Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Do Republicans Eat Oreos?

Color Blind Does Not Mean Clueless

One of the results of the civil rights movement is that Americans of African descent are now much more free to be conservative if they wish to. Fifty years ago, all the best clubs, best neighborhoods, highest circles of business and commerce, made a point of excluding people with darker complexions. Therefore, people born with a high epidermal melanin concentration had little choice but to associate with whatever liberal, radical, socialist or communist circles would accept them and fight for them – sometimes with ulterior motives, sometimes not.

Before 1932, most African Americans who could vote at all voted Republican, the party that proposed and ratified the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the federal constitution. Since 1932, most vote Democratic, the party of the New Deal. After 1948, democrats belatedly made civil rights an important plank of their platform.

The Republican Party cheerfully abandoned its last ties to significant African American support in the 1970s, welcoming with open arms the overt and covert racists of all regions, who no longer felt at home in the Democratic Party. The party of Kennedy, Johnson and Carter had come a long way from its 1868 campaign slogan "This is a White Man's country, let White Men rule."

One can understand why the "yellow dog" Democrats felt betrayed, so betrayed they were willing to become Republicans. For their part, Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes have shown no sign of returning to their own party's 1868 platform. That was pretty well abandoned in 1876, when the "Liberal Republicans" took over the party from the "Radical Republicans"!

At the dawn of the 21st century, republican strategists decided they wanted the White Conservative Vote and the Black Vote. The clever ploy to achieve this objective, of course, is to run conservative black republican candidates for office. Pity the Conservative Black Republican! Their party is counting on them to swing The Black Vote from the democrats, but liberal-minded African Americans pelt them with oreos. Despite the strenuous rhetoric of many African American pastors, even the God-fearing, church-going brothers and sisters continue to regard Republicans the way their great-great-grandparents regarded southern Democrats. It was the father of a Republican congressman from Oklahoma who remarked "black folks voting for Republicans is like chickens voting for Col. Sanders."

"Just pretending racism doesn't exist doesn't mean it isn't there." With this clumsy but obvious statement, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Salena Zito launched a moderately impassioned advocacy for Lynn Swann, a conservative republican retired football star with a dark complexion, who is running to be the next governor of Pennsylvania. Of course it is ridiculous for anyone to suggest that skin color requires any person to have any set of political beliefs or allegiances. Not only is Oprah free to become an influential TV personality and a millionaire, but Condoleeza Rice is free to be a close associate of George W. Bush.

This does not make Rice any more "black" or less "black" than she was born with. Her skin color is irrelevant. She is, however, entitled to no breaks for being "black." She is an adherent of the most juvenile, clueless, incompetent president we have ever had, a man who will rank with Millard Fillmore and James Polk in the history books. With the departure of Colin Powell, she is unquestionably the most intelligent person in the cabinet. That is a function of her brain, education, life experiences, and self-discipline, not her color. One can only speculate why she chooses to serve a president raised by the Peter Principle (and Karl Rove) to such a high level of incompetence.

Conservative Republicans complain that THEIR "black" candidates are being subjected to abuse for not following some "politically correct" racial stereotype. That is a valid point, but they invite, sometimes even deserve, this kind of misguided abuse. Republicans, continuing to identify themselves with the archaic labels "black" and "white," are in their own way playing their own race card. The Republican Party wants to have its racist cake, and eat the Democratic cake too, while calling critics of its African American candidates racist.

Michael Steele's candidacy for senator from Maryland was greeted by a crowd throwing oreo cookies? Well, maybe. A fact checker called RegretTheError suggests not. It is unfortunate that many people, who identify with the label African American, make an implied demand for conformity from "anyone who looks like us." But Steele courted that kind of rejection by running as a BLACK Republican.

Steele is lieutenant governor of Maryland today, because Gov. Bob Ehrlich thought a black face on the ticket would enhance Ehrlich's chances of getting elected in the first place. If Steele said, yes, I am a republican, I am a conservative, my skin color has nothing to do with it, I have no stereotype to conform to, take me as I am, vote for me if you believe what I believe, that would be fine.

But Steele's candidacy IS an attempt to "pull the black vote" – perpetuating the myth that "black voters" are a bloc that goes for "one of our own." Do republicans with dark skin colors have such a low opinion of the intelligence of African American voters? How about the mostly "white" Republican campaign strategists?

What is wrong with Steele is not that he is "black on the outside, white on the inside." There is NO "black" way of thinking, acting, or choosing. The whole point of the civil rights movement was that each individual should be free to make their own choices for their own lives, exert their own efforts, and advance according to their own merit. Steele's problem is that he thinks his skin color will make "conservatives" of people who don't really support his philosophy. So, some of them respond to the insult by passing oreos around at his campaign rallies. (Not, apparently, by pelting him with anything).

A Pennsylvania republican named Otto Banks complains that "An African-American Republican running for office can expect to be pictured incessantly with President Bush, linked with the NRA and gun proliferation ... labeled a sellout and compared to Strom Thurman." Well, why not? Those are the associates any republican has chosen. Why would an African American join the party where Strom Thurmond found a refuge after his Dixiecrat campaign for the white house?

