Saturday, November 11, 2006

Black Conservative Candidate Crack-Up

Steve Gilliard has already touched upon this, I think, but on Tuesday, Black political conservatives had a very poor showing. Meanwhile, Black progressives like Deval Patrick in Massachusetts and Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, won handily. Black political conservatives (and here I define political conservatism by combining its social, economic and political forms) in both parties may want to rethink some of their beliefs and alliances if they want to gain national office. In the South, they still don't have a chance in hell (and Democratic former Virginia governor Doug Wilder was politically to the left of most southern Republicans of the late 1980s and early 1990s or today), while in the North, Midwest and West, being a too-conservative Black candidate is not going to get you over either. Either way, the Black right-wingers are not attracting African-American voters, nor enough non-Black voters, to gain federal or statewide offices. J.C. Watts, who was always good for some Republican palaver, was the last African-American Republican in the US House, and before him, the lone wolf was Gary Franks of Connecticut. Just think about that: out of 535 US House seats, there is not a single Black person affiliated with the Republican Party holding even one of them anywhere in this country, and there hasn't been one in four years. There has not been a Black Republican in the Senate since Edward Brooke of Massachusetts lost to Paul Tsongas in 1979. And Brooke was a liberal Republican, in the Nelson Rockefeller mold. While I do respect the rights of others to have very different viewpoints from my own, I still marvel at the belief of some Black right-wingers that their ideological stances, some of which are intrinsically racist, misogynistic, classist, homophobic, religiously chauvinist, and so on, can somehow overcome the inherent racism--let alone misogyny, homophobia, etc.--of many of the people who espouse their ideologies, or appeal, primarily on race, to people against whom the daggers of their ideological positions are aimed. Surmounting this double paradox appears to be one of their chief challenges; they didn't resolve it this time around, and I don't see them doing it anytime soon.

On the Republican side, Ohio gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell, who'd been intimately involved in the 2004 Bush-Cheney electoral trickery in Ohio, and who'd run one of the more reprehensible midterm campaigns this year, ended up losing, and losing badly, to liberal Democratic congressman and Methodist minister Tom Strickland. No amount of tacking to the far right, none of his ever-expanding Christianism, none of his games with balloting, none of his attempts to smear his opponent, not even his dance with White supremacists, worked. None of it. He lost in a blowout, and ended up looking like a pathetic buffoon in the process. I doubt that was his goal, but that's how it turned out and now, he should ask himself, was it worth it? Was it worth disenfranchising Black and poor voters back in 2004? Was it worth all the hateful things he spewed since then? Where did it get him? He's now intimately tied to a group of people who are facing multiple indictments on a range of charges. Not only will he not get to be governor, but he probably will have to testify when some of his friends face prosecution. Redemption being ever possible in our society, who in their right mind would elect this man to any statewide office ever again?

Then there's Michael Steele, the Lt. Governor of Maryland, whose preposterous campaign almost unfolded like an In Living Color skit, or something that Dave Chappelle might have thought up before his flight to South Africa. Steele was and is the protegé of Maryland's soon to be ex-Governor, Robert Ehrlich, and he really started to believe the hype about the appeal of Republicanism in a politically moderate state, while also buying into the horribly racist idea--and Steele is, to all appearances, Black, let's not forget--that Black people are so dumb we can't tell the difference between a Republican running as whatever he claims to be on a given day and real Democratic candidates. From the overblown accounts of the Oreo cookie spectacle at Morgan State to the yard signs listing him as a "Democrat" to Steele's infamous "anonymous" interview with the Washington Post in which he claimed that "R" was a "scarlet letter," a charge he later dissembled about by claiming that Bush was his homeboy before turning against the man only weeks later, to his manipulation of Philadelphia homeless men to engage in deceitful electioneering, everything about Steele pointed to his deeply ingrained meretriciousness, which is to say, his gross unsuitability for higher office. (There are candidates just as bad who have been elected, but that doesn't exculpate Steele). Now we learn that he very well might head up the RNC, which to me is probably the most appropriate next job he could have. Perhaps he'll hire Ken Blackwell as his assistant and enforcer.

Let me not forget Lynn Swann. What exactly were his qualifications to be the governor of Pennsylvania, which isn't exactly a podunk? Attractiveness, celebrity, and wealth alone, without a platform or political identity don't cut it, at least not in a state known for its politically engaged citizenry. I actually took a hot minute to read up on Lynn Swann's political aims, and came away with the conviction that he had none, or rather, there was little beyond Republican talking points that he envisioned, if that word is even appropriate, for Pennsylvania. I had no doubt the residents of the Keystone State would recognize this right away, as they did, and to be sure, his candidacy was dead on arrival. Even his former teammate Franco Harris, who I thought was the sexiest man alive during the Steelers' championship runs of the 1970s, supported his opponent. Were the state's economy stronger and had there not been voter anger at the state legislature, incumbent Ed Rendell would have won by an even larger margin.

