16 August 2010

The Race Card Has Sharp Edges

Embattled congresswoman Rep. Maxine Waters and Republican columnist Jonah Goldberg appear to agree that there is "no coincidence" involved in the high number of Congressional Black Caucus members under investigation for alleged corruption or impropriety. Waters has a conspiracy theory: reactionaries or simple racists, presumably, want to take down powerful black politicians, including herself. Goldberg sees a correlation rather than a coincidence; too many black legislators are corrupted by the effective life tenure that comes with gerrymandered districts and an absence of real political competition. He's honest enough to admit that Republicans are partly to blame for this state of affairs, though only for the gerrymandering. He reminds readers in his latest column that "cynical" GOP lawmakers were happy to aid in the creation of "minority-majority" districts because it made other districts more lily-white and thus safer for Republican candidates. Gerrymandering is partly to blame for the absence of competition that spoils black Democrats, but the ultimate reason for the lack of competition has to be the lack of a viable competitor, and Goldberg can't account for that.

Goldberg hopes, however, that the fresh scandals involving Waters and Rep. Rangel will speed the end of the days when black politicians can routinely employ the "race card" to save themselves from scandal. Implicit is his hope is a wish that black voters would start voting Republicans to rebuke and repudiate corrupt Democrats. He notes that blacks as a group are more "conservative" on certain social or moral issues than their representatives in Congress. Given that, the persistent absence of competitive elections still baffles him. He stakes his hope for competition on the President, whose administration should teach blacks that there is no conspiracy to hold them down. Obama's electoral success should make blacks skeptical when their congressmen claim that charges lodged against them are nothing but a plot by The Man to bring them down. Objectively speaking, this makes sense, but it still leaves Goldberg without the crucial piece of his puzzle: the viable competition for the Democratic establishment. It should be plain that Goldberg assumes the only viable alternative available to be the Republican party. But whatever socio-moral conservatism exists in black communities hasn't yet been enough to get blacks to elect candidates from the onetime Party of Lincoln. That's because the GOP has been the Party of Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms for nearly fifty years, and no matter how much Republicans want to talk about the history of racist Democrats before 1964, blacks identify Republicanism with racism today. Nor does an endorsement of supply-side economics follow from whatever traditionalist attitudes persist in black constituencies. If there's an absence of conventional two-party competition in black districts compared to the country at large, that's because Republicans are selling nothing that blacks want. If those districts become more competitive, it will more likely be because constituents sick of Democratic corruption will have embraced independent challengers to the Democrats' left.

Goldberg should be careful about declaring the race card overdrawn or void, since that can be seen as a way of using the race card himself. As my friend Cryhmethinc noted today, any attempt to accuse the likes of Rangel and Waters of using the race card will probably be seen as a racist attack in its own right. If propagandists like Goldberg really want to neutralize the race card, they'll have to find some way to attack Rangel and Waters without mentioning race. That would mean resisting the temptation to bring up the subject of the race card when the other side slams it on the table. To neutralize it, you don't want to complain as if the person who uses it is cheating. You have to refuse to recognize it. If you can't refuse, then you've taken the bait and your antagonist will find a way to say that you're criticizing his conduct because he's black. I doubt whether many Republicans can resist the temptation; too many of them want to knock the figurative chip off black Democrats' shoulders. Black Republicans would have a better chance of pulling off the trick. The challenge for white Republicans is to figure out how to create more black Republicans.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

African-American voters will not vote Republican as long as Republicans are seen as the anti-minority party. It isn't a matter of whether blacks are seen as "more conservative" on certain issues. The same logic holds true for union members. As long as a vote for a Republican is seen as a vote against their personal interest, there will be no mass migration of minorities to the Repugnican party.