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Race, the Election, and Conservatives

Ken Blackwell argues that though McCain has virtually no chance of winning the black vote in this election, it speaks volumes about his seriousness and his integrity that he means to address the NAACP in Cincinnati next Wednesday. Blackwell also argues that this is no mere pointless exhibition of (correct) principle; McCain can, if he does it right, make real and important inroads with this audience. He should, at any rate, operate on the assumption that he can. If you understand the real interests of these Americans in the same way that you understand the real interests of all other Americans, the argument for voting for Obama boils down to little more than racial pride. That can be a powerful argument (particularly given our history) but this does not make it a good argument. McCain should not make the patronizing mistake of seeming to grant that it is. Blackwell offers solid advice.

In a similar vein, I'd like to reintroduce the subject of William Voegeli's fine essay in the CRB, "Civil Rights and the Conservative Movement." He was right to caution in his post about it that reading it would take a while. It's not the kind of thing you can do on the fly or after four hours in the sun by the pool with active children. It demands attention and hard thinking. If (like me) you didn't live through the period it may be an eye opener. There are a dozen things that could be said about the piece (and I hope will be said) by folks who are smarter than me, but one inescapable conclusion is a more mature understanding of why so many black voters still believe they cannot trust Republicans or conservatives. And, perhaps, there is a bit of old-fashioned American tragedy involved in that story. Do check it out.

Categories > Elections

Discussions - 21 Comments

I agree with you, Julie, about Mr. Voegli's essay in the CRB, both about its importance and the time and attention it demands.

For a while I've wondered if conservatives had a coherent, sound position on the question of how America the regime can achieve or foster racial justice and harmony. To wit: how much law and law enforcement is necessary, and by which level of government; how much civil society could reliably accomplish; what role rhetoric and statesmanship should play; what such rhetoric and statesmanship would look like.

It seems that this has been inadequately addressed in regular conservative narratives (like Founders vs. Progressives) and schema (limited government, federalism, and individualism vs. socialism/liberalism). Somehow these approaches don't account for or haven't engaged "the souls of black folk."

Nor do these concepts really address the theme, from Aristotle to the Founders and Lincoln, that citizens must be (or become) friends. I think a large part of black Americans' political rejection of conservatives is, as Voegli notes, not so much theoretical as personal, based on a perception of antipathy (to which many blacks respond in kind). Although this perception may today be exaggerated and reinforced in folk wisdom and by black leaders, (ecclesiastical and political), there are, of course, painful examples in American history. And, to paraphrase Lincoln, public opinion, however misguided, can't be safely ignored in a republic.

Kudos to Voegli for incisively and insightfully characterizing the difficulty of conservatives in the 1954-1964 era in conceiving of, much less proclaiming, a political theory of both liberty and racial justice that fits the U.S. Voegli's critical look back at them is both historically sensitive and relevant for today's conservatives and Republicans, insofar as they are trying to win the hearts and minds of fellow citizens.

Addressing a national NAACP convention is in no way a mark of "seriousness and integrity." Confusion about the political benefits of the visit? Perhaps. Confusion about the substantive value of the organization? Perhaps. White guilt? Perhaps. But legitimizing an outfit that has gone as far off the rails as the NAACP suggests, if not a lack of integrity, a certain lack of seriousness (confusion and white guilt are ipso facto unserious) in a Republican politician. In addition, a candidate who is as much of underdog as McCain not only has no obligation to waste time on hostile organizations and those voters who follow the lead of such organizations. I would argue, further, that he has an affirmative duty to his supporters not to waste time at all. There might be some value in addressing an NAACP convention if one very clearly challenges their stale leftist ideology. Not because there will be inroads with that audience, but because the American mainstream (including non-leftist blacks) can be indirectly educated, if the speech is reported with any accuracy. McCain is most unlikely to do this.


To comment on Bill Voegeli's thoughtful essay and Julie's response to it, I have to say that 50-year-old National Review editorials, and Barry Goldwater's principled, Constitution-minded vote (whether right or wrong) against the Civil Rights Act, are very poor excuses for prejudice by anybody against Republicans and conservatives today. Or even against Bill Buckley and Goldwater.

