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Armstrong Williams On The Republican Party's Pathetic Performance With The Black Electorate

In our opinion, Armstrong Williams has delivered the best post-election commentary on the current state of relations between Blacks and the Republican Party. And after the defeat of Rick Lazio in the race for the U.S. Senate seat in New York and Texas Governor George W. Bush's "draw" with Al Gore in the presidential election, maybe Republicans are finally willing to listen to some sound analysis and advice from Blacks who know why Republicans are doing so poorly in their efforts to put a dent in the Democratic Party's monopoly on Black Americans who vote.

Here is Armstrong's latest column:

Republicans and the Black Vote

By Armstrong Williams

In one of the most hotly contested presidential elections in the 200-year history of this country, black voting patters were anything but close, with 90% of the black voting populace casting their ballots for Gore. In Florida, Bush got only 7% of the black vote. Even in Bush's home state of Texas, 95% of black voters supported the VP, causing republican strategist to wonder what went wrong with Bush's outreach efforts to blacks.

After all, Governor Bush pursued African-American connections with more avidity than any republican candidate of recent memory. He studded his campaign trail with stops at inner city schools, churches, welfare offices, and black communities. He filled his commercials with minority faces in an attempt to tell minority voters that they were part of his party. He prominently kissed a black baby and could often be seen mingling with Hispanics.

It was the same strategy that President Clinton had used to gain legitimacy with black voters during his first term. Promising in 1992 to have a cabinet that reflected America's ethnic diversity, Clinton immediately established himself as a symbol of ethnic inclusion. He repeated the same theme before various black church congregations and to members of the ethnic press. He immersed himself in black popular culture and declared that America's minority people, were his people. There were appearances with Tavis Smiley, Maya Angelou, Arsenio Hall, Bill Cosby, Russell Simmons, etc.

By his second term, those images had been ubiquitously reproduced and ingrained into our collective conscious. These were personal images. They said that Clinton was in touch with an increasingly diverse populace. We were certain, without being certain why, that Clinton was really doing a lot for the African-American community.

Not surprisingly, Clinton corralled 88% of black vote during his 1996 presidential bid.

So why didn't Governor Bush's outreach efforts produce similar success? According to Davis Bositis, a researcher for The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the answer is straightforward: "As of yet, African-Americans don't feel like they're welcome in the Republican Party, so they're not going to vote Republican.

"You have to remember," adds Bositis, "that the modern Republican Party is substantially southern. And it consists of those southerners and those southern politicians who in the past would have been opposed to civil rights legislation."

About one quarter of the membership of the Democratic National Committee, on the other hand, is comprised of black Americans. This sort of strong representation not only facilitates more black hiring on the local, state and federal levels, but also has a ripple effect on the community. For example, a black politician may maintain close associations with other black community figures such as ministers, teachers, entrepreneurs, and union officials. In such a manner, bridges to the community are built, tying the Democratic Party into the issues that black Americans care about most. For example, recent Democratic support of affirmative action, civil rights legislation, and gun control has led a large segment of the black voting populace to sign an oath of loyalty to the Democratic Party.

Bottom line: while it's important for Republican candidates to be seen at traditionally black venues-as George W. Bush did-the Republicans are never going to make major inroads with the black voting populace until the party shows some flexibility on those issues that matter most to black Americans.

Like it or not, the reality is that people see themselves as groups, and often prioritize their political issues accordingly. Keenly aware of this fact, the Democrats tailor their position on Israel to meet the goals and expectation of Jewish voters in America. Similarly, Republicans corral a large percentage the Christian right's vote by remaining firm on abortion and same-sex marriages. That is to say, the parties are willing to tailor these issues, in hope that it won't turn the voting populace away form the party's chief concerns. Yet when it comes to racially tinged issues, the Republicans simply refuse to compromise.

Particularly baffling to political pollsters is the Republicans' stubborn resistance to affirmative action. After polling roughly 3,000 white people during the course of his career, Bositis has come to a rather obvious conclusion: white people don't chose their political affiliation based on affirmative action; countless black people do. The major implication: the only thing that the Republicans accomplish by digging their heels in opposition to the affirmative action issue, is the widespread alienation of black voters. "Why do they want to reinforce the animosity blacks have toward the Republican Party over something that is, in the larger scale of things, fairly unsubstantial?" wonders Bositis.

Ironically, affirmative action isn't even a mainstream issue for the Republican Party. The chief concerns of the Republican Party are lower taxes, state's rights and smaller government. Yet, if you ask minorities what the Republican Party is about, they often say the Republican Party is about anti-affirmative action, anti-immigration and English-Only laws. Sadly, the Republican Party's inflexibility on affirmative action has alienated the black voting populace, and empowered the Democratic Party to paint the Republicans with that broad stroke.

The real tragedy is that the Republican Party actually supports issues that mesh with black Americans voting patterns. According to a 1996 article Bositis wrote for the Joint center for Political and Economic studies, "large majorities of African-Americans favor positions that could not be described as anything but mainstream Republican: 75.8% favors school prayer, 73.4 percent favor a $500-per-child federal tax credit, and 72.6% favor "3 strikes and you're out" laws."

Though the overwhelming majority of black Americans consider themselves conservative, less than 10% of black Americans actually identify themselves as Republicans.

"You see," says Bositis, "the issues don't matter. Because if you have a group of people who are viewed as being fundamentally hostile to you, you're not interested in listening to them."

Tuesday, November 21, 2000

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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

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