The overwhelming majority of African American voters hold the current federal leadership in contempt, as do somewhere around half to two-thirds of the total population of the United States. ANY Republican who does not unambiguously repudiate the Bush administration should expect to be held accountable for the company they keep. Their race is no reason to give them any breaks on that account. As my Republican mother says, George W. Bush has done a great deal of damage to this country.

Most of us human beings are pretty complex in our actual principles and viewpoints. We defy sorting out into neat little categories. We are all conservative about some things, liberal about others. We all have some values that are very important to us, others less so. There are conservative republican homosexuals and there are liberal democrats who have been faithful to their wives/husbands all their life. Some African Americans are very hostile to homosexuality, but the same percentage of African Americans are attracted to their own gender as any other demographic category. There have always been a handful of conservative black republicans. Sammy Davis Jr. and Jackie Robinson were both known for endorsing Richard M. Nixon.

Everybody adores the civil rights movement with 20/20 hindsight, but it was far from adored when it represented a sharp break in American habits and culture. There were a fair number of "black" people who PREFERRED segregated schools, where they could in a limited way run their own show and be sure their own students would be on the football team and be valedictorian. There were, obviously, millions of "white" people who resisted the movement with extreme hatred and violence. They had to be suppressed, pushed aside, put down... they had to be overcome, in various ways.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. definitely would not have countenanced the kind of stereotypes that the aging generation of post-civil-rights leaders continue to push. But he was not the fuzzy soft apostle of love that those in public office today like to recall. He took unpopular stands because he saw it was the right thing to do. He demanded that America pay attention to pulling those left in poverty out of it – not with endless welfare, not with the delusions of "empowerment" while denying access to real capital, but with genuine access and opportunity. There were plenty of "black conservatives" in his own day, and they were among his harshest critics. He led a walkout from the National Baptist Convention for that very reason. Martin Luther King defied the law several times, openly and honestly, went to jail for it proudly. Black conservatives said that was where he belonged.

Zito concludes on a fine note: "If you have problems with candidates, attack their principles or their ideas, not the color of their skin." I would only add, if you think you have something to offer as a candidate, rest your case on your principles and your ideas, not on parading the color of your skin and hoping a good number of voters will go your way because of it, no matter what your principles.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

God and Abraham (Lincoln)

The Theological Content of the Second Inaugural Address

February 12 used to be celebrated as Abraham Lincoln's birthday, before the American thirst for three-day week-ends overcame our one-time sense of patriotic celebration. Now remembrance and study of what our nation really stands for – the high principles and immoral pursuits that have brought us to where we are – is set aside. A vacation is a vacation, it is not a day of remembrance. Even those with a strong sense of patriotism have little sense of history.

Among the things we have lost, is a sense of how a public official could freely speak their faith in God, without compromising the religious liberty of every fellow citizen. No president before or since has ever matched the profound theological content of Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. Americans who seek to reclaim and highlight the undoubted role of religious faith in our history need look no further.

There are those who quote Christopher Columbus's professed devotion to God. Columbus would have been horrified by the notions of liberty and democracy. He was a faithful servant of Their Most Catholic Majesties, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. So too, the Mayflower Compact not only gives reverence to God, but to "our Dread Lord King James I" – not exactly in the spirit of the American Revolution.

Abraham Lincoln, however, is an undeniable martyr to liberty, a democratically elected president with a firm commitment to constitutional government. Lincoln had a sound vision of what "the people" would and would not accept. He knew how to lead, and how fast to lead. When he took the oath of office for the second time, he led a nation that was clearly approaching victory over a prolonged rebellion. He had secured passage in congress of a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, unthinkable anywhere in the union when the war began. Lincoln reached out to reunite his country by noting that those in the northern and southern states:

"Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes."

These words did draw criticism, mostly from Democratic newspapers, precisely for its religious content. (Don't confuse this with "the liberal media" – Democrats were the conservative party, the party that sought peace at almost any price, including the perpetuation of slavery, the party of states' rights, the party that voters of African descent would not support for the next eighty years, but which retained the loyalty of the "solid South" (after Deconstruction) for over 100 years.

The New York World criticized Lincoln's "substitution of religion for statesmanship." The Tribune of the same city said that the speech's stern Biblical overtones would impede any chance for peace. Lincoln himself told New York Republican organizer Thurlow Weed that his speech would not be "immediately popular. Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them."

What the purposes of the Almighty might be, Lincoln deferentially addressed:

"Fondly do we hope – fervently do we pray – that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether'."

In short, Lincoln in the same words demonstrated that it is perfectly possible for a public figure in a pluralistic democratic republic to speak reverently of God, and why it is essential that the government neither establish a religion nor wrap the name of God around its own policies. Lincoln never said God is with his administration, or supports this or that policy. Lincoln said, we can see God moving through the awful events we are experiencing, and He has His own purposes, which none of us have fully grasped or shared.