Blackwell is wrong to think that McCain can get "a respectable percentage" of the black vote in this election. In another election, probably not either, but conceivably. In this one, no. Bush did get a respectable percentage of the black vote in Ohio in 2004, thanks in part, I would think, to the gay-marriage measure on the ballot. But that 16 percent or so doesn't prove anything about 2008, or anything about the nationwide black vote in 2004, which generally told the same old dismal tale. I was once in a political science class in which the professor was asked: Do the various Republican candidates for major office who have gotten relatively high percentages of the black vote have anything in common? "Yeah," the professor said. "They're liberals." One would also presume they weren't running against black opponents, let alone "charismatic" ones.

Thanks to JQA...The Founders vs. the Progressives "narrative" is not really that relevant to the most issues today...And traditional conservatives don't acknowledge that it was a failure in self-government in the South that caused the necessary legislation of 1964-65...On balance, Goldwater's opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1864 was shameful, as WV suggests....There are obvious reasons why blacks in the south in particular view the fact that overwhelming majority of whites now vote GOP as racist...It goes without saying that they exaggerate big-time, as all partisans do...But exaggerations include some truth...On the political level, a solution, though, would be less about friendship and more about the genuine cultivation of interests that have nothing to with race...In a certain way, we can say that Obama and McCain originated, at least, as post-racial candidates, and they both have opportunties to help race behind us...As a matter of honor if nothing else, McCain should aggressively exploit his.

Buckley was always more vocabularist than thinker. His tone-deafness regarding race stains the entire conservative movement for generations. Young progressives should read Voegli's piece not just for its critical honesty but for its diagnosis of the present day constituitive afflictions of the movement. The key to the article is in the claim that the two movements "did not require noticing each other." That failure to notice is precisely Buckley's blindness. He was equally tone-deaf to certain structural defects in big capitalism against african-americans in the south. Unable to raise moral questions of the financial inequalities in markets Buckley saw no great moral urgency in racial inequality either. Thus his great message to african-americans was "just wait," similar to the call to "go shopping" by Bush. Buckley cannot bring himself to say that the "legitimate, organic progress" he was waiting on was precisely the insurrection against capital that King orchestrated. Conservatives need a discourse in which they can more forcefully address structural market evil. Hatred of 'big government' blinds one to the equally oppressive mechanisms of 'big capital' and the potential balance of power between the two. Buckley's own vocabulary invites a polysyllabic obloquy in response: history judges him as jejune and guilty of simple pusillanimity.

A most illuminating insight of Bill Voegeli's superb essay is his description of affirmative action as a gift to conservatives. That response of injustice to injustice made it less essential for conservatives (as constitutionalists and as politicians)to develop a coherent policy on civil rights and a politics that includes black Americans. That incoherence has allowed Republicans (as often distinct from conservatives)to endorse racial reapportionment and other, self-segregating policies that furthered this policy of neglect. This is not the stance of a "republican" party that has self-government as a principle.

McCain is to be commended for going to the NAACP meeting--provided that he will elevate the discussion of the issues important to that group.

What "speaks volumes" about Republicans' "seriousness and integrity" is their fellatiating Jesse Helms, as documented here:

http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2008/07/conservatives-a.html

I agree with Ken that affirmative action was a gift to conservatives in this sense: It allowed them to wallow in outrage at the expense of tough and uncomfortable thought about a coherent policy on civil rights.
I'm not denying for a moment, of course, that affirmative action--or most of it--is unjust and ineffective. It's also true that its days are clearly numbered, and affirmative action is not a credible reason for campaigning against Obama.

We lacked a "coherent policy" regarding civil rights?

Since when?

We don't have a policy, we have an approach, an attitude.

We're against quotas, we could hardly be the party of Lincoln and be for it. We're against judging people by skin colour, and we're against the new civil rights movement PRECISELY because it can't get beyond skin colour. We haven't any obligation to develop a policy of what we're FOR on this issue, we simply need to maintain the intellectual and moral fortitude to continue to hold the line against the Democrats FIXATION on race.

