Archive for Thursday, January 24, 2008

Conservatives offer little support for blacks

January 24, 2008


This is for John, who wants me to answer a question.

Two questions, actually. John's a reader in Port Orchard, Wash., who sent an e-mail the other day wondering: (1) "... why is it never mentioned that (Martin Luther King) was a Republican?" and, (2) given that Republicans were the party of abolition and that Democrats were the party of arch segregationists like George Wallace and Lester Maddox, "why do African-Americans support the Democrat (sic) Party?"

Frankly, I think John's just having a little fun at my expense, but I'm going to play along, because his questions give me an excuse to address an unspoken disconnect in modern American politics.

First of all, in regard to Dr. King's politics: John should note that this is the same King who declared himself neutral in the 1960 presidential campaign and said, "I feel that someone must remain in the position of nonalignment, so that we can look objectively at both parties and be the conscience of both - not the servant or master of either."

It's also the same King who said, "I have always argued that we would be further along in the struggle for civil rights if the Republican Party had risen above its hypocrisy and reactionary tendencies."

It is, however, true that blacks tended to vote Republican for much of the last century, the simple reason being that the GOP was "the party of Lincoln." But as Lincoln receded in history, the GOP stranglehold on the black vote was broken by Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and by the GOP's stubborn silence on civil rights.

It's disingenuous to pretend there is some philosophical coherence between the GOP of the 19th century and that of the 21st that should command black loyalty. Where race is concerned, Democrats and the GOP essentially exchanged ideologies in those years, the conservative Democrats becoming more moderate, the moderate GOP becoming more conservative. Black voters changed their loyalties accordingly.

And here's the disconnect: Large minorities of black voters actually side with conservatives on litmus test issues like abortion and the death penalty. So you'd think the GOP, the conservative party, would be more competitive among blacks.

To understand why it is not, rephrase John's question a tad more honestly. Make it: Why do blacks not support conservatism? Then the answer becomes simple: At no point in history when black folks were beset, bedraggled and fighting for their very existence have conservatives - whether you're talking Democrats of the 19th and early 20th centuries or Republicans now - been caught taking our side. From the abolition of slavery through Jim Crow through anti-lynching legislation through integration, through voting rights through civil rights through affirmative action, conservatives have always stood in opposition.

And no, it is not as if liberals have always been paragons of racial enlightenment. When President Bush decries "the soft bigotry of low expectations" he speaks insight and truth.

But given the choice between the soft bigotry of low expectations and the hard bigotry of a cross burning on the lawn and silence in response, is it any wonder black voters choose the first?

I believe no ideology has a monopoly on truth. And that, to paraphrase Britain's Viscount Palmerston, black voters - like any other - ought have no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests. But where the permanent interest of race is concerned, conservatives are damned by their own history.

Now John wants to know why blacks have never supported them. Here's a better question: Why haven't they ever supported us?

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


kansas778 10 years, 3 months ago

Pitts does not understand conservatism, which is an ideology focused in individual liberty, regardless of race. Pitts confuses this ideology with a political party.

dirkleisure 10 years, 3 months ago

Anonymous user

kansas778 (Anonymous) says:

Pitts does not understand conservatism, which is an ideology focused in individual liberty, regardless of race. Pitts confuses this ideology with a political party.

You can say the same thing about Cal Thomas. You never would, but you should, as he also uses conservatism as a tool to attack a political party.

It is true, however, that there is no connection between a conservatism that focuses on individual liberty and the politicians that conservatives put into office. Those "conservatives" have no interest in individual liberty.

kansas778 10 years, 3 months ago

scenebooster (Anonymous) says:

"Pitts does not understand conservatism, which is an ideology focused in individual liberty, regardless of race"

I do believe that you could say the exact same thing about George W. Bush.

I agree.

lounger 10 years, 3 months ago

Pitts is a smart guy-and gutsy too! I saw him speak awile back at K.U. and he told the truth-oh yes he does that here as well but (like Jack said) You cant handle the truth!!!

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 years, 3 months ago

NaveVet I agree. Pitt was trying to explain the historical shift of ideology that occurred between the 2 parties. This also explains the confusion of many Kansas Republicans. Those families who have lived in Kansas many generations were always Republicans, because they were the descendants of the abolitionists and pioneers. Now they look at the Republican party and wonder what happened to individuality and personal freedom. Not that the Democrats are much better, but today's 2 parties are not the same as they were 100 years ago. It's good to know history.

