Black Voters and the Black (and White) Conservative Shuffle

by October 7, 2011

You can depend on it: if it’s the presidential-election season, then it’s time for conservatives to retrieve from the political cesspoolthe tawdry claim that Black voters, seduced by the political bells and whistles of “Black leaders,” unthinkingly vote Democratic.

And, sure enough, this week, amid the topsy-turvy, increasingly desperate search of the Republican Party for a viable 2012 candidate, two conservative stalwarts, Herman Cain, contender for the GOP nomination, and Patrick Buchanan, professional pundit, stepped forward in tag-team fashion, toting the “Blacks-are-brainwashed” card.

First, Cain, fresh from his surprise victory over Texas Governor Rick Perry in the Florida Republican Party straw poll, charged on CNN that “African-Americans have been brainwashed into not being open minded, not even considering a conservative point of view.”  He then went into the standard Black-conservative victim mode – “I have received some of that same vitriol simply because I am running for the Republican nomination as a conservative” – before declaring “So it’s just brainwashing and people not being open minded, pure and simple.”

This from the candidate who recently backtracked under pressure from pledging that, as president, he wouldn’t appoint any Muslim Americans to his cabinet or as federal judges.

Never one to miss an opportunity to denigrate Black people, Buchanan, whose racist and anti-Semitic comments stretch back decades, Friday seconded Cain’s words on MSNBC.

Asserting that Blacks’ “embrace” of “Great Society liberalism … has been devastating for the African American family,” Buchanan said “I think what [Cain is] saying is [Blacks] bought a lot of liberal propaganda on the liberal plantation and I think he’s right!

Translation: Black voters are too stupid to know what’s good for them.

(And note that Buchanan used the, among conservatives, required word “plantation” to characterize Blacks’ staunch support for the Democratic Party. Perhaps someone could school him as to what it actually meant for Black people to be on a plantation in America, both before and after the Civil War.)

What else can such words mean?  No other voting bloc that traditionally hews to one or the other party is declared to be indulging in mindless behavior.  Not Jewish Americans, who have consistently voted Democratic in national elections at levels of 75 percent or better.  Not white evangelical Christian, who have consistently voted Republican by even larger margins.

This or that analyst may judge them wrong to so uniformly put all their political eggs in one basket, so to speak.  But they’re never accused of have been brainwashed, of not at least being able to think for themselves.  That charge is reserved for the African-American electorate.

To make it, one must ignore the pitch-perfect way black voters have in fact played two-party politics within the Democratic Party itself since the mid-1960s when the Republican Party abandoned appealing to Blacks as part of its “Southern strategy.”

Their skill in the political game was never more clearly on display than in the run-up to the 2008 Election: Because their most important goal was a Democratic victory, Black voters astutely divided their support between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton throughout 2006 and 2007. Only when Obama’s victory in the Iowa caucus made it clear that sufficient numbers of white voters actually would vote for him, did Black voters swing massively to his side.

It’s an old American tradition, of course, to denigrate African Americans’ mental ability – playing on the racist assertions of black intellectual inferiority that in the past provided the rationale for whites barring Blacks from voting, serving on juries, or any other substantive activity that involved applying one’s powers of reasoning.  Over the past quarter-century, it’s become the mantra of Black and white conservatives, to try to explain away their astonishing inability to secure more than a thimbleful of Black support.

For example, what was not remarked upon amid all the boasting that attended the election of Black Tea Party favorites, Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Allan West, R-FL, to Congress last year, was that they constitute just the third and fourth Black Republicans elected to Congress in nearly 40 years.  By comparison, a total of 100 or so Black Democrats have held Congressional office since Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

But, more than that history, it’s the present reality that Herman Cain, pledging allegiance to a political ideology that time and again has been at best indifferent to the particular concerns of African Americans, can’t or won’t turn away from.  Indeed, in his recent interview he displayed a startling misreading of reality.  For, after disparaging Blacks as mentally incompetent, he declared a moment later that “I believe a third [of African-Americans] would vote for me, based on my own anecdotal feedback.  Not vote for me because I’m Black but because of my policies.”

No wonder, then, he can say of Black voters: If they don’t support me, they must be brainwashed.


Lee A. Daniels is Director of Communications for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Editor In Chief

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