Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Sowing the seeds

Donald Lambro has an interesting article about Ken Mehlman’s attendance at a fund-raiser for a city councilman in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The city councilman is Otto Banks, a young African-American who voted for John Kerry but then switched parties in March. Read the whole thing.

Discussions - 9 Comments

If Otto Banks can turn Harrisburg into a more Republican city, then Pennsylvania may actually start to be more represented in the elections. In the last election, the four major cities (Harrisburg, Erie, Philly and Pittsburgh) were Democrat tipping the state, even though the majority of the counties went Republican. This could be a good sign...


I have to wonder about anyone who, at this late date, after decades of left-wing control of the Democratic party, and after finding John Kerry preferable to George Bush as president of the United States, decides he’ll become a Republican. This is a political man, not just some regular guy off the streets. I think he can cool his heels a little and show some real commitment to the party. Until then, he is not worth Ken Mehlman’s time. There are much bigger fish to fry ... like the Senate Democrats who Mr. Banks presumably also supported for many years.

Oh I disagree, David. The GOP literally needs to hit the streets and become involved at the ground-level.

This is definitely the best place to start.

I think it is a great thing for the GOP to reach out to the Black community. My opinion is that politics should not be divided on race, religion, gender etc. I have no problem with one that does soul searching and reaches out to the party that they feel is best representing their core beliefs. I don’t really think this is a sign of an upcoming wave of migration from one party to another, but an admirable decision of one person to be independent and to follow what they believe.


One of Mr. Banks’s stated reasons for switching is that the Democrats have taken blacks for granted. This is a common complaint among blacks who convert to the GOP, or toy with it.
But it is hardly an example of Nick’s hope "that politics should not be divided by race" etc.

I agree that it’s "a great thing for the GOP to reach out to the Black community," but it’s been doing this for years. The question is whether attending a fundraiser for a city councilman who was apparently a loyal Democrat up through the 2004 election (where was Mr. Banks when we needed him?) is a good use of Ken Mehlman’s time.

As for Mr. Kelso’s recommendation that the GOP "hit the streets and become involved at the ground level," they actually did a great job of that last year, and I gave large amounts of my time to this, uncompensated.

Meanwhile, Councilman Banks was supporting John Kerry, who carried Pennsylvania by a narrow margin.

The assumption that he did "soul searching" and concluded that the GOP "best represents his core beliefs" is simply that -- an assumption. Not every party switcher is motivated by principle. And not everyone who thinks he is motivated by principle really understands those principles. Converts who show no clear sign of understanding what is wrong -- very badly and deeply wrong -- with the Democratic party can easily become disillusioned with the GOP. Bush’s "compassionate conservatism" is probably attractive to a lot of politically marginal people. But it is not the heart and soul of the Republican party.

Whittaker Chambers distinguished between those who truly break from communism -- who knew what they were serving and why they believed in it, then had a real conversion, went over to the anti-communist side, and fully understood why they did so -- and those who simply drifted out of the communist party for one reason or the other. I don’t mean to compare Democrats to communists, but there is an important distinction between a casual convert and a serious one.

I make no presumption about Otto Banks. But it seems to me that his enthusiasts are making such an assumption. My attitude is "wait and see." We don’t want him turning around and slamming the GOP a year from now because it hasn’t moved on school choice -- or his most urgent potholes in Harrisburg.

Mr. Frisk,
I understand your point from a position of the party. As someone who is reluctant to become too engaged in a party because I don’t want to HAVE to support or oppose something based on a party affiliation, I admire politicians that seem to have an independent character - be it R or D. I do completely understand your point however, that it might not be the best use of time for a party chairman. You are also right that it is an assumption of principle, I should say that I hope that it is based on principle.

I think Ken Mehlman’s actions become quite intelligible when one stops to reflect on how crucial an extremely high turnout of extremely loyal black voters is to Democrats just about everywhere. In some states and localities, that lock on an energized black vote bank has become the only thing standing between the Democrat Party and the abyss of permanent electoral noncompetitiveness.

Therefore, even defections at the margins start to become pure gold for the GOP and a possibly lethal crisis for the Democrats. Otto Banks may very well be an opportunist, but the very fact that he thinks the GOP may be a good place to jump to is telling.

On the merits, I think more of a competitive, two-party politics situation surrounding black voters will be better for their interests (Banks is right that the Dems do take blacks for granted) and on balance a plus for the GOP on principled as well as expedient grounds (a lot of black Americans are morally and socially conservative people who have been closer ideologically to the GOP on issues such as abortion and homosexual marriage for a while now anyway--it seems to be the Dems’ ill-hidden fondness for homosexual marriage that is threatening to become the Democrat "bridge too far" for black Americans).


What matters far more than one fundraiser and one defector from the Democrats is, indeed, the general opening among a segment of African-Americans toward the Republican party. I suspect more of this is due to social issues than to "opportunity" economics or vouchers, though I could be wrong.
I am more comfortable when blacks go Republican on the basis of the real ideological differences between the parties; and less so when they cite the fact of being taken for granted by the Democrats. Sooner or later the Democrats will not take them for granted.


As for Nick’s point, yes, we should always hope that something like this is based on principle. And indeed, we should always hope. While it is hard for me to swallow someone who actually supported John Kerry just half a year ago in one of the most crucial elections of our lifetimes, we must hope that some such people will join our party. 51-48 is just too close for comfort -- or a really strong presidency. It would be great if we could do better next time.

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