Just because the Democrats and the Left are absolutely fixated on race/class/gender doesn't mean, ipso facto, that we must also develop a "policy" on the same.

Sometimes a policy of being against what the other guy is doing, just because you know the other guy is wrong, is just fine. Just fine.

A Conservative needn't have a White Paper on every subject under the sun. That's one of the perks of being a Conservative; you don't run with the crowd, and you don't think that every issue du jour needs a developed and settled policy position.

When individual cases of racism appear, truly appear, they have the courts for redress. Thus a policy of individual response exists, and Republicans needn't develop some overarching response, just because the Democrats are determined to Balkanize the populace of the United States.

HOWEVER, if you're suggesting that the unhealthy approach of the Democrats is forcing us to change our immigration laws, because the Left is trying to set class against class and race against race, THEN I'm for developing a policy that makes sure that the United States has a body politic that is truly representative of American ideals.

Needless to say, pitting race against race is NOT Republican, HOWEVER, it's worked for the Democrats. Their party's history is one where they've gained power and held it, by race, class or ethnic assertion.

Their history on race/class/gender is positively creepy.

Mega-dittoes, Dan. Stertinius, you probably don't care about this inconvenient little fact, but Bill Buckley's views on the subject changed 40 years ago or more.

5: Professor Lawler, since it is clear that Goldwater was not a racist and opposed racism, and since it is a well-known fact that he explained his opposition to the Civil Rights Act in constitutionalist terms, and since Goldwater is well-known across the political spectrum for his honesty and sincerity, I strongly disagree with you that his vote against the bill was "shameful," even "on balance." Wrong, perhaps. Tragic, perhaps. Easily misunderstood by well-meaning people, absolutely. But "shameful"? No.

5: To say that "exaggerations contain some truth" doesn't help the discussion. Does "some truth" mean 10 percent, or 60 percent? Are you merely saying that blacks and white liberals aren't entirely fantasizing about the presence of racist motives among some conservatives? If so, what's the cash value of that point? Or are you saying that they're more right than wrong if they think most conservatives are fundamentally racist; and if they think, furthermore, that this racism is the main factor shaping conservative views on "racial" issues? Big difference there.

When it was suggested that conservatives lack a coherent policy regarding civil rights, what is meant is that there is a lack of clear argument, a body of reasonable positions. That is all that 'having a policy' entails. So I take you (Dan) merely to be saying you have attitudes, not reasons, for holding to the positions you hold. But the discussion stops there, because if I inquire why you have the attitudes you do, no further reasons will be forthcoming.
To the idea that "just being against" or having the "attitude" of knowing that other guy is wrong, is "just fine" or "one of the perks of being a conservative" - What can I say? That is a terrible argument, and hence a terrible policy. You will probably respond by saying "I don't need no stinking argument or policy." Then I will definitely know I am on some blog-site.
And to leave it to the courts to redress things begs all questions, since the courts are that by which we would adjudicate the individual cases by way of precisely evaluating the arguments and policies in play. That is a losing position, both intellectually and politically. I took that to be the whole point of the article. Buckley's hesitation can hardly be glossed as a perk. And civil rights is more than some race-class-gender seminar run amok.

To Mr. Frisk, I do give Buckley credit for admitting he was wrong. But the embedded wrongness has terribly outweighed the corrections in course. Isn't the point of the Voegli piece to try to show how other conservatives have gotten it wrong also, and have not admitted it or addressed it fully enough?

To DF: I agree with your criticism of what I said. I didn't mean to put the shame, so to speak, on Goldwater the man. What was shameful, to be more precise, is the only part of the Barry's appeal that really worked in 1964 was to the southerners still resisting integration--through I think his very mistaken decision to vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is the only incidence of the national govt. interpreting the Const. correctly when it comes to race. I would add, for the record, that there's no necessary connection between the CR Act and the Voting Rights Act and the Great Society/War on Poverty or the genuinely perverse SCOTUS decision SWANN or the brush with disaster of MILLIKEN. The is a connection between SWANN and the unprincipled BROWN II that involves the abuse of "equity" at the expense of principle...

