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The New York Sun


Letter to the GOP

November 16, 2006

By John H. McWhorter

A letter to the Republican Party: All that talk a year ago about the new black ascendancy in the Republican Party, with profiles all over the place of Michael Steele, Ken Blackwell, and Lynn Swann ... and in the end, not one of them was elected.

If your party was hoping they would usher more black voters into pulling the lever for you, you were neglecting something crucial. Millions of black people remain convinced that the R in Republican stands for racist, for a reason you will have to attend to if you're serious about the black vote.

I am serious about you getting more of that vote, because only when black America stops putting all its eggs in one basket will there be any reason for any party actually to court our attention with real policies.

And for that reason, I consider it urgent to inform you that it is in your interest to purge your state-level organizations of operatives who engage in underhanded tactics to suppress Democratic votes.

Some years ago, racial profiling was the typical justification for black people insisting that racism continues to define black existence. Amadou Diallo and the Cincinnati riots of 2001 were still fresh in people's minds.

These days, in the wake of those episodes, in many cities, relations between police forces and inner-city black men, while still often frayed, are more constructive.

But I have noticed that over the past couple years, the preferred crutch for "racism forever" types has become the claim that Republicans are trying to deny blacks the vote.

Perhaps memories about Florida are fading somewhat. However, the allegations about Ohio in 2004 are more recent — and amply preserved by the blog culture that had emerged by then. Victim-based black politics today holds up Ohio as Exhibit A in support of the notion that Republicans are trying to take us back to the poll tax. Accusations last week of the same kind — that heavily Democratic and/or black districts in Ohio mysteriously suffered catastrophic equipment failure — will serve only to reinforce that notion. It will not do to dismiss all of these claims as partisan hand-wringing or as a refusal to "move on."

Rep. John Conyers, for instance, with his "reparations" posturing, does not generally demonstrate a civil-rights leadership that makes any sense to me. However, his report, "Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio," presents too imposing a mountain of factual observations to ignore. A degree of electoral chicanery went on in Ohio two years ago that almost recalls Zimbabwe.

Yes, I am aware that there is a difference between racism and cynicism. It is revolting but not exactly flabbergasting that people seeking to shave off as many Democratic votes as possible often would focus on the race that votes most consistently Democratic in one election after another. Claims that the core idea is just to keep blacks from voting ignore, for instance, that the version of the game in Maryland last week was to use literature to mislead Democrats into mistakenly voting Republican. This anti-Democrat voter fraud is indefensible, but not racist.

Or, at least not in any way that I find meaningful. However, it might not surprise you that for many blacks, the simple fact of the disproportionate impact of the tricks on blacks renders the distinction between conniving and bigotry a hairsplitting one.

For just as many, it will also be of little import that mainly scattered local machines acting independently are responsible for this skulduggery.The fact that so many Republicans are capable of such behavior will engender a sense that such practices are part of the warp and woof of being Republican in general. And this attitude will affect the choice of presidential candidate that blacks make two years from now.

Be under no illusion that you can fix this by getting out the message that Republican policies are often pro-black. Black Americans typically cheer when someone intones "The Democrats exploit our vote!" — and then go into the voting booth and vote Democratic. "Racism" is a wedge issue for a great many (I suspect, actually, most) black voters. It often determines a choice regardless of what vouchers or Faith-Based Initiatives mean for black communities.

Be under no illusion, either, that you can win the argument by pointing out that Democrats are hardly strangers to voter fraud. First of all, two wrongs don't make a right. Second, remember that the Republican wrong in this case is purportedly the "racist" one. The fact that leftist organizations like the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now pad the rolls with fake voters, then, will seem the lesser, and maybe even a tolerable, evil.

The only effective response will be a concerted and explicit effort to weed out from your ranks the kinds of people who pull this stuff.

Short of that, you only enable the black thinkers, activists, and bloggers who instruct America, "Republicans don't want black people to vote." Black Republican candidates — regardless of how "inspiring" a rags-to-riches story they can present — will be seen as carrying racists' water, while white Republican candidates will be seen as utterly beside the point.

That's no good for you — or, as quiet as it's kept — for black people either.

Original Source:



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