KU_cynic 10 years, 3 months ago

I'm a big Pitts fan, but I'm a little baffled by this column.

It seems to presuppose that Republicans (conservatives) are worried about or interested in the black vote. Largely for strategic reasons, they are not. As a "big tent" Republican myself, I am a little worried about this, but I'm more worried that Republican leaders are turning off the present and future generations of Hispanics with anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, with greater long-term political consequences.

I don't think the grand liberal experiment with Great Society entitlement programs has done black Americans any good, and conservative ideas (e.g., school choice, urban enterprise zones) have hardly even been tried.

And here's a conservative idea: the family is the most important institution of society. Conservatives can't be blamed for the destruction of the black family, except to the extent that one blames conservatives for wanting to jail criminals.

bondmen 10 years, 3 months ago

Just what is the "permanent interest of race" Mr. Pitts? Is this to be a color blind society like Dr. King envisioned or one based on preferences for subjective superficialities like skin color? When a politician or voter votes in support of freedom and liberty and against tyranny and subjugation, the majority vote affects all citizens. A safe neighborhood is good for all who live there like a good economy is good for all who wish to participate - despite their skin color. People of all colors and kinds should vote for life, liberty and the right to own property if they desire a good country in which to live.

It's a new day Mr. Pitts; being a slave to our color, our heritage, our upbringing, our sex or our size only serves to hold us back. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy.

dirkleisure 10 years, 3 months ago

r_t, did you just say that white people fled to new developments due to living in constant fear of black people?

What, specifically, is scary about black people?

Also, could you provide perhaps a visualization as a black person as a stump? Are you sure you don't mean tar baby? Perhaps you are thinking vegetables, like eggplants?

Nope, none of that sounds racist to me at all. It is just a factual statement - black people are scary and they are economic "stumps." Whatever that means.

Corey Williams 10 years, 3 months ago

Concerning right_thinker's opinion on white flight: "Whites did this due to living in constant fear, and being tiresome of covering the 'stumps' so to speak from an economics standpoint-not because they're racists."

But then they made laws and rules for their little towns and subdivisions to keep people of any color (and sometimes religion) out of their neighborhoods. Isn't that racism?

And Dolly says: "The slavery excuse is a worn out tired excuse."

Really? An excuse? Until the passage of the civil rights act created the impression of equal rights, the only time in America's history that blacks had any freedom at all was in the reconstruction after the civil war. Starting again in the early 1900s, racism and segregation made a comeback in full force. For the next 60 or so years there were different entrances, waterfountains, etc., etc., ad infinitum. Even now, with higher unemployment across all ages and sexes and lower incomes for those that are working, things still arent equal.

Dolly, you ride these boards like a pony looking to post things full of acrimonious tripe that does nothing. The bacteria in your stomach has more of a reason of existance than you.

kansas778 10 years, 3 months ago

tony88 (Anonymous) says:

"Pitts confuses this ideology with a political party."

The whole point of the article was that the guy who wrote the letter to him was confusing political party with ideology.

Wrong. The guy that wrote the letter confused modern parties with past members and actions. Pitts tried to attach the label of conservative to racist actions by either party, under the mistaken impression that he understands conservatism.

Corey Williams 10 years, 3 months ago

You're right. White flight is real and it's still happening. As to why you think so and whether or not it's the truth...

From wikipedia: "Some scholars have noted the impact of redlining, mortgage discrimination, and racially restrictive covenants on white flight: these factors denied or increased the cost of services, such as banking and insurance, to residents in minority inner-city neighborhoods. Some social scientists suggest that the historical processes of suburbanization and decentralization are instances of white privilege that have contributed to contemporary patterns of environmental racism.

"Through the 1990s, residential segregation remained at its extreme and has been called "hypersegregation" by some sociologists or "American Apartheid."

"Racism, economic and social pressure as well as the popularity of the automobile all contributed to white flight. Whites also left the city because they thought that suburban communities, with their new housing stock and open spaces, were more desirable places to live, and due to economic conditions or racial discrimination, blacks were frequently unable to follow."

Look it up yourselves at

jonas 10 years, 3 months ago

"Pitts tried to attach the label of conservative to racist actions by either party, under the mistaken impression that he understands conservatism."

I think it's pretty clear that he understands modern conservatism better than you do, Kansas778. The conservatism that you speak of does not really appear to exist anymore. At least not in any great strength within the political sphere.

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