An attitude in the present case is based on the Natural Law. And thus stands in no need of additional support, though additional support does exist.

The United States already has an existing mechanism to respond to INDIVIDUAL CASES of GENUINE racism. But we needn't develop a "policy" based upon the fantastical accusations of creatures like Wright, Pflegger, Farrakhan, et al. And we don't need to do so because they are so fixated on race/class/gender, that they've overlooked how profoundly and thoroughly America has changed.

You don't go develop a policy for winning the Super Bowl after you've just won the thing, back to back. That would be superfluous. Racism in this country, at the institutional level, has been conquered. The Bar, the medical profession, graduate schools, the officer corps, the judiciary, the body politic, city hall, you name it, and at an institutional level, racism can't be found. Are there individual cases here and there? Sure. But they are marginal, episodic and increasingly infrequent. In fact, whipping this dead horse again and again, pretending that strains of racism exist everywhere, but that we haven't looked hard enough for it, is COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE at this point. Just as the idea of reparations is. It's time to move on, it's time to move forward, for we've other challenges to confront, and it doesn't do to constantly navel gaze. Those in the grievance industry, the race/class/gender types, of course they've a FINANCIAL reason to continue to harp on the subject, just like Harpies from mythology. But that shouldn't prevent reasonable adults gazing over the scene, and observing that racism, as an institutional reality, is moribund.

The Almighty fashioned man in his image and likeness, therefore it's against the natural order of things for man to distinguish based upon nothing more than the accident of race. Upon that simple and self-evident truth, the GOP's position on race, and racial preference is based.

It needs to be recalled here that the GOP derived from the abolition movement. Our bona fides on the issue are air tight, rock solid. We're not the party of the nullification doctrine, the peculiar institution, the Confederacy or Jim Crow. That's the other guy, that's the other group, which based their political power back in the day on race, and TODAY TOO, base their political power on race, {without the Black urban vote, the Democrat party effectively ceases to exist, which explains their studied refusal to excoriate Wright, Pflegger, and others like them, -------- they need their votes, no matter how outrageous they are}.

So I reject out of hand any suggestion that we lack a "policy" on race/class/gender because we can't get beyond some vague and ignorant notions regarding the same. Our position was developed in the white heat of battle, fashioned by Lincoln himself and is in need of no alteration by the likes of the lesser mortals we find in Washington.

Take a walk along the mall to the Lincoln Memorial, and ponder well the visage of the man sitting there, as well as the words etched in stone alongside. THAT'S our position, the position of the party of Lincoln, the Grand Old Party.

References to natural law are certainly not 'self-evident.' The natural law tradition has splintered into a dozen pieces, and nature stopped being 'natural' in the natural law senses of that term a long time ago. What I was struck by in your response was a condemnation of thoughtful exploration of conservatism's policies on race as navel-gazing, yet within the same post you seek to replace it with Lincoln statue-gazing.
We have no more won the 'super bowl' against racism as we have against terrorism. Why is it that you neocons launch wars and basically change the entire government in reaction to the one but not the other? In fact I could re-cast one of your paragraphs and substitute racism with terrorism:
[Terrorism] in this country has been conquered. Terrorism can't be found. Are there individual cases here and there? Sure. But they are marginal, episodic and increasingly infrequent. In fact, whipping this dead horse again and again, pretending that strains of [terrorism] exist everywhere, but that we haven't looked hard enough for it, is COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE at this point. It's time to move on, it's time to move forward, for we've other challenges to confront, and it doesn't do to constantly navel gaze. Those in the [military] industry, the [security] types, of course they've a FINANCIAL reason to continue to harp on the subject, just like Harpies from mythology. But that shouldn't prevent reasonable adults gazing over the scene, and observing that terrorism is moribund.

If anything, it's increasingly clear that only Natural Law can serve as a basis for modern society. Observe Europe for instance, which is desperately trying to organize itself around an empty set, where Christianity has been ripped from the foundation of European history and the European present.

