The GOP's 'Good' Blacks

By Debra Dickerson
Senior Fellow

The Washington Post
March 13, 2001

For all their scoffing at former president Clinton's "I feel your pain" oversentimentality, Republicans seem to have fallen prey to the same affliction. One can't help wondering, though, about this sudden respectful compassion for certain blacks in the wake of a divisive election and a weakened Democratic Party.

First came Mayor Rudy Giuliani's boast that, by ignoring the city's black leaders, he'd been blacks' dream mayor. "[T]he things we've done are better for the community than the things they've been fighting for the last 20 to 30 years," he crowed. Until he'd emancipated them, blacks had kept other blacks "enslaved" and "oppressed." With aggressive policing, an inhospitable welfare system and opposition to affirmative action, he'd saved blacks' villages by burning them.

At the other end of the emotional spectrum, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was overcome as he addressed a black conservative group recently. "I'm not crying for me. I'm crying for you, Leslie [Steele], and others who have to make the ultimate sacrifice," he wept, as she brought him a tissue paper onstage. Steele, an African American, claims that blacks harass her because she works for a governor only 8 percent of them approve of. "Leslie has to take grief for me, not because of the truth but because of perceptions," he wept.

To paraphrase Eddie Murphy in his infamous "Saturday Night Live" performance as an undercover white: what silly Negroes. (My former editor) Andrew Sullivan advises the GOP against "[k]issing up to" Jesse Jackson. To do so "would be a slap in the face to the brave 10 per cent of blacks who voted for W."

Blacks are better off under Giuliani, whether they think so or not? Working for a Republican is the "ultimate sacrifice"? Voting for one makes you brave? Tugged heartstrings notwithstanding, one might well smell a divide-and-conquer strategy emanating from the VRWC (vast right-wing conspiracy) these days. Political machinations, however crafty, are nothing new and certainly not inherently blameworthy. But this particular one, while indisputably brilliant, is laced with equal parts contempt and condescension.

How else to interpret such fulsome bootlicking except that with blacks there is always danger, even for deviating from the party line? How else but that only the paltry few free-thinking blacks smart enough to escape Pavlovian party loyalty and a self-destructive liberality are deemed worthy of whites' all-important respect? One can't object to black Republicans. One can, however, object to a political equation that deems the only good black a Republican one. By patting them on the head and affixing spit-sticky gold stars to their foreheads, the GOP is gambling that those so rewarded won't notice they've been promoted to mere credits to their race. One wonders when Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice will shout: "Ixnay on the ave-bray crap! Just treat me like a Republican."

Every good conspiracy proceeds on multiple fronts, so it wasn't long before more stout-hearted Republicans took their cues for Phase II of The Plan. This phalanx, the Whites Who Can Say No Team, is making it clear that no more Negro nonsense will be tolerated. In agreeing to detente last week with NAACP chief Kweisi Mfume, wily House Leader Dick Armey flipped the script on him. He insisted they also discuss the "all too-common practice [of spreading] unfounded, racially charged falsehoods against Republicans for political advantage." He used ingenious phrases like "reverse race-baiting" and "racial McCarthyism."

Former speaker Newt Gingrich went even further. "Jesse Jackson doesn't want an honest debate," he told black reporters. Neither does Mfume. "They are going to yell racism," something Republicans are incapable of exhibiting, apparently. This gambit we shall designate the "I know you are, but what am I?" offensive.

If one thing is certain as the victorious GOP contemplates world domination, it's that the concept of "racism" must be gnawed to jabberwockian meaninglessness when uttered by a minority. All such a wackily brazen strategy requires is cojones the size of the president's home state and an utter belief in the purity of a Republican heart. How can it fail?

As the final tentacle of the GOP/VRWC strategy to neuter any black leaders it can't woo, President Bush has showered attention on urban America's shock troops, the bridesmaids of black political leadership -- the ministers and community activists on the ghetto's front lines. Through his faith-based organizations initiative and the strategic appointment of highly visible and very brave minorities to his administration, he's engineered the perfect end-around the entrenched black political class.

Once you've reduced the Rev. Jesse Jackson to statements like, "the magnitude of America's unfinished business is above the church," your work as an apparatchik in the VRWC is done. Time to collect your 40 acres and that mule. Not bad for a president who needs to get hooked on phonics. Maybe those are tears of joy in Republicans' eyes.

Copyright: 2001 The Washington Post

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