What about Vernon Robinson? First, if I may put it politely, the man is cuckoo, out of his mind, certifiable. Once again he ran one of the most extreme campaigns in the entire country, to right of his patron Jesse Helms--he has even proudly and affirmatively called himself the Black Jesse Helms!--in North Carolina. Among the lowlights, he viciously attacked immigrants, airing inflammatory commercials and going so far as to state that Spanish speakers "had no place" in the United States; while speaking to college students, he supposedly declared that social acceptance of multiculturalism was "a stupid notion; and he alleged that his opponent Brad Miller was gay because he'd married late in life and his wife had borne no children (Miller had to explainn that before they married she'd had a hysterectomy), etc.--that is, he yet again basically acted like a complete and total fool. Lo and behold, for all his extremism, he lost to Miller 64%-36%! I get the idea that in addition to an overwhelming desire for attention, he's also operating on deeply held principle(s), which means he's pretty much in the Alan Keyes category, which means, well, that he's bonkers. The sad thing is I don't think he's going to stop. Each loss seems to embolden him more. Fortunately, unless he's running for a US Congressional seat against, oh, Osama bin Laden, he's going to keep losing.

On the Democratic side, there's Harold Ford Jr. Several entries ago I called him a "right-wing" Democrat, and I meant it. No, he's not as far to the right as Blackwell or Robinson. But as Democrats go, he's politically an outlier. There's no other way to put it. Though cute as a button and suave as all get out this is a man who, against all better judgment, publicly declared, "I love"--I am not exaggerating--"President Bush." He actually said this, and even in context--as a statement let's say of Christian agape or something--it's still unnerving. I would respectfully suggest that there is not another African-American Democratic Congressperson, including fence straddlers and hustlers like Gregory Meeks or Albert Wynn--not even the most devout Christian of any of them--who would go that far. But Ford Jr.'s beliefs in general seem to be pitched to the right side of the aisle, and he was always picking up Republican and RNC memes, such as his criticism of John Kerry's bumbling statement to college students which, as should have been clear to anyone who listened to it or read it, was not an attack on the troops. But Ford Jr. did his part to keep the Republican testeria surrounding Kerry alive for longer than it needed to be. One of his most craven acts was his public denunciation of the New Jersey Supreme Court movement on gay marriage. While I'm sure he thought it might win him some votes, he could have taken a moment to consider that less than 30 years ago, interracial marriages were still illegal in a number of southern states (Tennessee instituted its own interracial marriage ban in 1871, during Reconstruction, and made it constitutional in 1896, which kept it on the books up until only a few years before he was born), and that the sorts of friendships he's engaged in across the racial and gender line often resulted in vast array of terroristic acts against Black people. Ironically enough, the very interracial sex panic inherent in these laws was part of the vile yet successful attacks waged against him by his opponent, Bob Corker, the RNC and their associates. From that outrageous commercial alluding to Ford Jr.'s frolicking with white women, to the radio commercial that included drums beating whenever his name was mentioned, the Republicans resorted to overt racist appeals. Yet Ford Jr. apparently saw little wrong with promoting heterosexism and homophobia in his own campaign--Brothaman, wake up! Yet as of yesterday or so, Democratic insider and operative James Carville was touting Mr. Black Republite as the new head of the DNC, despite the fact that its current leader, Dr. Howard Dean, had a winning, Netroots-derived 50-state strategy that mean that there were viable Democratic House and Senate candidates running in places like Montana and Indiana, not just the coastal states and urban areas. Mr. Carville, no thank you. Actually I hope Harold Ford Jr., a handsome, thoughtful and ostentatiously devout person, does find an opportunity better suited to his interests and talents; perhaps the DLC, which has been tacking ever rightward, will let recognize that he's the best person to lead its outfit. They'd be making the right choice.

Is conservatism a dead end for Black candidates? At least right now it is. Meanwhile, it definitely pays for hucksters in academe and elsewhere. If you're Black, you can surely put some extra cash in your pocket and get some nice gigs if you make fellow Black folks, especially poor and disenfranchised ones, your chief targets. Pitiful I know, but some can't wait to take up the opportunity....

1 comment:

  1. Tennessee is really crazy right now. I lived in Nashville for a while and I felt that it was a blue bastion in a red state, but that redness was everywhere. The saving graces are Vanderbilt, the Church street community, East Nashville and South Nashville.

    But its modus operandi is the same as Atlanta, once you exit the county, you are in a different world. And, with Nashville being the capital the, Harold Fords (white and black) flock to do business, govern and drink bourbon.

    The thing that is most interesting about Ford is that many Black folk probably think gay marriage is wrong, and do not have a problem with his socially conservative attitude. And as brazen as Vernon Robinson's attacks were on Miller's sexuality, I promise you that I have encountered that attitude a million times, and the same sort attacks on my person, steming from me being single, to the types of books I read.

    So these black candidates also reflect a part of us, we are middle Americans too.