"Status gazing" is an interesting turn of phrase, I'll give you that, but it's a misreading of what I suggested. Lincoln was used to spur a more thorough "exploration" of the issue than you're likely to find in academia today. The modern Left doesn't have anything to offer America on race, nor on class or gender. The Left divides, the Left pits man against man, supposedly all in the interest of "man."

Nor has the Natural Law "splintered." An intellectual attack was launched against the Natural Law, strawmen were erected, torn down, and the Natural Law doesn't hold quite the stature that it did at the founding. That doesn't mean it's "splintered." What it means is that it must be more fully explained. Many have done their best to render the Natural Law a dead letter, but it's as clear today as it ever was, despite the best efforts of modern and postmodern intellectuals to erase it, and to dull its voice in the conscience of man. Natural Law exists, semper, et pro semper.

I don't want to go off on a Natural Law tear here, but you need to bring yourself up to speed on what the Natural Law is, and what it's not. And an excellent place to start is John Paul II's Encyclical VERITATIS SPLENDOR, {The Splendor of Truth, note the title isn't the vague offerings of the "truth," but rather the SPLENDOR thereof}. "THE SPLENDOR OF TRUTH shines forth in all the works of the Creator and, in a special way, man, created in his image and likeness." {Lead sentence in the Encyclical}.

Nor am I dismissive of a "thoughtful exploration" of the GOP's position on race, AS AN HISTORICAL MATTER. But I am dismissive of the idea that we need to develop a "new policy" as if there is some sort of delinquency or want in our existing approach. I am dismissive of suggestions that we need to expand on an approach that's already worked, and I'm dismissive because I'm confident that continued fixation on race will surely prove counter-productive and will surely tend towards a "Balkinization" of the American electorate. When Hillary recently spoke of her claiming "the white vote" in a Democrat primary, that should trigger concern in all thoughtful observers of the political scene.

What will this new "policy" consist of? It will inevitably mimick the Left; it will be predicated upon blocs, not the individual citizen, and it will be aimed towards redressing problems that don't exist, but did exist in our yesteryear. America is BEYOND race, and though the Left is doing its damnedest not to get that memo, that's still the case, despite the best efforts of Jackson, Sharpton, Wright and Michelle Obama types, who refuse to accept the settled truth that America is beyond race.

Way back in the '60s, Daniel Patrick Monyihan said that race relations needed a period of "benign neglect." That's more true today than it ever was.

THAT'S the Conservative position, and that should be the position of the Grand Old Party.

15: Professor Lawler, thanks. I would agree to this extent: If Goldwater's victory in the Deep South, and his strong showing in the Upper South, were the simple result of his vote against the Civil Rights Act, I would regard that as a moral embarrassment to the Republican party and to Mr. Goldwater *in 1964.* The situation was far from monolithic even then, however. Some Southerners opposed segregation and supported the Republican party (the GOP was getting stronger there even before civil rights really blew up in mid-'63). Republican votes (and there were many) before '64 in the South tended to come from more "modern" and less "Southern" people. There were also segregationists who cared equally or at least strongly about other issues, on which they agreed with Goldwater and the increasingly conservative GOP.
Even if one puts a bleak construction on Goldwater's Southern victory, it's wrong to assume that Southern support for the GOP would even remain in place (let alone grow, as it did) for years let alone decades simply on the strength of one man's vote against the Civil Rights Act. The law, after all, was passed -- was indeed law even by the time of the election. That particular fight was over. Goldwater sided with the white South, for his own more respectable reasons, on the Act. But he did so quite ineffectively, after all. That wasn't enough to keep the South Republican on the presidential level, and make it more Republican on all levels, for most of the period since. Or even for very long. Bottom line: The South was conservative then, as it is now. The Democratic party was moving left then, and has mostly continued to move left. Those are the fundamental facts of the Southern realignment, and there is nothing to be ashamed in them.

14: The "corrections in course," which you admit, have outweighed the "wrongness" you cite.

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