Black Like Me

National Review’s Jay Nordlinger:

For years, many of us thought that the first black president would be a conservative: someone in the Clarence Thomas mold, against race preferences, strong for assimilation, etc. We thought the same of the first woman, too: She would be a conservative in the Margaret Thatcher mold (though thoroughly American, of course). But 2008 has put those assumptions to the test, bringing, as it has, both Obama and Hillary Clinton to the fore.

I hear this a lot from Republicans, and I’ve always found it vaguely plausible (James Fallows – a liberal – was evidently of the same opinion). I also believe that the number of people who would really like to vote for our first black president exceeds the number of outright racists in this country by a wide margin. A conservative black presidential candidate would undoubtedly confirm many of our rosiest assumptions about the state of race relations in America, and I have no doubt that he (or she?) would perform creditably at the ballot box.

But where would Republicans find a plausibly black presidential candidate? It’s not that black conservatives don’t exist (read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ piece on Bill Cosby if you don’t believe me). But for whatever reason, they don’t seem to gravitate towards the Republican Party. I’m sure it’s not for lack of any common ground, either. How many times have we heard that the cultural conservatism of black churches is a potential “in” for Republican politicians?

So why is failed senatorial candidate Michael Steele the closest Republicans have come to finding their own Barack Obama? I won’t pretend to dissect the conservative movement’s complex racial history, but I can’t help but think that the continued veneration of crypto-racist figures like Jesse Helms makes it extremely difficult for Black Americans to enthusiastically support the Republican Party. I remember reading National Review’s Helms post-mortem with the expectation that someone – anyone – would take a critical look at the man’s awful history on racial issues. Instead, we get Jonah Goldberg writing about Helms’ “alleged” racist tendencies. Why is Colin Powell unwilling to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt when it comes to anti-Muslim smears? Why is the Republican hierarchy completely devoid of African-American political talent? A few ritual denunciations of some truly odious figures would go a long way towards rectifying this sort of thing.

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Filed under Conservatism, Culture, Presidential Politics, Race

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