Friday, January 30, 2009

Once Upon a Time, When Republicans Were Black

For six weeks, back in 1986, I was in College Republicans (technically, I think I paid for the year, but I stopped after those six weeks). Like many college freshmen, I wanted to challenge the things I'd learned from my family. I sought answers to questions that I had in my mind about a number of things. That's what the college experience is for. Therefore, having been raised in a powerfully politically Democratic household, I wanted to explore the other side.

Some of the basic principles of the GOP made sense to me and seemed reasonable (strong defense, fiscal conservatism, smaller government, etc.), and I was a fan of Jack Kemp (before he ran for VPOTUS with Bob Dole). But, it was the people who threw me off. I went to my first and only College Republicans regional meeting. I found myself in arguments about whether or not apartheid really hurt the black population of South Africa (and how the media information we were receiving was mere propaganda). I listened to someone tell me that affirmative action really was a disservice to white people who really deserved those positions and college places. And for the life of me, I could not get any of the other black folks there to talk with me. Since I was in the closet, and the culture wars were still based on race, I did not have to hear madness on GLBT issues (thankfully). I left that meeting early and in disgust, and I have not looked back.

I am thinking about this as the GOP prepares to name its new Chairman, and there is a black man seeking the job: Michael Steele. Coming from Maryland, and having been Lt. Governor, Steele has a perspective on how to be a winning GOP candidate in a very blue state. I think that he might be exactly what the GOP needs now in this time of transition. However, at this point in the process it looks like Katon Dawson, the guy who had to drop his membership in an all-white club in South Carolina, is leading the race. Wouldn't that be interesting? The U.S. elects the first black POTUS, and the GOP's potential new front man is a guy who had no problem with an all-white club until just recently.

Personally, I would like to live to see the day when one couldn't assume a person's party affiliation based on demographics. That is genuine progress. Yet, I hope the GOP will not build its potential for progression on the backs of the GLBT community, because sadly that has been the way that the GOP has been able to attract minority (particularly black) support. Isn't it time to move away from scapegoats and boogey-men?

Sometimes, it really is hard to believe that the Republican Party was the party of the black man (remember women couldn't vote at that time). It took something as cataclysmic as the Great Depression, and as earth shaking as the Civil Rights Movement, to break those bonds. Perhaps during its time in the wilderness, the GOP might want to brush up on its history. Michael Steele might be able to help.

UPDATE: Michael Steele is the new GOP Chair.


BiblioDiva said...

I watched the Rachel Maddow show last night for the first time, (now I understand the hype!) and one of the commentators said, America is truly the place where you can be anything that you want. A black man can not only be President, but he can also head the RNC.

Topper said...

Your summary of the evolution of the GOP is excellent.

The primary problem the party faces today is that it has courted two separate and not necessarily compatible constituencies.

From about the time of Richard Nixon and his "Southern Strategy" the Republicans have moved away from the traditional Goldwater model that defined "conservatism" as primarily an economic philosophy of small, limited government.

In an effort to expand into the South, the GOP began to embrace the "social" conservatives, fundamentalist Christians and the like.

Lower taxes and limited government became mixed up with the anti-abortion, anti-gun control, anti-gay rights and anti-civil rights positions of the "new" Republicans.

The party that once stood for limiting the power of government now wants government to be just small enough to fit into our bedrooms.

PS--Rachel Maddow rocks.

Fiona said...

Yeah, I'm with Scott. My father in law is the old kind of Republican, and he's at his wits end with the party.

What he wants to see is less government and less spending. What his candidates tell him is that he needs more government to make sure nobody's doing anything kinky.

The whole thing's a mess.

Meanwhile, I'm curious about your reaction to the much-quoted "Bush is my homeboy" comment from Steele.