Monday, September 19, 2005


Why Am I (Still) A Republican?

That's a good question.

The president finally spoke to the country Thursday to
outline his plans for rebuilding the Gulf region -- at a cost of well over $200 billion: "As emergency expenditures soar -- with new commitments as high as $2 billion a day -- some budget analysts and conservative groups are warning that the Katrina spending has combined with earlier fiscal decisions in ways that will wreak havoc on the government's finances for years to come."

Not surprisingly, there are
many GOPers gasping at the divergence between Republican principles and the nation's actual spending record under several years of Republican majority status.

But, my concern goes beyond simple philosophical discussion over budget priorities: Yes, I have a certain set of beliefs related to the size of government, the appropriateness of certain social welfare programs and the proper level of taxation. But, it's also more than that. My Republican sensibility extends beyond just basic values and personal preference. I happen to be a black person who's invested a fair bit of time actively involved in this "party of Lincoln."

That time (approximately 18 years and counting right now) has been spent as something of a translator -- official or otherwise -- between the party and the black community. In many ways, this is just an extension of the position many professional African Americans find themselves in the context of American society -- "explaining" some black sentiment or reaction that their white colleagues might not understand.

Similarly, working in a Republican leadership office AND for the co-chairman of the Republican National Committee, one becomes a "spokesman" for the party whether that happens to be in the job description or not.

I don't exactly like talking about this in public. I mean, why give
Steve Gillard the satisfaction? (Hey, Steve, if you're going to do an all-out slam on black conservatives, at least spell the names correctly: It's Deroy Murdock. The fact is that, with respect to those on the right, Steve has as good/evil Manichean worldview -- "you're either with us or your against us"-- as the president he so despises.)

We've been down this road
before. But, it's seen as an isolated incident -- except, how isolated can it be when it occurs over and over again. How long can all this same BS go on? How long before the Republican Party gets it? What if it never does?

The newest buppie kid on the block, the National Black Republican Association, managed to
implode less than a month after it's much ballyhooed launch, primarily because of a difference of vision -- though the Katrina political aftermath is said to have something to do with it:

[T]here also were questions surrounding approval of the latest news release issued by the NBRA, praising President Bush's leadership after Hurricane Katrina. "President Bush is to be commended for deploying all of the resources of the federal government to help the refugees," [Chair Frances] Rice stated in the release.
Christopher Arps, the group's former communications director, disputes that characterization:

This is not the case! The disagreement was a question of style and content of the press release more than the substance. I felt it was reprehensible for the Congressional Black Caucus and similar groups to use the disaster for partisan advantage to foster more racial divide. In a time of such a momentous disaster, I felt the NBRA should take the high road and encourage our citizens to give their time, money, and other resources to help the victims of this tragedy.
I take Christopher at his word, but even in the context of his own personal post, it's clear that Katrina created some tremors that were uniquely problematic for black Republicans.

The truth is that I had two fairly lengthy conversations with two African American men last week (before Bush's speech). They are both in their 50s and have been Republican their entire lives. They both currently live in the Washington, DC area but have never met.

From each, there was a sense of sad resignation, a feeling of, "How can we going through this one more time -- after we've had to so many times before?"

To use the tortured metaphor of the moment, one could say that if the initial Katrina response could be considered, "the hurricane" -- something that caused a fair bit of damage -- well then, what can we call the continued outpouring of rhetorical stupidty pouring from the mouths of prominent Republicans?

The breaking of the verbal levees?

First came House Speaker Dennis Hastert openly
considering "bulldozing" parts of New Orleans -- at a point when the city was still 80 percent under water, bodies were still being fished out and people were still stranded in the convention center. As we've discussed, his spokesman's attempt at damage control were hardly successful.

Then, former First Lady Barbara Bush uttered
words in a radio interview which will unfortunately haunt her remaining years: "What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them." Those that heard the contents state that she notably "chuckled" during the last phrase.

Now, for some, Katrina may
present new opportunity. But if poor children lost their parents and were adopted by a wealthy couple, would one chuckle that things were "working well for them"?

And then, to complete the hat trick, an actual Louisiana congressman
pops up telling lobbyists, "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did." Baker claimed that he was misquoted or misheard or something...

Honestly, I might be inclined to give Baker the benefit of the doubt, if it didn't seem like this disaster has given Republicans the opportunity to "share" how they really feel. Similarly, under normal circumstances, I wouldn't include Barbara Bush's comments. But, not this time. It just happens to often to ignore them anymore.

Ironically, the concern uttered here is not that the statements are necessarily racist or suggest some animus toward minorities. That's not the point. It is that the speakers seem unable to see those suffering as as actual people.

