If you were attentive yesterday, you know that former Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell is doing well in his bid to lead the Republican Party as head of the RNC. The hard-core rightie elite (Dobson, et al) can’t get enough of the guy. Since 2004, the strapping former Xavier College football star turned entertainment impresario turned right-wing politician/pundit has been busy: working as a Fox News contributor, a board member the ultra right-wing Family Research Council, columnist for the National Review and sundry other Republican-party related activities.
Some assert that he should be behind bars for his role in the systematic disenfranchisement of voters, particularly inner city African Americans in the 2004 presidential election. As co-chair of Dubya’s Ohio committee to re-elect Bush in 2004, Blackwell is accused of using his office to ensure that outcome, by means ranging from questionable to nefarious, depending on whom you ask.
At the very least, the uber-conservative Blackwell is controversial. He was the first African-American to be the candidate for governor of a major party in Ohio. He appeals to the most conservative elements of the GOP, lining up on all the issues that lure single-issue, “values” voters: guns, gays and God.
Two things make me think that he’s got the RNC Chair slot in the “bag.” First, conservatives think in terms of absolutes. They thought that having a woman on their presidential ticket would bring in the Hillary vote. That didn’t pan out. Women, Blacks and Hispanics all showed up in greater numbers than had been seen in the past decade and even without Hillary Clinton on his ticket, Obama scored well among women. Among ethnic minorities, this was also true, especially among African Americans. The percentage that showed up to vote last year was the highest since the 60’s.
That leads to my second reason. Blacks traditionally vote Democratic and even a casual look at the campaign events of both parties explains why. Attendees at Democratic events look like a cross-section of America: a composite of young and old, different cultures and genders. Republican crowds look far more homogeneous…Lilly white, typically older (until Sarah Palin came into the picture), and generally smaller in number (again, until Caribou Barbie made her entrance, when McCain rallies grew in size before they dwindled toward the end of his campaign, as they ran out of new names to call Barack and as Obama’s rally attendance blew off the chart).
This was GLARINGLY apparent at their respective conventions. On the heels of Denver’s amazing “Obama Nation,” (a phenomenon that former Swift Vote hack/purveyor of the diatribe Unfit for Command, Jerome Corsi turned into an inflammatory sack of lies), Minneapolis appeared a precarious lake of white faces. The number of registered Black delegates to the RNC last year was the lowest ever, 36! That’s right, a total of 36 black delegates in a field of over 2,500. The 36 black delegates in 2008 represent a 78.4 percent decline from the 167 black delegates at the 2004 GOP convention.
This didn’t go unnoticed, even by the right-wing punditry. And since they solely rely on patriotic symbols, rhetoric and code-speak rather than issues to promote their cause, nothing says, “We’re down with the black folk” like an African American RNC head (except, perhaps a black presidential candidate).
As I suggest this, I realize I risk accusations of bigotry…that the GOP would never resort to manipulating public opinion in such a divisive manner, that such an appointment would be solely due to qualifications beyond race, which Blackwell indeed possesses. But let’s not forget the facts presented here or history. Republicans love to repeat that theirs is the party of Lincoln and as a matter of record, that’s true. They ceaselessly fail to mention that the Republic and Democratic parties of that era were a “BIZARRO” World version of today’s iteration. Lincoln possessed a keen intellect and exceptional political skill. While he believed in emancipation when he imposed it, his approach to slavery early on was far more pragmatic. The Civil War was primarily about economics, which in the south, depended on slavery and secession. Lincoln’s goal was to preserve the Union. The popular view that the Civil War was about slavery is due in part to how its history was written, repeated and adapted, which since Lincoln was assassinated while in office, is particularly positive and sympathetic. That Lincoln’s effect on race in America was transformative is undeniable but to claim that he set out to do what got done in the name of equality is a stretch. Still, he’s a true hero, a legend and an American icon due his credit. He changed America and made a bold statement on race for the world to follow.
Lincoln’s legacy continues in president-elect Obama as well as in J. Kenneth Blackwell. But if Lincoln could see the Republican Party of today, my guess is that it would set him spinning in his grave. And given Blackwell’s history, in my opinion, any continuation of his political career is anything but good–not only for African Americans but also for Americans as a whole.