anyone deemed a threat to their theological and political ideology.
Along the way, the group insinuated itself into the community fabric on both sides of the Mason/Dixon Line, and boasted a roster of presidents in both parties who were at least cordial associates if not bona fide members, including Democrats Woodrow Wilson and Harry S. Truman, and Republicans Calvin Coolidge, Warren G. Harding and William McKinley.
Black empowerment angered the White South, which in turn helped the Democratic Party bring an end to Reconstruction.
The Democratic Party did little to endear itself to people of color until the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his realignment of the American political process after the Depression. His implementation of the New Deal and employment of an informal “Black Cabinet” of African American advisers, along with Republican antipathy to Black demands, led to a mass exodus of voters to the opposition, endeared the 32nd president to a legion of people of color, resulting in generations of Black children bearing the name “Roosevelt.” This political shift occurred in spite of FDR’s foot-dragging on the passage of anti-lynching laws.
Politics is a precarious balancing act, and the nod to Black interests (a factor in the 1948 election of Truman, who repudiated his racist past to win 70 percent of the Black vote) led to the brief formation of the “Dixiecrats” dedicated to segregation, the southern way of life, and further erosion of the Solid South.
But it was not a clean break. When Democratic Gov. Orval Faubus deployed the Arkansas National Guard in an attempt to stop the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower countered by mobilizing the 82nd Airborne Division to escort the nine African American teenagers into the school.
The next year evangelist Billy Graham (who later posted bail for Martin Luther King after his incarceration in Birmingham, Ala.), by then a national celebrity, applied to use the grounds of the South Carolina capitol to hold a mixed-race revival and was immediately rebuked by Democratic Gov. George Timmerman, who referred to the Baptist preacher as a “well-known integrationist.” Graham was forced to hold the rally at a nearby Army post.
The 1960 arrest of Rev. King in Georgia, and the subsequent political maneuvering of the Kennedy brothers in securing his release, accelerated the Black voter shift, and secured the election of John F. Kennedy as the 35th chief executive.
Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 passage of the Voting Rights Act and the opposition to it by Barry Goldwater, his opponent in that year’s presidential election, sealed the question of party allegiance. Black embrace of Democratic doctrine in turn prompted “Negrophobe Whites” to defect to the Republicans. This, in turn, was abetted by Richard Nixon’s (previously a civil rights advocate) calculated appeal to moderates appalled by the counter-cultural rejection of traditional American values, and especially his “Southern Strategy” which attracted voters of that region by appealing to, among other things, their fear of crime.