Take Our Country Back from the Plantation: 2 Things Republicans Should Stop Saying Immediately

Good politics pertains as much to good policies as it does to good rhetoric. If Republicans learned nothing else from the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, we should have learned that image and rhetoric matters–perhaps more than anything else. Our mission, to increase the number of Republican voters, begins with a careful analysis of our public statements. To that end, we should avoid mindless cliches, and statements so inflammatory that they detract from their own message.

 

I’ve created a long list of things Republicans say (and shouldn’t), along with my rationales.

 

Here are the first two:

 

Take Our Country Back

 

Both Rand Paul and Rick Santorum launched their 2016 presidential bids with these words. Liberals, like ex-Attorney General  Eric Holder, erroneously claim that this phrase contains racial undertones–serves as a dog whistle, a microaggression–when juxtaposed with the presidency of the first non-white to hold the office. Like much of what the left says, this bears little resemblance to the truth. Lesley Clark scoured the annals to produce the ancient origin of this phrase, employed, first, in 2003 by presidential candidate, Howard Dean.

 

Even when employed by a Democrat, the phrase is silly, at best, and insulting at worst.

 

What does it mean to “take the country back?” America belongs to Democrats, Republicans, and everyone in between–even the politically unaffiliated. Besides, if one party “has it,” does that party take it for exclusive use, like a petulant child?

 

For conservative Republicans, this phrase fails for another reason. “Take Our Country Back” can connote a chronological shift–a vow to take America back in time, to an era marked generally by better social morals, but also by egregious civil rights shortcomings. This undermines our assertion that conservatives believe in moving America to a brighter future, even as we do so via time-honored traditions and values.

 

Better phraseology exists (e.g.: “Win back the White House,” “Win back the Congress,” etc.).

 

Republicans should bury this hackneyed trope.

 

Democrat Plantation

 

This one is very problematic.

 

Herman Cain boasted, in 2012, of having “left the Democrat Plantation a long time ago,” echoing similar statements by former Florida Representative, Allen West. Louisiana State Senator Elmer Guillory likened the Democrat Party to a plantation. Republican presidential candidate, Ben Carson, said that liberals hate him because he dared to “come off the plantation.” The list of Republicans equating the Democrat Party to a plantation runs unfortunately long. What you may notice about these speakers is that they are all black–and all wrong.

 

As a black conservative, I empathize with the general frustration that they feel. To them–to us–black allegiance to a party that does little more than pay lip service to a desperately struggling people can be vexing. Just as Frederick Douglas, in his autobiography; decries slaves’ ready willingness to drink, fornicate, fight and waste their precious little money during Christmas celebrations, rather than conspire to break from the shackles of unjust servitude; conservatives (of all colors) detest seeing blacks living in deep privation in Democrat strongholds like Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland.

 

Republicans, black Republicans in particular, should make the case that we are the party founded on love for black people. Instead, though, by invoking the Democrat Plantation rhetoric, we insult black Americans (calling them stupid), and our enslaved ancestors (downplaying slavery).

 

Chris Rob explains this nicely in a piece posted on the DailyKos:

 

“I’ve never really understood the argument. Black people trade their votes to Democrats for the ability to sit home and collect government checks or something like that, right? But you know that doesn’t sound like slavery at all, right? I mean, first, you argue that black people just want to be taken care of and do nothing all day, except cast a couple of votes when the time comes. And in exchange, we get free food, housing, and health care. That’s insulting enough. But then you suggest that such an arrangement would be akin to the slavery of our ancestors. As though American chattel slavery consisted of slaves lolling around all day watching t.v. and waiting for the next election. The first claim is infuriating, the second, unforgivable.”

 

 

I note that the greatest offenders of this rule are often, themselves, black. Imagining the firestorm that would engulf a white public figure for claiming that blacks voting Democrat do so out of a plantation mentality suffices to show the daftness of the phrase.

