The Rise Of Black Conservatism

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Part One: A Question of Perception. The words were wholly ironic: We must pursue a strategy that prohibits one party from taking us for granted and another party from writing us off. Jesse Jackson, when addressing the Republican National Committee in 1978, said this about the black vote in America, but has consistently proven himself to be the main violator of their spirit in the modern era. To him they were mere words. To others, though, the singular truth they express still stands -- and has even begun to take shape. 1996 marks the end of the beginning of the rise of a conservative movement within the black community. A few years ago such a phrase would have drawn nothing but chuckles, but now the movement is visible enough to be noticed by the politicos and media outlets that are paying attention to such things. In a few years black conservatism will be a force to be dealt with by both parties. More and more individuals are stepping forward, more and more organizations are being formed, more and more voices are being heard from blacks whose positions on issues match more closely with Ronald Reagan than Jesse Jackson. At the time these choices are to go against the grain -- these people are saying things not in tune with many leaders in their community. And they say them not to stand out, but to lead. Not to move against, but to move ahead. Indeed, when former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Colin Powell finally announced he would not enter the political race in 1996 he took the opportunity of the limelight to announce that he was, that day, registering as a Republican. In his stances he was an exception that proved a new rule. Powell, after all, is moderate where many studies show the majority of blacks to be quite conservative. Powell said he was pro-choice, but blacks tend to be more pro-life than whites according to research. Powell called himself a progressive and a Rockefeller Republican but, indeed, most blacks find themselves on the side of conservatives on many social issues. Polls have revealed that most blacks, in stark contrast to the self-appointed race leaders often sought out by the conventional media, favor strong anti-crime measures and significant reform of entitlement programs. In fact, 1988 ABC exit polling showed that 18 percent of blacks described themselves as conservatives (while only around 10 percent vote that way). And an article in the Spring 1992 issue of Political Science Quarterly showed that on abortion, law enforcement, special status for homosexuals, prayer in schools, welfare reform and more, studies and polls reveal the black population as often being more conservative than the white population. In a Black Enterprise survey in the July 1992 issue, despite some heavy liberal spin, a few interesting numbers stood out: 39.9 percent of respondents said significant tax cuts were the way to get the economy moving again and 53.4 percent said tax cuts would be the best way to improve their personal economic situation. On welfare reform 60.5 percent said that learnfare programs where schooling is required to get financial assistance were the way to go. On the whole, some very conservative economic principles are at work in these numbers. This is not to say that there are not issues on which the majority of blacks disagree with the standard conservative line. There are many. It seems, though, that there is a larger base for traditional conservative themes within the black community than within the white. The disconnect of these people from mainstream conservatism seems to be the association of the Republican Party with either racist or anti-civil rights tones. This association of the right with poor stances on race is not an insurmountable one, however. This is best proven by the fact that this has not always been the perception -- that at one time, in fact, the opposite was true. Part Two: Who left whom? Political decision-making for blacks in America, quite obviously, began with emancipation which did not fully come into effect until after Republican Abraham Lincoln s death, when his Democrat-cum-Unionist vice president, Andrew Johnson succeeded him. Johnson s views, though, differed sharply with those of Lincoln and the Radical Republicans in the Congress and he vetoed the Civil Rights Bill in 1866 that granted federal protection of freedmen s rights, pointing out that he thought it unconstitutional. The Radical Republicans overrode the veto and the legislation became law on April 9, 1866. To erase any question of such a law s constitutionality, the Fourteenth Amendment was drafted and put out to the states -- with the radicals making clear that passage of it was a mandatory ingredient in the Southern state s eventual full re-admission to the Union. With that threat in the air and an even more pro-suffrage Congress in place, the First Reconstruction Act of March 2, 1867 was passed and America entered a period called the Radical Reconstruction -- where continuing dictates by the Congress of Negroe suffrage were placed on the South. With these realities, blacks in America overwhelmingly began their political history as Republicans. Backing presidents like U.S. Grant and strongly supporting the Republican Congress, blacks supported the one party in an overwhelming way not incomparable to their support of the Democrats in the modern era. The period of reconstruction lasted until the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 but blacks stayed with the Republican Party into the new century. Indeed, it took until the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the end of the over 60-year