Monday, February 23, 2004

George W. Bush and the African-American Vote

It's always dangerous to talk about black issues when you're not black (as I'm not). However, I do think there are interesting forces at play here, and I think I can address them objectively. I'll do my best.

The black vote is one of the bedrock supporters of the Democratic party. Over 90% of it went to Al Gore in the 2000 election. This is not good for the Republicans, who have for the most part given up on winning these votes, nor is it good for the black community, who are taken for granted by the Democrats. It is assumed by some politicians in both parties that the black community is concerned only about "black" issues, and will tolerate any other policies important to the Democratic web of special issues. I don't believe that this is the case, and there are a number of reasons to believe that this important vote is in play this year.

Reasons why the black vote may be in play
War on Terror -- The War on Terror affects everyone, and this includes the black community, whose view of this struggle is probably closer to President Bush's than John Kerry's.

Military -- Blacks are a larger percentage of the military than of society as a whole. The military has a great deal of respect for Bush, a worldview which appreciates the necessity for the use of force, and a better knowledge of the facts on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq. This doesn't make every one of them a Republican, but they are more amenable to Bush himself. They still don't make up a huge portion of the black community, but considering the public's awareness and respect for the military right now, they have significant influence on their communities.

Vouchers -- Many in the black community in Washington, DC, have come out in support of vouchers. The national Democrats, who are beholden to the teachers' unions, are strongly against them.

Gay Marriage -- Black churches in Boston, MA, are opposing gay marriage (thanks to Donald Sensing for the link), and it looks like this may be a dividing line between them and the Democratic candidate. Kerry is now supporting it. Bush is looking for a way to prevent gay marriage from being imposed by judicial fiat.

Religion -- Bush is an openly religious evangelical Christian. This makes him closer to most of the black community in spiritual matters than Kerry could hope to be.

Bush's Politics -- Bush is a moderate, who has been slow to take a stance on hot button civil rights issues, such as affirmative action, even when we conservatives wish he would. This does provide an opening here, however.

Bush's Administration -- Bush's administration contains a number of high-profile, moderate African-Americans, most noticeably Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice.

Actions to put the black vote in play
Bush isn't going to be getting the NAACP endorsement anytime soon. He may, however, be able to make an end-run around the national organizations which believe they can deliver the black vote to the Democrats.

Public Speaking -- Black churches often invite Democratic politicians to speak. They're unlikely to invite Bush to speak to them, but if Bush were to ask for an opportunity, I think a lot of them would grant it. These talks would be good for Bush, as this is the sort of audience whose spiritual outlook he can strongly relate with. It is important not to use these talks to attack the Democratic candidates, and most certainly not Democrats in general (most of the audience have voted Democratic all their lives). He would need to talk positively about his vision for America and how it benefits them. This also gives him a chance to talk about his own spiritual life. The main purpose of these talks would be to give these communities a chance to get to know him as he is, not as the caricature which the Democrats are making him out to be.

Small Group Sessions -- Bush does well meeting with small groups of people, and meeting with black community leaders, interacting with them and discussing their concerns, would give them both a chance to know one another.

Policy -- As I've already pointed out, Bush is on the right side of many of the policy issues important to black voters. What about affirmative action? That's the ones that Republicans are, by definition, against, and blacks are, by definition, for, right? There may be some middle ground. Even conservatives can admit that affirmative action served a useful purpose (even if they think it was an unconstitutional way to bring it about). Even liberals will say that it should not continue forever (even if they don't really mean it). Extending affirmative action too far is patronizing to the beneficiaries, minimizing their accomplishments, and creating bitterness for those who are slighted by it, whether that slight is real or perceived, ultimately exacerbating racial tensions. At some point it will have to end, and it is reasonable to ask what criteria we can use to tell it is time. There may be a means to enact a sunset provision, hinted at but not required by O'Conner's Michigan decision.

Result
It is unrealistic to expect Bush to win 60% of the black vote. The stated goal of the Bush campaign is 15%. I think it may be possible to get higher, perhaps as high as 25%. The ultimate goal is to get black voters to seriously consider the Republican party as friendly to their community, rather than viewing it with distrust and supporting the Democrats as a bloc.

New Posts: More on Black churches and gay marriage here. More on how Kerry is his own worst enemy in winning the Black vote here.

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