Thursday, November 11, 2010

Two Black Republicans Join Congress


One of the most under-reported consequences of the midterm election has been the election of two black Republicans to Congress, the first since JC Watts in the 1990s. There are a couple of interesting questions to be asked?

1. Does the presence of these blacks immunize the tea party to charges of racism?

I doubt it. Conservatives have faced charges of racism since they used the southern strategy to solidify a hold on Southern states in the 1960s. In the 1990s, there was still a feeling in the black community that conservatives were hostile to blacks even though JC Watts was in congress.

One of the larger reasons the tea party suffers from allegations of racism is the demographics. There is no question that the movement skews towards older whites. So the visual that we get is a group of older white men engaging in strong opposition and occasionally charging that Obama is the new Hitler. The fact that Obama is a black man being berated by a mostly white group is never lost. Even once two black Republicans join congress, the tea party will still be almost all white, and it will be united in opposition to the first black President who also happens to be a source of immense pride for the black community. This is a recipe for ensuring that there is always some suspicion of racism on the part of blacks.

2. Will these congressmen join the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC)?

The last night time a black Republican was elected to Congress, he refused to join the caucus. The caucus currently consists of all Democrats who hold liberal positions on racially tinged issues such as affirmative-action. It’s hard to see these congressmen feeling completely at home in this body. One has said he will join, while the other is leaning against.

3. Does the election of these congressmen signal a shift in political preferences for Blacks?

Not for the near future. As long as President Obama is in power, he will likely retain a strong bond with black voters that will not be broken absent a major event. Indeed, 89% of black voters supported Democrats during the midterms, which is the same percentage that supported John Kerry in 2004.

If there is no change in black political preferences in the present in the offing, perhaps younger generations will come to differ from their elders. The presence of these two new black Republicans might make that prospect more likely. Younger blacks may not see black Republicans as an anomaly in quite the same way their parents did. This is all speculative of course. I predict that only after President Obama leaves the scene will Republicans have a real chance to make inroads with black voters.

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