tie to the Republican Party to begin to be broken. Roosevelt was an immensely popular president and members of the working classes across the board supported his pushes for labor reform and his quest to end the Great Depression with activist government tactics. Two decades later, when GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater (a senator from Arizona) campaigned in 1964 against the Civil Rights Act, it was just another push to the left. When Lyndon Johnson announced his Great Society programs billed as solutions to the problems of the cities, the move left continued. After Richard Nixon s victory in the three-way 1968 presidential race he began building his 72 coalition by reaching out to the supporters of segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace -- which put the final nail in the coffin. The long political relationship of blacks with liberal whites became so consistent that for long years few blacks could be counted as ideological conservatives (consistently fewer than 10 percent voted Republican). Traditional conservatism within the community remained, however, and with the slow but utter failure of many programs -- such as those of the Great Society -- promised to help blacks in the lower classes, some individuals came to slowly question not only the programs, but indeed whether they were truly even created to help in the first place. Few would argue that the plight of the black underclass got significantly better with the installation of Johnson s programs -- or that tensions eased between the time of the Watts Riots and riots in East Los Angeles. Few would argue that those welfare programs lifted people up. Quite the opposite. Indeed, the regulations surrounding the welfare programs that were supported by the massive faceless bureaucracies limited the amounts people on welfare could have in personal savings accounts -- thus restricting their ability to move out of dangerous areas; refused certain monetary benefits to intact families -- thus paying these families to have the father move out; and by their very method stripped families and individuals of their pride -- many in such a way as to guarantee multigenerational dependence on this system. And on the political party that maintained it. Many, of course, still need the system and many still desire it. Not necessarily because of the money, though: since the beginning of the 1980s the rate of growth of the black middle class has risen. More because any threat to the system was seen by many as a threat to a liberal way of life. Guardians of the system, such as Jackson, need to be guarding something to be needed within the community -- and were and are quick to fan the flames when such programs are threatened. Other individuals, though, have begun to step forward, seeing the system for what it is. Should the perception of the right as racist be lifted, many more will step forward as well. In that, there are two steps: First, for members of the political right to begin to clean up their own house on the issue of race. This is not the same as a shift of positions. It is, instead, to begin paying attention to the black vote in America, to begin discussing the issues and spelling out the reasons behind the arguments of ideological conservatives. It is more a matter of spending time and paying attention to race as an issue than it is subscribing to some specific checklist of priorities. Second, of course, is for the perception to be publicly questioned by blacks already on the right. And on that front the battle has already been joined. Part Three: New voices, new direction? In 1996 Alan Keyes stepped to the front of the pack with a committed campaign for the GOP nomination. Proving to a whole nation that he is one of the most thoughtful and eloquent speakers in the conservative movement, Keyes offers a lot of leadership to this battle, and will no doubt break down many political stereotypes from the frontlines. Much of the strength of the debate today is being brought by nationally syndicated radio personality Ken Hamblin out of Denver, Colorado, who is infuriating NCAAP chapters and local race leaders with his cutting-edge criticisms of the failure of the black liberal establishment to lead in any productive direction. Another commentator, Armstrong Williams, who hosts a syndicated radio program called The Right Side out of Washington, D.C. is a third generation Republican who used to be an aid for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and who now is also the CEO of an international public relations company. In print, Thomas Sowell, author and columnist has been an eloquent leader in this debate for many years. In that he is joined by columnist and professor at George Mason University, Walter Williams -- who often sits in for Rush Limbaugh. Other authors of books on the topic include Jared Taylor, who wrote Paved With Good Intentions, and Izola Foster who wrote Izola on Conservatism. Putting forward the arguments in magazine form are Willie and Gwen Richardson, who started National Minority Politics magazine and have begun explaining why minorities should question Democrat principles instead of embracing them. In that they are joined by Emmanuel McLittle s Destiny magazine out of Los Angeles, California. On every issue that conservatives believe in, members of the black conservative movement are lending their voices, ideas and sweat. Also in Los Angeles can be found Project 21 -- a group of young black conservatives with the intent of setting a new agenda for the next generation. In Washington, Robert Woodson, founder of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise figh

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