Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Exposed: The myth of the black conservative

One thing the candidacy of Barack Obama has done when it comes to race relations is to begin to put to rest the myth of the black conservative.

That became clear when J.C. Watts Jr., the former quarterback at the University of Oklahoma and in the Canadian Football League who later represented Tulsa in Congress and who was considered a rising star in the Republican Party before leaving official Washington in 2003 and even a possible vice-presidential candidate, told the Associated Press that he was toying with supporting Obama because the GOP was not really reaching out to African-Americans.

If Watts didn't know it before, he knows it now: The Republicans -- or perhaps more accurately, the conservatives who have dominated the party since the early 1980s -- from the start never had any intention of doing so. When he was elevated to the No. 4 position in congressional leadership it was only for the sake of putting a black face on their policies, with the real target white "moderates" possibly put off by the overt racism of Southern conservatives, most of who were former Democrats, that had opposed the civil-rights movement.

The modus operandi was simple -- put feelers out to any African-American who seemed at all amenable to modern conservatism, make an outsize offer to join their "club" and pay him or her handsomely (leading to the somewhat accurate charge of "sellout"). But once they got on board, the conservatives often reverted to their race-baiting ways.

One example was at the American Enterprise Institute, which had hired Glenn Loury and Robert Woodson as fellows on that basis. They decided to leave when AEI fellow Dinesh D'Souza published the controversial book "The End of Racism," which they considered racist in its own right, in 1996.

More importantly, conservatives never talk to, let alone work with, African-American leadership to determine the issues people face and how to address them -- and why would they? Their ultimate goal was always domination and capitulation, not cooperation, and in their view the idea that the conservative approach is "wrong" is, somehow, unthinkable. But that's what the black community has always told the political right, which is why 90 percent usually vote Democratic, with that percentage going up this time around. Too bad conservatives haven't gotten the message.

Recently a number of conservatives have suggested that blacks were being racist for their solid support of Obama. They ignore two issues: 1) Until Hillary Clinton began playing the "race card" during the primary season, the black community actually was split because much of its leadership initially supported her; and 2) The black community historically has never supported conservative candidates of any hue or ethnicity. In other words, it's not race that's the defining issue here -- it's ideology.

That reality puts black conservatives in a difficult spot, to put it mildly. Blacks don't take them seriously and the conservative establishment doesn't respect them even with all the money it pays them. Maybe someday black conservatives will learn that they're simply being played -- and some may already have done so.

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