Bush's spending spree may help him recover some of his numbers in the general public. But, Rich Lowry is
right: The opportunity for more converts in the black community is lost to this president (Democrat and New Orleans native Donna Brazile may be the notable unique exception).

As for those of us already stuck in this rickety boat, well, after being sandbagged so many times, don't be surprised at our reticence to continue bailing the party out.

UPDATE: So, there were quite a few comments left today -- far more than usual. Thus, I realized that my response was going way too long for Haloscan to keep up with. So, they are included here.

Well, thanks for the responses, everyone. Thanks to Messrs. Sullivan and Clemons for linking over to this humble site.

Quick comments: I can't really "come home" to the Democratic Party since I've never been a Democrat. While I certainly had sympathies that way during my formative years, I wasn't a citizen at the time. From the time I became a citizen after college and then registered to vote, I've been a Republican.

Clem, uh, oops! Guess that one falls into the category of irony -- or poetic justice, huh! Guess Steve and I have to go back to spelling class, eh!

Snob, while I don't necessarily disagree with your condemnations on the lifestyle totalitarianism that Democrats push, it should be kept in mind that it was the Nixon administration that gave America the 55-mile speed limit and the Reagan administration (via Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole) that pushed forward the age-21 drinking age. Oh, and RINO Michael Bloomberg pushed the smoking ban in New York City -- which was followed up statewide at the urging of the Republican state senate majority leader and a Republican governor.

Christopher Arps, thanks for the support. Keep me posted on your next ventures.

Steven, with all due respect, the "both sides do this thing" just doesn't hold. There's a reason why the "racial" angle stings Republicans a certain way and why the "soft-on-defense" angle stings Democrats a certain way. There's a glimmer of some truth in various political stereotypes.
I'm not making excuses for Democrats. I think that the Sharptons and Jacksons often act reprehensibly. But, my influence in them is limited because I don't agree with their big government philosophy.

But -- and Karol, this is my main frustration (memer, leave my girl Karol alone! She's a pal!): I get damn tired of having to "explain" the latest Republican racial/poor malapropism. I don't care if a Democrat says something as stupid. I'm not asked to defend a stupid Democrat statement.

Fairly or not, Democrats are already considered by many as having been the racial "good guys" going back to the '60s. (Please, don't read back to me all the "greater percentage of Republicans voted for the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts" talking points. I already know them. Alas, the GOP's '64 presidential nominee rejected them -- and that's been held around the party's neck ever since. Look at the facts. The party's share of the black vote dropped from 33 percent in 1960 (with Richard Nixon) to 6 percent in 1964. Why? Because Goldwater said that he was never going to compete for the black vote and would go "hunting where the ducks are." MLK, Jr., reversed the neutrality that he demonstrated with the parties in '60, endorsed the Democrats in '64 and the rest was history.

I had some hopes for Bush in 2000, but I think he shot himself in the foot with the visit to Bob Jones. He may have been getting some movement his way after after '04 and working with various black religious groups, but his fumbling response with Katrina has, ahem, washed that opportunity away.

Snob, to repeat what I've said several times on this site: Bush's failure was in not recognizing that he was dealing with a national emergency and treating it as such in the first couple of days of Katrina. I'm not calling for Clinton emoting -- Reagan-style leadership would have been fine, thank you very much.

I'm amazed that simple basic common sense (forget about political common sense) about trying to see human beings as human beings is now somehow considered "Clintonian." It's remarkable that Bill Clinton still seems to have so much power: Bush had to construct "compassionate conservative" to distance himself from the harshness of what "conservative" came to be portrayed in the '90s. Meanwhile, too many Republicans are so reflexively afraid to demonstrate emotion in the public square for fear that they will look "Clintonian." Yet, Ronald Reagan managed to show compassion AND strength as a president -- and thus communicated quite successfully.

UPDATE II: For a broader response to other comments and criticisms of this post, go here.

UPDATE III: Welcome visitors from War and Piece, Crooks and Liars and, yes, Steve GILLIARD's News Blog. Expect a response to Steve GILLIARD's endearing mash note sometime over the weekend (I spelled Steve's name correctly this time; I would have gone back and fixed it up above, but he had to go and start calling me "Bob." After that, all bets are off.). (Belated welcome and thanks also to the readers of my friends Steve Clemons and Andrew Sullivan. I appreciate the boost those men gave to this particular post which has quickly become the most read in this humble blog's seven-month or so existence.) To all, you might find much to disagree with here, but have fun looking around anyway!!!

UPDATE IV: My response to Steve Gilliard.

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