In 2008 America elected its first African American president. That year a record number of minorities rallied to the polls and showed their support for Barack Obama. For those of you that voted for President Obama, did you vote for him because he was black, a Democrat, or both?
Recently Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain came under fire because of his controversial comments about black voters. During a CNN interview, Cain mentioned that members of the African American community “have been brainwashed into not being open-minded” to Republican candidates.
Cain continued, “I have received some of that same vitriol simply because I am running for the Republican nomination as a conservative.” He added, “So it’s just brainwashing and people not being open-minded, pure and simple.”
Cain is not the first conservative matriculating through the Republican Party without any love from the black community. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received heavy criticism from many African Americans and was accused of rejecting her own people before we even knew who she was. After President Obama’s historic 2008 election, Michael Steele also made history as the first African American chairman of the Republican National Committee, but was seen as little more than a token. And the former Secretary of State Colin Powell is often overlooked by many in the Black community despite making significant political and social contributions during and after his political career.
Outside of the antics and countless debates between Republican presidential hopefuls, somehow the issues facing the black community are never mentioned. With the unemployment rate being the highest among blacks, I have yet to hear one candidate seriously address this (Michelle Bachman doesn’t count) and mention how they plan on fixing this devastating blow to our community. While Herman Cain wonders why African Americans don’t support him or his GOP counterparts, I wonder is the Republican Party even concerned about the black vote?
Increasingly, it doesn’t seem so.
During the early part of the 20th Century, many African Americans were Republicans. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mary McCloud Bethune, and Carter G. Woodson were all reportedly Republicans. In the early 20th Century, many Southern States were run by “Dixiecrats,” which was a breakaway faction of the Democratic Party who supported segregation and other racist policies. Because of this, many Southern blacks supported Republican candidates. It wasn’t until Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1932 election that a majority of African Americans (71%) began supporting Democratic presidential candidates in droves.
In 1948, a majority of blacks self-identified as Democrats for the first time, however many continued to vote Republican. Thirty-nine percent of black voters supported Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, and 32 percent voted for Richard Nixon in his 1960 loss to President John F. Kennedy. It wasn’t until President Lyndon B. Johnson fought for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and his opponent Sen. Barry Goldwater opposed it, that blacks overwhelming began to consistently support Democratic presidential candidates. President Johnson garnered 94 percent of the black vote and we’ve traditionally supported Democrats ever since.
While African American support can be traced directly to policies, some try to trace the reasons why blacks tend to vote Democrat to stereotypes. Republicans are often portrayed as helping the rich get richer and “big” businesses grow, while Democrats are often represented as the total opposite: Pro-big government and government involvement. Therefore, it appears that the Democratic Party is the party for black people. However this logic becomes problematic because it creates groupthink and a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Few minority groups suffer from groupthink like African Americans. The mantra, “There is strength in numbers,” reflects the paradigm that keeps us all on the same page. I wouldn’t say we are brained washed, as Cain suggests, but often times we do vote for Democratic candidates without even knowing much about them.
We have a lot of issues affecting the black community that extend beyond political affiliation. It’s one thing to not support someone because of his or her values, but another to brush them off simply because of their political party affiliation. Instead of demoralizing Cain and questioning his Blackness, we should be excited that we have another black person vying for president. While we might not agree with his point of view, making strides in both parties is a definite plus.
When it comes to politics America is generally uninformed, but African Americans suffer tremendously because we don’t have anyone out looking for us. Many times we depend on ourselves to seek information, however, in a media full of sound bites and racial slurs, it is hard to weed through the noise to make a sound choice.
If you think about the current ideas of the Republican Party, being conservative aligns with Christian values. These ideas never go too far right or too far left. Although African Americans tend to vote Democratic, the majority of the blacks tend to be conservative socially when it comes to social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. If Republicans are serious about attracting more African Americans, they can easily focus on issues we care about. Instead of trying to make Obama a “one term president,” implementing a robust job’s plan, funding public education and enacting laws that address our current situation in the tanking economy would not only appeal to all votes, but African Americans as well.
Despite what Herman Cain may think, black people are not brainwashed. However, we tend to refuse to support platforms that do not support us. So if Republicans want our vote in 2012 they better start acting like they are the party of ALL people, because right now, they seem to only want to serve those who are at the top of the economic ladder.
Do you vote Republican? How can Republicans appeal to black voters?