February 25, 2009

My Black Conservative/Republican Soul

In a speech Lincoln delivered in 1858 in Charleston, Ill he said:
“I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races — that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equlity. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

Republicans often like to refer to Lincoln as a pivotal figure in the historic trajectory of black Americans from slaves to free citizens and so he was. But such hype should not be overdone. The above is a very sobering and clarifying statement of Lincoln's thinking on the status of blacks politically and socially. Given this, its foolish for republicans to expound about the GOP as the party of Lincoln as a rhetorical proof that the GOP's history should persuade blacks to flock to our banner. He was a great man, but in the matter of blacks, he was as small as most other men of his day. It is not his humanity that lifted him above his peers in making a historical impact on the lives of blacks, but rather his pragmatism in the pursuit of a goal to which he felt all others to be subservient, that of preserving the union. If the price of preserving the Union had meant leaving blacks in bondage for another 200 years, Lincoln would have done that, and he said so.

"If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union."

The freedom of blacks was entirely incidental to Lincoln's enterprise to save the Union. God be praised that the historical circumstances which shaped Lincoln's decisions inured to the historical benefit of blacks.

GOP members on occasion put forth the argument that MLK was a republican, hoping that claiming this revered black historical figure will encourage blacks to join the GOP fold. The claim is not based on some facts such as registration with the party or even a statement by King himself as best I can determine. Instead, the claim flows from the fact that at the time of the Civil Rights movement, King and his supporters were opposed by a racist party establishment composed of Democrats. Therefore the logic goes, he must have been a republican, as he could not possibly have been a democrat, the party supporting segregation. It does not appear to be true. MLK Sr. was a registered republican, not uncommon at the time, but not his son. MLK Jr. voted for LBJ and Kennedy. In the book "The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.," which was published after King's death from his written material and records, King called the 1964 Republican national convention that nominated Goldwater a "frenzied wedding ... of the KKK and the radical right." Near the end of his life, his ideas about economic justice would certainly not have put him in the GOP camp. Clearly, King's views as a Christian would have been in line with GOP views, but that may be all that one can reasonably say.

For years before I decided to become a republican, I despised black republicans as sellouts and uncle toms. This derision didn't come from the simple fact of being a republican. No, my contempt had a basis in my distaste for blacks who declared themselves republicans and in doing so became screeching caricatures, individuals who took every opportunity to reflexively parrot right wing criticism of blacks as social and cultural degenerates, act as apologists for divisive GOP political tactics and promote revisionist historical myths like the above. Visit the National Black Republican Association website and you'll find my evidence for this criticism. The site is rife with parroted accusations of Obama as a Marxist and socialist. Elsewhere are articles dripping with derision for their fellow blacks by trumpeting the racist history of the Democratic party and ignoring GOP political tactics pitting the base against blacks, all delivered with a smug and condescending tone.

Black Conservatives Should Be Problem Solvers, Not Bomb Throwers. I routinely object to the tone and tenor of commentary on the right about the continued commitment of blacks to the Democratic party. The underlying insinuation behind conservative critiques of black allegiance to the democrats is that blacks are brainwashed dependents of the government and simply too stupid to recognize the superiority of GOP policy prescriptions for their lives. Many of our oft heard black conservatives/republicans co-sign this insulting meme to one degree or another and I condemn this rhetorical behavior. Being a black republican ought to mean more than simply parroting with great zeal and enthusiam the shibboleths of the right, especially when their potency is fueled by nasty racial undertones.

Being a black conservative/republican should mean that we take conservative values and policy prescriptions and apply those ideas to the problems encountered in our community and that in doing so, we are fundamentally more effective in solving those problems than Democrats, because we proceed from principles which are morally and ideologically superior. What is the point of being a conservative/republican if not to consistently be more effective, more successful problem solvers for our community? Solving problems ought to be the measure of relevance for black conservatives. Efficacy in the service of the black community and of our country in general should be the standard, not whether you have a recurring pinch hitter role on Rush, or can routinely deliver bellicose warnings about the socialist apocalypse to come that would make a Stormfront member stand up and cheer.

I did not sign on to the GOP so I could dog out my own people. I went GOP to talk sense and reason with my own people and solve problems, not to become a right wing race hustler Ward Connerly style, or to parrot vicious, divisive rhetoric of the right like Mychal Massie or the now utterly hysterical Alan Keyes. Conservatism is for problem solving and that is what is down on the inside of my black conservative/republican soul.