Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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The Grand Old Coalition?

Mickey Kaus notes that the Affrican-American community has no particular liking for high levels of immigration, adding, "if that's true, why doesn't the GOP at least try to win over a piece of this most loyal Democratic group? It's a potentially deep fissure that could pry apart the Dems' coalition."  The same is true on moral issues.  Had Barack Obama not been on the ticket, Prop 8 might not have passed in California.  The black community is more pro-life than are many other parts of the Democratic coalition.

Kaus also notes that "It's not clear to me that African-Americans have all that much at stake in the Democrats' obsession with promoting more unionization, in the private sector at least."  The key question, it seems to me, in addion to the cultural/ historical issues Lucas noted yesterday, is the percentage of the black middle class that is tied to, or supports the Unions, particularly in the public sector.   Public sector jobs used to be disproportionately important to the black community.  If that's still the case, I don't think that there's much chance of returning a large percentage of black voters to the party of Lincoln in the near future.  In the near future, with more and more people noting that the average pay in government jobs is higher than private sector jobs (at least at the federal level--if one includes benefits, the numbers are higher), the issue of public sector unions is going to be increasingly important.

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 4 Comments

Blacks' attachment to the Democratic Party is symbolic, which isn't actually good news. People are surprisingly willing to overlook a variety of real material interests to vote for symbolic reasons.

It is surprisingly easy to let go of fairy tales once you learn that fairies aren't real . . . but it is difficult, very difficult, to let go of their lingering charm and the residue of guilt you may feel in wondering if your lack of faith in fairies actually killed them. That's why it has to be replaced with a true story of equal, if not superior charm . . . and that, I submit, is the challenge facing the GOP with black voters. The GOP has such a story . . . but does it know it? And are they willing to tell that story in all it's glory and, also, in its less than glorious aspects? Are they willing to own it and embrace the truth? Unless and until they are it is difficult to blame people who want to cling to fairies in the absence of something more beautiful . . . Churchill said that facts are better than dreams and he was right. But dreams are better than half-truths and insufficient understanding of the facts.

Changing the bad attitude of black Americans toward the GOP is extraordinarily difficult. Confronting, highlighting, and challenging a voting bloc's prejudices and attachments (to false opinions as well as factious material supports like cushy government jobs) seems to go against most democratic politicians' instinct to flatter and accommodate. To accomplish such a task of political conversion -- to educate not via the classroom or congregation but in the arena of politics -- would take a statesman of Lincoln's historical knowledge, intellectual depth, moral compass, and rhetorical talents, and I don't see one around or on the horizon. Of course, the careers and thoughts of, e.g., Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Booker T. Washington -- all friendly to conservative ideas and policies on restraining government, promoting citizen equality, and invigorating citizen self-sufficiency -- are always there to be discovered and publicized. But someone (politically prominent) has to do it.
Shelby Steele wrote a very insightful 2009 essay on the habitual attachment of black Americans to "redemptive liberalism," neither component of which conservatives believe in or (consequently) sell well. A perceptive diagnosis and perhaps even prognosis. If political conversion happens more at the level of the individual than through some mass process, then the essay itself might augur well.

One part of Redwald's analysis that I agree with is that an attachment based on shared history and shared grievance is tougher to shake than one based on one's interpretation of the effects of marginal tax rates. But I don't think that is cause for radical pessimism. Symbolism often acts as a proxy for social solidarity, but the cynical misuse of symbolism by politicians and journalists (by no means all of them African American) to defend destructive policies and to obscure differences of principle with their intended audiences creates opportunities for effective rebuttal - if it is made to the right audience, if it is made persistently enough, if it is articulate, and if it addresses, in specific ways, people's concerns and principles.

JQA, two points

1. I agree that it will take statesmanship, but don't agree that it will have to take a Lincoln. It will take the efforts of dozens and dozens of political actors spending sometimes unpleasant hours to seemingly little gain. Even if there is to be a Lincoln, it will be the job of others to prepare the way and make his paths straight.

2. I am drawing from limited personal experience here, but my impression is that attachment to the Democratic Party is far more universal than attachment to redemptive liberalism. Some are committed political liberals, but others would be otherwise persuadable, and on issues like taxes or abortion would be closer to the Republican or conservative position if ideological or party labels were removed. My general impression is that hostility to the Republican Party often has little to do with the party's stance on taxes or mandate/subsidize/guaranteed issue health care policy and the Republican Party's standing would not improve if it adopted the Democratic Party's platform. What is more common is a general and often second hand understanding of the Republican Party as hostile or racist along with a narrative of Republican Party villainy. The exact content will vary with the individual (often related to their age), but welfare queens, Katrina and Willie Horton would come up. Someday soon it might be the Tea Parties. This produces a narrative (one that is refreshed as necessary) of Republicans as not only hostile, but alien. But this narrative is also dependent on a certain kind of information dominance. Republicans exist as occasional subjects of comment on the MSM news not as people and not as propounders of a of a viable worldview that is heard on a regular basis. Progress will mean, among other things, a stronger presence in media with large African American audiences that don't much patronize the alternative conservative media.

3. This is also a personal impression, but I would be careful about the Booker T. Washington references as well as any talk about self-help rather than waiting for government activism. Those are all fine, but a large part of the African American community is already living many of those ideas in their everyday lives. Best to assume that the audience has already internalized those ideas and focus on how a policy agenda will improve and be consonant with the worthwhile lives they have chosen to live.

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