 
Republicans, don’t say it. Leave stupid sayings to the Democrats.

What Buckley Left Undone

William F. Buckley Jr. stares down at me from a giant poster I made to add a little conservative life to the bone white walls of my office. Beside him, in the poster, reads a quote from “The Conscience of a Conservative,” the book that he ghostwrote with L. Brent Bozell Jr. in 1960. When co-workers and visitors confront the 3 by 5 foot image; they crane their necks back, read the quote, look at Buckley’s wrinkled face and ask, “Who is that?”

“That’s Bill Buckley,” I say. “My hero.”

Intrigued that I profess to having a hero in a time when deconstruction insists that everyone is “complicated” at best and monsters generally, I’m often asked one of my favorite questions: why I so revere Mr. Buckley. With ease, I rattle off the short list of Buckley’s impressive works:

In 1955, when conservative media did not exist, Buckley started National Review magazine, a publication that still exists as one of, if not the, most influential among conservatives. Eleven years later, Buckley started “Firing Line,” the longest running public affairs television program with a single host in American history. Both endeavors codified conservative ideology and brought it into the mainstream political conversation. During this time, too, Buckley courted libertarians and fused them with traditional conservatives, hinging the union on a shared commitment to free market economics and a mutual disdain for communism. An excellent debater, and prolific author, Buckley’s polysyllabic writings intellectualized a movement largely defined by its populist appeal–a populism that made space for conspiracy theorists and white nationalists. In effect, Buckley made space for intellectuals within political conservatism, so that affirming conservative ideology did not negatively affect one’s respectability.

This became important when Buckley worked to marginalize the John Birch Society and anti-Semites, expelling them from conservatism, and welcoming Jewish conservatives into the fold. After this purge, one could not be a respected conservative and either hate Jews or traffic in wild communist conspiracy theories. Today, the conservative movement benefits from the many Jewish voices that Buckley’s efforts welcomed. Jennifer Rubin, Michael Medved, Charles Krauthammer and many others enrich political debate and make conservatism stronger.

Understanding that these accomplishments make up only part of Buckley’s short list of accomplishments makes it easier to believe his tongue in cheek claim that his singular lacuna was baseball. Indeed, however, there was another, much more important, blind spot in Buckley’s construction of the conservative movement. What he had done for Jews, Buckley did not for blacks.

President Harry Truman, integrating the military, cracked the door for blacks to leave the Republican Party and begin trickling left. Still, though, many blacks voted for Republicans and stood for conservative causes. When Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, blacks believed that the GOP had abandoned them at a crucial moment in the civil rights struggle. Though more Democrats voted against the Civil Rights Act (117) than did Republicans (40), the Republican standard bearer joined the dissenters. This move sent a message to blacks and to enemies of civil rights.

This pivotal moment changed American politics dramatically. Whether or not Mr. Buckley, himself closely tied to Goldwater, recognized or cared about this trend remains unclear. Regardless, though, he did nothing to address it. In fact, his own tone deaf comments on segregation, South African apartheid, and the federal government’s proper role in addressing civil rights for blacks further alienated the GOP’s first constituents. Before his death in 2008, Buckley expressed regret and admitted short-sightedness on these issues. The damage to the conservative movement, though, had been done and some of the effects of Buckley’s oversight still haunt the GOP by way of some odd associations.

In 2014, news broke that Republican House majority whip, Steve Scalise addressed a white supremacist group founded by David Duke. Duke is the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who started the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO). Scalise denounced EURO and claimed that he only attended the event by accident:

“I didn’t know who all of these groups were…I had one person that was working for me. When someone called and asked me to speak, I would go.”

Last month, after Dylann Roof killed 9 black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, an investigation uncovered that he found motivation from a white supremacist organization called the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC). Earl Holt III, the council president, donated to many Republicans including 4 presidential candidates. Among the CCC’s statement of principles are vows to help the American people and government “remain European in…composition and character,” to “oppose all efforts to mix the races,” and to protect “the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people” from “the integration of the races.” In the 1990s, Senators Trent Lott and Haley Barbour addressed the CCC, as did Governor Mike Huckabee.

