Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Democratic Party's Sway Over Black Voters

Leonard Pitts' latest column attempts to delineate why, by in large, people of color do not support the GOP. To many of you reading that sentence, your immediate response might be a roll of the eyes. However, Pitts raises some very interesting talking points that we, as Progressives, would do well to contemplate or at least be reminded.

As a means of introducing my remarks, I am moved to contemplate the perspective of the Jesus Christ Church of Latter Days Saints, the followers of which are known to us as Mormons or LDS (Latter Days Saints). As it is well known, GOP hopeful Mitt Romney is an unapologetic believer. Until the 1970's, the Mormon church's official position regarding all black people could be whittled down as stating firmly:

We're not saying you're going to hell, just that you came from hell.

African-American were denoted as mud people, thus naturally inferior to members of other races. Thus far, this is pretty much the underlying assumption of recent GOP policies towards the Black community. Certainly, as Pitts mentions, historically, the Republican party was the party of Abolition, Emancipation, and expanded freedoms for Black citizens. Abraham Lincoln faced considerable opposition within his own party when he proposed Emancipation and especially found his strategy challenged during the Civil War. The Radical Republicans who opposed him when he ran for office a second time in 1864, and then came to power after Lincoln's assassination, criticized the pace of the war and feared that proposed reforms did not go far enough. They felt that Lincoln's conciliatory approach towards the rebellious South was too generous and wanted to impose harsh punishment.

Needless to be be said, those times are not our own. It is also of note that yes, the Democratic party was also the party of segregationists like George Wallace and Lester Maddox and the Ku Klux Klan. Times changed drastically as did party ideology, particularly from 1964 onward. It is a fallacy of thought to think that the Democratic party has held any particular uniform notions anymore than the Republican party has. Lyndon Johnson's Civil Rights reforms effectively handed Barry Goldwater a majority of the Southern vote in the 1964 election, a harbinger of times to come. Even before then, in 1948, Harry Truman's insistence upon a Civil Rights plank being instituted in the official party platform thrust several Southern Democrats out of the convention in protest, forming their own Dixiecrat party in protest.

I would take Pitts a step forward when he, echoing Britain's Viscount Palmer, argues that we ought to have no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests. Interests vary from group to group and region to region but the party who best represent our concerns ought to hold our support. Allegiance goes beyond a D or R. Pitts is correct when he states that conservative ideology versus progressive ideology is a much more objective picture of truth. Over the course of history, those of us who champion equality at the expense of division have at times been known by different names or have found a different alphanumeric character to denote our party allegiance.

Thomas Jefferson, in his first Inaugural Address sought to address this matter directly. He said, and I quote, at some length:

During the contest of opinion through which we have passed the animation of discussions and of exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might impose on strangers unused to think freely and to speak and to write what they think; but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good.

All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions. During the throes and convulsions of the ancient world, during the agonizing spasms of infuriated man, seeking through blood and slaughter his long-lost liberty, it was not wonderful that the agitation of the billows should reach even this distant and peaceful shore; that this should be more felt and feared by some and less by others, and should divide opinions as to measures of safety.

But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.

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