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On the Convention and Political Realignments


I often think of what it would take for fifteen to twenty-five percent of Black Democrats to switch their party allegiance and begin to join the ranks of the Republican Party. Would it be a charismatic figure in the Republican Party; an open invitation from Republicans; a compelling issue; mistreatment from the Democratic Party? After two days of the Republican convention, I am beginning to realize that it may be a combination of all of these scenarios.

My focus is on how a significant percentage of Blacks would not just vote for a Republican candidate in a single election, but who would actually leave the Democratic Party in favor of the Republican Party - a political realignment where Black voters would officially change their party membership. Something like what occurred in the 1930s where Black Republicans became Black Democrats.

Actually the switch from Republican to Democrat was more like a gradual shift and began with the movement of the Republican Party establishment away from its perceived attachment to black voters in the South. Somewhat like the relationship between the Democratic Party and the Black electorate in the 1980s, the Republican Party of the late 1800s was negatively associated with the Black Electorate.

Because of the decision of Republican Presidents to enforce the voting rights of Blacks in the south, Democrats charged Republicans, eventually with success, with being more concerned about the interests of Blacks than with white southerners. Soon the Republican party became divided along regional lines with Republican officials in the south seeing the value of the Black vote but increasingly under pressure from their northern counterparts to distance themselves from associating with Black voters. In the late 1890s and throughout the early 1900s the Republican Party's politics moved the party away from the attention that it had previously paid to the Black vote. This set the stage for the 1930s and Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal economic program and his attempts t o combat certain discriminatory practices against Blacks.

It was at this time that Blacks, openly and in great numbers began - most dramatically - to switch their party allegiance and join the Democratic Party.

In the last two days, the Republican Party has attempted to give the perception that it is open to Blacks which of course, is a necessary step in any forthcoming political realignment (which will include independents as well). And Gen. Colin Powell's speech struck a chord inside of the Republican Party - signaling that there are honest voices inside of the party willing to provide a stinging critique of the GOP's relationship with the Black Vote in recent decades. And of course, the attendance of several middle-to -upper class Black delegates and party members at the convention indicates that the GOP will continue to find itself attractive to those Blacks who identify with aspects of the Republican Party's rhetoric and governing philosophy which focus on wealth creation and economic opportunity, not to mention conservative family values.

Rep. J.C. Watts ( R-Okla.) has been ever-present on television stating that he believes that the movement of Blacks into the Republican Party will not occur in this one election cycle but will take place over this decade. History is on his side as the last political realignment was not totally complete until 1960 when Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee, completely ignored the Black vote. So, in many respects, contrary to the bantering of political pundits today, the last major political realignment involving Black voters took nearly 70 years to become a clear reality.

History may very well record the late 1980s as the beginning of the era that the Democratic Party began to move away from the Black vote. And while the charismatic figure and compelling issue necessary for a political realignment may not have made their dramatic arrival on the scene or fully evolved - this 2000 Republican convention, may represent the beginning of the Republican Party's invitation to the Black vote to cross the aisle. We shall see.


Cedric Muhammad

Wednesday, August 2, 2000

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