In the last few months we have seen the rise to national prominence of the conservative Dr. Ben Carson of Maryland, the surprise emergence of Bishop E.W. Jackson as the Republican candidate for Lt. Governor in Virginia, and now Louisiana State Senator Elbert Guillory has switched parties with a video that has gone viral. During this period Republican Congressman Tim Scott also became the junior US Senator from South Carolina. Note, too, that about a year ago former Alabama Congressman Artur Davis switched parties.
The media loves to talk about tokenism when it addresses the issue of black Republicans but there is a tipping point at which this becomes a trend that can't be dismissed, even if the likes of Chris Matthews insist there are currently no blacks in the US Senate.
Two factors may be happening here. Black men -- other than educated elites such as Obama -- have tended to have been treated pretty shabbily by the politically correct elite establishment, especially when they insist on speaking their own minds. Note also that since the 1960s most social spending has been concentrated on programs for women and children. Black women with college degrees now far outnumber black men with college degrees. Unemployment remains a huge problem for black men as does the continuing decline of stable, intact families. One does not have to read very deeply in publication aimed at black audiences to see that the culture wide war on men can be waged with particular nastiness in parts of the black community, due in large part to the disparity in education and career prospects between men and women. While they constantly bemoan the lack of well educated, employed and thus "marriageable" black men, the black women in these publications seldom, if ever, consider reforming a system that has bestowed them with both credentials and highly paid, secure jobs, often on the government payroll.
I noted with some interest that in last year's election the one portion of the black demographic where Obama lost support in percentage terms from 2008 was among black men. This could be significant not just because black men haven't done well under Obama. It's been my experience that men in general are often more willing than women to buck the conventional wisdom.
In the 1940s and 50s, largely young black males in the civil rights movement would ask their elders what has 80 years of loyal support for the party of Lincoln actually gotten our people? The answer too often was a lot of patronizing lip service and not much else ever since a war weary North abandoned Southern Reconstruction and allowed the establishment of Jim Crow. (Yes, Republicans have traditionally supported civil rights but the significant changes only happened when a critical mass of liberal Democrats joined with them after WWII.)
Now we seem to have other black men asking what 60 years of solid support for the Democrats has gotten black voters. And they don't like the answer -- dependency on a government more interested in retaining power than in genuinely helping people.
It took over thirty years for black voters to turn from a reliable Republican voting block to a Democrat monolith. It won't change back overnight, but are we seeing the first cracks in the Democrats' black voting block?
Added to the mixture of things to consider is that the above black men live in former slave states and that the South is currently seeing a reversal of the black migration wave north of the mid-20th century. Politics tends to attracts ambitious people who are driven to succeed. For an ambitious young black man whose family moved to a Northern city from the Mississippi Delta in 1950, this usually meant becoming a member of an urban Democrat machine, simply because those machines controlled most Northern cities. Are the ambitious young black men born in today's South finding that more doors to statewide office may open up if they join the Republican Party? Perhaps too they may note that one of the ironies of the creation of minority majority legislative districts has been that few of those Democrat minority legislators ever seem to get elected to statewide office.
If this is indeed a trend, what can be done to encourage it? An example may be found in the interesting example of Paul McKinley, the black Republican candidate in the special election this past April to fill the seat vacated by Jesse Jackson, Jr. It's a tough district for any Republican to win, but McKinley's strong anti-Democrat machine rhetoric seemed to appeal to what appeared to be a significant "had enough" element there. McKinley, a former felon who had paid his debt to society, openly attacked the Chicago Political Machine at every chance even as he fought a long rearguard action against some of the nincompoop politicos who have long controlled the Republican Party of Illinois. He ended up getting 22% of the vote, better than most Republicans running in heavily black districts, but clearly only a start.
McKinley has openly campaigned throughout the election as an "ex-offender, trying to prevent a next offender," and received overwhelming support across all of the 2nd district's diverse communities.
Was McKinley an ideal candidate? Certainly not, but just as Lincoln could not spare the far from perfect General Grant because he fought, the Republican party of 2013 cannot spare any black candidate willing to do battle in hostile territory. Those pundits who purport to speak for the Republican Party to the press would be wise to remember the words of Saul Alinsky before they bemoan a certain lack of traditional Republican gentility among the people one may become allied with in a common political cause.
In the politics of life we are concerned with the slaves and the Caesars, not the vestal virgins.
I don't think it is a coincidence that this apparent trend of the rise of black Republicans seems to coincide with the rise of the Tea Party with its emphasis in the candidate selection process on the soundness of basic principles over the acquisition of credentials. It is indeed a blessing to attract candidates with ivy in their resumes as well as a willingness to fight, but converts should not be sneered upon, nor should those whose life took a less conventional path be dismissed out of hand. This is particularly true when the candidate offers an opportunity to reach a new block of voters -- or to create fractures in an existing Democrat voting bloc.