Blacks on the right must play the left’s game
OPINION - When it comes to an agenda, being black is the black conservative's only distinguishable quality.
Last week Kenneth Gladney, a black conservative, was assaulted outside a health care town hall meeting hosted by Missouri Democrat Rep. Russ Carnahan. Fox News pushed the black conservative’s allegations of racial assault – at the hands of another black man who also allegedly used the n-word – to the forefront of national news.
Gladney’s charge of racial bias may be seen by many as an attempt to snatch his proverbial 15 minutes of fame. However, Gladney’s desperate cry for attention – epitomizing the plight of the Obama-era, black conservatives – is worthy of our time. Unfortunately, Obama-era, black conservatives have become people with no distinguishing agenda, no party home, and probably no stomach to do what is necessary to pull themselves up from the mire of insignificance.
Black conservatives cannot articulate any unique contribution they make to the larger conservative movement or Republican Party machine. Blacks first entered Democratic Party ranks as an organized constituency, with a set of clearly defined interests: promoting racial equality and equal opportunity for black people. African American conservatives have yet to distinguish themselves similarly.
Consider some of the campaign messages of recent candidates’ such as Ken Blackwell and Lynn Swann. Their most important issues are those shared by conservatives as a whole – fighting abortion, taxes, gay marriage, and anything else that smacks of immorality. Look at their associations: they are indistinct from organizations representing the larger conservative movement including think tanks like the Hoover Institution or religious outfits like the Family Research Council. Examine the headlines they make. They simply repeat age-old conservative talking points. They invariably bash black liberals, tout the Republican Party’s black achievements, or try to convince us that racism is dead, and affirmative action is pointless.
When it comes to an agenda, being black is the black conservative’s only distinguishable quality. Black conservatives must face this reality. The Republican Party has all along. This is why black conservatives perpetually find themselves houseguests, always one step away from outstaying their welcome in the GOP’s home.
Republicans are hardly ambiguous about blacks’ role. Blacks are welcome to help reshape the party’s image. Advancing deviant policy initiatives or using non-traditional tactics to reform the party, however, is not their place. J.C. Watts’ run-in with Tom Delay in 1999, Colin Powell’s conflicts with Bush and Cheney, and the host of Republican elected officials calling for Michael’s Steele’s head from the very beginning is ample evidence (though there is more) that Republicans are only willing to share a stage, but no power, with African Americans.
To be taken seriously – by their own party, and the rest of America – black conservatives must, first, embrace the one strategy anathema to traditional conservatism: liberal-left-style identity politics. If being black is their only distinguishing mark, and the skin game the only one Republicans will let them play, then they must devise a plan to exploit it within conservative circles.
Secondly, they must demonstrate that they can exert real power. They must show they can run in – and win – one or more statewide congressional elections, position themselves to influence the outcome of one or more other elections in 2010 and 2012, or secure a significant national legislative victory over the next four years. Any of these will require them to build coalitions with other conservatives of color.
The only question is, do black conservatives have the stomach to do it?