The Republic of T.

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It’s Not Nice to Fool the Black Voters

Well, well, well. I posted a while back that Michael Steele must think black people are stupid, or the Republicans running his campaign thought so, because that’s the only reason I could think of for the ads and campaign signs employed during the campaign. Now it turns out that those, along with some other underhanded efforts to win black votes may have backfired on Republicans during the last days of the campaign.

Apparently, black voters don’t like to be played for fools.

The misleading fliers distributed on Election Day by poor, out-of-state workers suggesting that top Republican candidates had the backing of key black Democrats do not appear to be illegal but could have a lasting impact on the Republican Party’s efforts to attract African American voters, political experts said yesterday.

The fliers included a “Democratic Sample Ballot” suggesting that voters back Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Senate candidate Michael S. Steele, both Republicans. Entitled “Ehrlich-Steele Democrats,” it pictured three influential Democrats — Wayne K. Curry, Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson and Kweisi Mfume — and said at the bottom, “These are OUR choices.” Curry had endorsed Steele but not Ehrlich, and neither Johnson nor Mfume had endorsed either candidate.

Dirty tricks are to be expected, and this one was pretty dirty if what what’s reported in the article is true, but I’m relieved that they didn’t seem to fool black voters in Maryland. I’ve been less than optimistic about the effect of anti-gay marriage amendments on black voters, that they might be drawn to the polls and to the Republican party by appeals to deep-seated black homophobia, that sometimes tends to override reason.

I expected Virginia’s anti-gay marriage amendment to backfire against Allen, because it would bring black voters to the polls who would vote for the amendment, but against Allen. And I think that might have been part of the equation with the amendment, but it seems that black voters are a little more savvy than that.

Republicans had hoped the midterm election would brand 2006 as the year of the black Republican.

That did not happen.

With high-profile losses in Maryland’s Senate race and in contests for governor in Ohio and Pennsylvania, prospects for Republican gains among black voters turned up short this year and gave scant hope for 2008.

Republican Michael Steele, Maryland’s lieutenant governor, lost to Democrat Rep. Ben Cardin by almost 10 percent.

Ken Blackwell, a conservative darling who would have been Ohio’s first black governor, lost by nearly 24 percent.

And Lynn Swann failed by 21 percent to secure the Pennsylvania governor’s office.

… Ron Walters, a former campaign official with Rev. Jesse Jackson and now a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, said Republicans have to identify candidates based on issues, not skin color.

“They have to have positions that are in line with the black community,” he said. “If they can’t attract the black vote, it won’t pay off.”

Exit polls showed 88 percent of blacks supported Democrats, about the same level of support as in the last few elections.

More than half were dissatisfied and just over a third were angry with President Bush’s administration, figures higher than the general populace.

Katrina probably didn’t help. Running a confederate flag waving, racial slur spouting candidate in Virginia probably didn’t help either. Yet, I’m still convinced that it’s also a case of black voters’ astounding ability to compartmentalize, so that they can vote for an anti-gay marriage amendment and vote against the party that uses the amendments as a means of reaching out to and recruiting black voters.

In other words, they can be anti-gay, but still support what they see as the Democratic agenda for economic and social justice. It’s an ability exemplified by African American Anglicans and college students like Kristen Price saying stuff like this.

Kristen Price, a freshman political science major, said she is concerned about the war in Iraq and the country’s relationship with the rest of the world.

Price also said she feels that the wealthy are being best served by the government and that during the next round of elections, more candidates that cater to the middle-class majority are likely to be elected.

Price also said certain issues should be set aside to address bigger problems nationwide.

“The U.S. focus on gay marriage is receiving too much attention. This is only detracting the American people from other issues that are more important that we need to be attending to,” she said.

And, sadly, that’s probably about the best response we can expect from most black voters on the issue: let’s just forget this and talk about something else. It’s pretty much the same response as progressive evangelicals. WIth Democrats getting 88% of the black vote, and one third of the white evangelical vote, we may be looking at a new “Southern Strategy” for Dems.

What does that mean now that the Dems have managed to get themselves back into power with the help of these constituencies? If they want retain votes among these constituencies, and gain more votes, they’ll have to walk a fine line between standing up on economic and other issues important to these voters, and at the very least tread lightly on or completely steer clear of social issues that these constituencies are uncomfortable with, lean more conservative on, or would rather not talk about.

Because chances are if those voters weren’t fooled or are no longer being fooled by Republican lip-service on their top issues, they are probably not going to be fooled by Democrats trying to have it both ways with them either.

It’s against that scenario that I’d like to consider the larger implications for both major parties, seeking votes from markedly different but also overlapping constituencies (anyone for the white gay male evangelical vote? how about the black unmarried lesbian vote?) on a political landscape in which elections are close and often decided by single-digit margins of victory.

But I’ll do that in another post. For now, suffice is to say that this year’s election results suggest that significant numbers of voters in any and all constituencies are not easily fooled, and don’t like to be taken for fools. And that makes politicians’ alot harder, and will of them a greater understanding of and skillful use of something that’s been disdained in American politics, at least since 9/11: nuance.

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