By: Joshua Howell
There is a thick, reinforced wall keeping Republicans and African-Americans separated, incapable of engaging in healthy, meaningful dialogue. Consider three attempts of this campaign season alone.
First came Donald Trump: wealthy, tanned, caught in what was apparently the 1950s. This marvelously detached billionaire thought it good politics to boast of his “great relationship with “the Blacks.” (For humor’s sake, imagine President Obama attempting to assuage racial divides by speaking of his superb relations with “the Whites.”)
Then followed Ron Paul. He, with surprising ingenuousness, thought African-Americans would overlook his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the racist passages of his newsletter. They didn’t, nor should Mr. Paul have expected them to. Finally, there was Mitt Romney, whose needless ejaculations of “who let the dogs out?” and “bling bling” (on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, no less!) had all the trappings of an overseas tourist who doesn’t speak the language — well intentioned, naive and a tad insulting. But despite (or, perhaps, because of) these foibles, one should be heartened to learn of Mr. Romney’s “quiet push” for African-American voters. Make no mistake: this attempt is destined for failure. Many he visited were “personally offended” and chanted persecutions of “Get out, Romney, get out!”
And yet conversation must commence somewhere, even this one. The problem with Mr. Romney’s approach has little to do with his tawdry slip of the tongue, nor the fact that he is white and the president is Black. For most African-Americans, voting Democrat is akin to church on Sunday and soul food with family — it is a cultural norm, this informed by history, political philosophy and economics. It is a norm not merely inflected by remembrances of the Civil Rights Act, the necessity of welfare, or Black-Democratic politicians. For African-Americans, big government has yielded big results, and they intend to keep it that way for some time.
Such left-leaning loyalty dates back to Reconstruction, when the country, tired and worn, its back broken after four years of civil war, offered newly manumitted slaves work at the Postal Service — otherwise known as a facet of that encroaching and pernicious federal government which had recently trampled states’ rights by enforcing emancipation at gunpoint. The relationship progressed into the pre-Civil Rights Era, when “the Blacks”, unable to find private sector work during the apex of Jim Crow, flooded into public sector jobs to make do. Then came those mainstays of conservatism: William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater. As a corner stone of their governing philosophies, both harbored strong opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, all in the name of (that bête noire of many Blacks) states’ rights.
And one mustn’t forget President Reagan, who slowed the rate of government growth and cut spending on social programs as part of what has been deemed “trickle-down economics.”
(Alas, none of that wealth managed to “trickle down” to African-Americans, leaving many to understand J.K. Galbraith’s criticism when he said, with marvelous imagery: “If you feed enough oats to the horse, some will pass through to feed the sparrows.”) But regarding the current generation: Nearly 20 percent of gainfully employed African- Americans work for some form of government (the largest percentage of any racial group) and these make 25 percent more than their counterparts in the private sector. Did Mr. Romney deserve the welcome he received? Certainly not. But his problems arise because few (if any) of his policies speak to the aforementioned. Yes, there has been a precipitous drop in the availability of government jobs (not to mention the current fiasco in which the postal service now finds itself), but cutbacks would surely have been worse under a Republican Administration. Simply put: African-Americans don’t share Mr. Romney’s distrust for big government. History shows that, time and time again, lurches in equality have come with the enlargement of DC at the expense of states’ rights. In between, the slow yet substantial growth of the Black-middle class has come with jobs in the public sphere. That’s good ol’ fashioned tax-and-spend economics, directly antithetical to Republican orthodoxy. If Mr. Romney is to make headway, he has to understand that the Black community’s support for the left is like a boulder, dense and large — one election won’t change a thing. But if Republicans are earnest in their wish to make inroads, like a patient stream, they must erode that hardened support over decades. It will take shifts in policy and changing cultural norms for this to occur, but it’s worth doing. Such a transition would not only benefit Republicans, but, now having two parties vying for their attention, “the Blacks” as well.