By Lee A. Daniels
Recently, I wrote that today’s Republican Party is gripped by a severe problem – an acting-the-fool dynamic produced by their allegiance to crackpot-conservatism – that causes Republicans of high and low status to say or do things that range from the silly to the vicious. I concluded in part that because these things largely go unchallenged by the GOP leadership, they help underscore how much the bigoted radical right controls the party.
All of the individuals I discussed then are White. However, last week, a trio of Blacks who love the GOP – Ben Carson, Jason L. Riley, and Stephen A. Smith – stepped forward with their own crackpot notions. You might say they proved once again that some Blacks are as capable of engaging in a race to the bottom of common sense and/or respectability as some Whites.
Speaking at a symposium at Vanderbilt University, Smith, an ESPN personality, declared that his “dream” was that “for one election, just one, every Black person in American vote Republican … Black folks in America,” he continued, “are telling one party, ‘We don’t give a damn about you.’ They’re telling the other Party, ‘You’ve got our vote. Therefore, you have labeled yourself ‘disenfranchised’ because one Party knows they’ve got you under their thumb. They other party knows they’ll never get you and nobody comes to address your interest.”
Thus, Smith put on display his stunning misunderstanding of the basic point of political electioneering: it’s the political party that substantively appeals to the voters for support. Equal to that was his astonishing ignorance of the past half-century of American politics – a period when Blacks forged a remarkable record of playing pragmatic politics in the only party, the Democrats, that sought their support. Remarkably, Smith also either didn’t notice or ignored the fact that in one recent election his wish had come true.
That was the 2014 bitterly contested race for the U.S. Senate in Mississippi between six-term Republican conservative Thad Cochran, and the Tea Party-backed extremist, Chris McDaniel. Cochran is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative but also a man of courtly manners who has never treated his Democratic Senate colleagues as “the enemy,” as McDaniel promised to do. He was in significant danger of losing. Mississippi’s Black voters – the most reliably Democratic in the country – rushed into the Republican primary to vote for Cochran in massive numbers, ensuring that he would defeat McDaniel and be returned to Washington.
That was a dramatic example of the principle that has always ruled traditional Black politics: pragmatism trumps political ideology.
That’s something Jason L. Riley has made a career of pretending isn’t true. Which is why he’s held down a spot on the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal– the global financial community’s main newspaper – for nearly two decades. Despite his tenure at one of the most powerful media companies in the world, Riley spends a lot of ink railing against “black elites” who, as he wrote in a March 17 column, are “always eager” to blame White racism for what he wants the world to see as Black peoples’ internally generated flaws.
What he also wrote there, in declaring that we should ignore the racist ditty of the University of Oklahoma White fraternity chapter was this: “History shows that faster black progress was occurring at a time when whites were still lynching blacks, not merely singing about it.”
Yes. Those who have a sense of decency about them, not to mention a working intellect, ought to be shocked. Riley offers not a shred of evidence in his lengthy opinion piece to support that claim, of course. He knows it’s just “red meat” for the WSJ’s constituency – another falsehood they can grab to build their fortress against the truth.
Finally, Ben Carson continued to prove on the campaign trail that, as the headline in the prominent conservative web-zine, Hot Air, put it, “Ben Carson is not ready for prime time.”
Trying to establish foreign-policy credentials, Carson was at times flummoxed by the properly sharp questions of commentator Hugh Hewitt, whose huge following among conservatives testifies to his longtime impeccably conservative credentials. Carson’s errors were glaring and produced headlines elsewhere such as: “Presidential contender Ben Carson stumbled in an extremely uncomfortable interview,” leading another conservative commentator, David Weigel, to remark, “The headlines came down like acid rain all week.”
I suppose one could say, then, we should judge these conservatives not by the color of their skin, but by the loony content of their comments.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His essay, “Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Great Provocateur,” appears in Africa’s Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent (2014), published by Zed Books. His new collection of columns, Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014, is available at www.amazon.com