Mr. 1% gets 0%
by Kelvin Wade
Recently, an astonishing NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that the Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan ticket is garnering 0% of the black vote. George W. Bush earned 11% of the black vote in 2004. McCain got 3% against the first African-American nominee in 2008. And when you think about it, that should’ve been Barack Obama’s high water mark with blacks. Why is Romney doing so poorly and how come the Republican message doesn’t sell with blacks?
To hear the GOP tell it, blacks are beholden to Democrats because we’re a bunch of freeloaders. Mitt Romney believes it himself. After a lame appearance before the NAACP earlier this summer where he was booed for saying he’d repeal Obamacare, the next night Romney spoke before a white audience and mentioned the booing and said, “…if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy — more free stuff.” It’s that type of condescending tone that goes a long way to garnering you 0% of the vote.
But the real reasons blacks spurn the GOP are much deeper. After the Civil War and blacks gained the right to vote, they voted overwhelmingly for Republicans. Then came the Compromise of 1877. Basically, in the presidential election of 1876, there was a tie between Democrat Samuel Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. The Democrats in Congress agreed to make Hayes President in exchange for certain concessions. The main concession was pulling federal troops out of the South.
After the compromise, Reconstruction ended. Jim Crow laws sprang up across the south and blacks were prevented from voting with poll taxes and poll tests. Slavery had officially ended but de facto slavery was reinstituted for the next 78 years or so.
Current Republicans often misread history by pointing out that it was a Republican President, Eisenhower, who ordered federal troops to Arkansas and U.S. Marshalls to Louisiana to protect blacks integrating public schools, while it was Democratic governors who stood in the way.
But the lesson blacks took away viewing those incidents, as well as Supreme Court decisions and federal legislations, wasn’t that the Republican Party was on their side. It was that the federal government was on their side vs. the states.
After the Civil Rights movement, with landmark legislation signed by a Democratic President, blacks started registering Democratic. At the same time, Southern Democrats bolted the party for the Republican Party.
There’s no question the federal government oppressed black folks through laws and horrible Supreme Court decisions in the past. But it was the federal government that integrated facilities and schools and struck down poll taxes and tests so African-Americans could vote. It was states that implemented Black Codes, Jim Crow, and refused to prosecute whites who assaulted and lynched blacks. It was state governments that enforced segregation during the Civil Rights movement. States barred blacks from marrying outside their race until the Supreme Court changed things.
So, when blacks hear Republicans preaching that the big federal government is the problem and we need states rights, that’s nonsensical to black people. States rights may sound like an innocuous support of the 10th Amendment to many whites. To most blacks, “states rights” means oppression. The same oppression that Tea Party groups fear from the federal government, most blacks fear from letting states do what they want. The history of states left to their own devices has not been good for black people.
It isn’t about handouts like Republicans like to tell themselves. After all, there are more whites on welfare and food stamps than blacks.
Adding onto the demonization of government is the racial dog whistling, the catering to the worst elements of the party and the current voter suppression efforts that are reminiscent of the end of Reconstruction. A majority of blacks are incensed at how the first black President has been treated by the GOP. Those all play a role in telling blacks that they’re not welcome in the Republican Party.
Why are Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan polling at 0% with blacks? That’s all they’ve earned.