Several days ago I wrote this post about the odd habit which many people have of talking about Democratic 'dependence' on the votes of various racial minorities. As I argued in that post, this frequent framing of the issue often contains within it an unspoken (or perhaps even unconsidered) assumption that the votes of racial minorities aren't quite real votes somehow -- second class votes, you might say.
In any case, that was my argument. And one can dispute it or not.
The Wall Street Journal's 'Best of the Web' chose to dispute it. And you can read their whole run-down here. But in the course of that response, the author, James Taranto, said the following ...
Marshall has a small point, inasmuch as the idea of black voters being "suddenly struck from the rolls" sounds like a racist fantasy. So imagine instead if black voters suddenly started dividing their votes between the parties in the same proportion as nonblack voters do. This would yield an identical electoral outcome without disfranchising anyone. As it is, though, blacks are extreme outliers in their voting behavior: They vote overwhelmingly Democratic, while nonblacks tend to vote Republican, though less overwhelmingly.
The obvious point is that if Republicans ever find a way of attracting significant numbers of black voters, the Democrats will be in big trouble. Forty years' experience has shown this is easier said than done, but surely it's possible. To say otherwise would be to claim the Democrats can take black voters for granted in perpetuity.
Taranto's point echoes another assumption in the Bill <$Ad$>Schneider report we linked last week. Narrowly speaking, this point is of course true. If blacks started splitting their votes in the way non-hispanic whites do and nothing else changed
, yes, the Democrats would be in something of a bind. But that would only be so if you imagine that voting blocs exist in a vacuum, with no dynamic relationship to the rest of the electorate.
Let me be more concrete: Why do blacks vote so disproportionately for Democrats? And if the GOP changed the policies and attitudes which demonstrably alienate or fail to attract black voters now, would that in turn alienate other
voters who are now reliably Republican? It probably won't surprise you terribly to hear that I think the answer is, yes!
Pick apart what Taranto is saying and it's rather like some Democratic strategist saying, "Hey guys, here's the plan: We now have the secular humanists and the gays. If we can just get the Christian fundamentalists too, then ... then, my friends, then
we'll be cookin' with gas."
Or perhaps, "We've got the abortion-rights crowd locked up. Now, if we can just cleave away half the pro-life constituency, then we'll never lose another election again!"
Again, true. But rather easier said than done. And for pretty fundamental reasons.
In most parts of the country I don't pretend that the cleavage is quite so stark as it would be in these examples I've provided above. But the logic of Taranto's suggestion does
stem from the assumption that the GOP's difficulties with blacks are just some misunderstanding, a failure to communicate or 'reach out,' as the endlessly annoying phrase has it. But surely something so enduring isn't so incidental.
I touched on this point in an article
I wrote at my old magazine The American Prospect
, using the lamentable case of Jack Kemp ...
Consider the example of Jack Kemp, who has spent much of his career since leaving Congress arguing for a more inclusive Republican Party that could build beyond its base of economic and social conservatives and reach out to traditionally Democratic constituencies. Kemp is, of course, an extreme supply-side conservative on economic issues. But his repeated political failures and his increasing estrangement from powerful segments of the party have been rooted in his seeming inability to appreciate the deep gusts of racial animosity that fill the sails of so many Republican public policy crusades. Most Republicans know that enterprise zones and other nostrums presented as alternatives to "failed" liberal social policy are window dressing. Kemp's problem is that he takes the window dressing seriously, but none of his GOP colleagues have the heart to tell him.
The Republican Party has not, as Kemp would have it, ignored blacks and other minorities. In the last 30 years the Republican Party has increasingly relied on the support of constituencies that feel embittered and resentful toward minorities and the poor. The party's mounting strength in the 1970s and 1980s was based on making inroads among conservative southern whites and appealing to the resentments that Democratic northern, working-class ethnic voters felt against school busing and affirmative action. Thus, the GOP's problem with minorities isn't incidental; it's fundamental. Any genuine effort to aid minorities or the poor would instantly alienate a substantial portion of the Republican base. It's an electoral bind, inexorable and fixed. The Republicans can't be the party of both black opportunity and anti-black resentment, no matter how big the tent. The Democrats tried it; it didn't work.
I think the same continues to apply, though the racial edge in American politics -- always in flux -- is somewhat less overt today than it was in the 1990s.