For decades now Black political participation has been primarily invested in Democratic Party politics. Starting with Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” and emerging with John F. Kennedy’s “New Frontier,” Blacks’ engagement in the nation’s politics has been primarily through the Democratic Party.
It is not as if the transition in loyalties from the Republican Party was smooth. After all, the Black Mississippi Freedom Democrats, led by Fannie Lou Hamer and Aaron Henry, had to confront the Democratic Party at the 1964 convention in Atlantic City to break the grip of Jim Crow on the party. And two decades prior to that Hubert Humphrey made a dramatic stand against the southern wing of the party when he pushed a civil rights plank at the 1948 convention. So, Blacks’ current allegiance to the Democratic Party, though solid, did not happen without some very real blood, sweat and tears.
That brings us to the Republican Party. The “Party of Lincoln” has consistently missed opportunities to create a competitive playing field in electoral politics and has let its extreme right wing use divisive measures to try to win elections. The party has had moderate voices in the past, and currently, but its leadership has allowed them to be drowned out by a relatively small but vocal element that insists on tactics that are clearly racially motivated. Individuals such as former HUD Secretary and Congressman Jack Kemp have been relegated to the back room of GOP politics as the likes of Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney have stolen center stage. And their brand of chauvinism is espoused over the public airwaves by Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and a host of lesser known local blowhards who masquerade as journalists. The result is that a dialogue with Blacks is a non-starter because our suspicions are heightened when the Republican Party allows such extreme views to dominate their agenda.
It is an unhealthy dynamic in American politics when one of the major political parties simply writes off one of the largest voting blocs in the nation. It is not in the nation’s interest. It is not in the party’s interest. It is certainly not in the interest of Blacks. Our status in the country would be significantly enhanced if the political environment was such that both parties felt it necessary to address issues affecting our community. So this isn’t a condemnation of the GOP’s fundamental philosophical direction as it is criticism of the party’s retail politics that make it virtually impossible for most Blacks to consider their policy agenda. Ironically, much of the Republican Party’s so-called family values agenda – marriage, personal responsibility, pro-life – and patriotic zeal is rooted in the cultural and religious ethos of the Black community. That is why it is so disheartening to hear Republicans’ pontificate as if they own an exclusive license to morality. Despite current statistics on marriage and single female headed households, our community has always been family-centered.
Likewise, the GOP’s practice of exploiting the flag and politicizing patriotism has past the point of annoying. It is now cultish because it suggests an investment in symbolism that is blinded by hatred of any individual or group that is non-white, non-Christian and non-heterosexual. The Republican Party seems more interested in creating their own colorless America than embracing what has made this nation potentially great from the outset: its experiment in multi-culturalism that accepts any group that arrives on its shores as its own and embraces the uniqueness of indigenous populations and immigrants. Black Americans, of any group, know the true meaning behind those symbols Republicans like to exploit for their own self interest. We have bled for it, fought for it and died for it even when our rights as citizens were denied and our labor exploited. To have Republicans now claim the flag and take ownership of patriotism is an insult.
For whatever reason Republican leadership has opted for the direction the party has chosen, it is shortsighted. Save a congressional district here or there, or a presidential election where divisive politics provide the margin of victory, Republicans are facing a bleak future in this country. The party cannot sustain itself on hate mongering, fear and divisiveness because this election is proving that a new generation of American voters has no interest in playing that game. The base from which the GOP can frighten voters to support the party is growing narrower. Wasn’t it just months ago when the scuttlebutt was how the GOP would compete for Latino votes? Look at the poll numbers. They have lost significant ground among Latino voters; and should that come as a surprise? After all, you can’t expect votes to come your way when you are building fences rather than bridges.
What could have been an exciting election year in which both parties understood the necessity of representing America in all its hues has become instead one party’s race to the bottom and we believe that they will get there sooner rather than later.