Had Buckley’s efforts in the formative years of the political conservative movement focused more squarely on attracting and retaining blacks, Scalise’s campaign manager may never have had ties to EURO in the first place. Neither would CCC have thought it advantageous to its cause to support Republican candidates (note: some of the candidates CCC supported are non-white). Racists would have been politically isolated, relegated to the backroom with anti-Semites and Birchers.

So where does that leave us now?

Buckley is still my hero in spite of his flaws. Besides, to lay the conservative movement’s race problems squarely at his feet would be unjust. That said, what we learn from his oversight should help us move forward with improving our relationship with blacks. Republicans should not be satisfied in our own proclamations that we are not racist when our party serves as a refuge for racists. My hero, were he able to rectify his mistakes, would focus on tone. He would promote black conservative writers and thinkers. He would align the conservative cause with black advancement. He would do all of this with the joy and brilliance and flair that he did whenever he did anything at all.
The conservative movement indeed has a lacuna. The man who helped create it can also help us rectify it.

Look Away! Dixieland

The Party of Lincoln Should Not Defend the Symbol of the Confederacy


Last week, disturbed, racist, Dylann Roof, shot 9 black Christians in South Carolina. The attack has led to Republicans facing myriad questions about gun control, racism and the tangential issues that arise when complex crimes like this occur. One of the foci of the tragedy is the Confederate Battle Flag that flies on the grounds of  South Carolina’s Capitol building in a Civil War memorial, and adorned Mr. Roof in many photos he took before the massacre. The Confederate Flag has long been a point of contention between Northerners and Southerners, liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites. That said, Republicans should take a firm stance against the Confederate Flag not just as a sign that we welcome blacks into our ranks, but because the flag symbolizes everything our Party is against.

In 2008, presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee addressed an audience in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina saying:

“You don’t like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag. In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we’d tell ’em what to do with the pole; that’s what we’d do.”

Michael Cooper of the New York Times reports that an independent conservative group used Huckabee’s comments to attack Senator John McCain (then, running for president; and an opponent of the flag flying over the state capitol), and praise Huckabee. The group ran an ad saying:

“John McCain assaults our values…Mike Huckabee understands the value of heritage.”

Using states’ rights to dodge questions of the flag’s morality, Huckabee said in 2008 that the decision to fly the flag over the capitol is one best left to the state and not to any president. He reiterated his position this year as he runs for president again, and the flag controversy resurfaces. Governor Scott Walker, expected to run for president, refused to answer what should be done with the flag. So far, only Mitt Romney (not running for president in 2016) and Jeb Bush say that the flag should be removed.

Are Republicans so clueless to the negative symbolism the Confederate Flag portrays–especially to blacks?

A moderate understanding of history acknowledges that the Confederacy wanted not just to enslave people, but to expand that enslavement throughout the new territories. Slavery runs contrary to our American ideals, yet Southerners at that time were so willing to enslave blacks that they killed whites in order to do so. The late Christopher Hitchens encapsulates the ugly symbolism of the flag thusly:

“Under this fiery cross of St. Andrew, the state of Pennsylvania was invaded and free Americans were rounded up and re-enslaved. Under this same cross, it was announced that any Union officer commanding freed-slave soldiers, or any of his men, would be executed if captured. (In other words, war crimes were boasted of in advance.) The 13 stars of the same flag include stars for two states—Kentucky and Missouri—that never did secede, and they thus express a clear ambition to conquer free and independent states.”

The ugly heritage of the Confederate flag continued even after the fall of the Confederacy. Various white supremacist groups and terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan flew the flag proudly. Even Dylann Roof understood the implications of the controversial banner.

So what is the “heritage” that Southerners want to preserve with the Confederate Battle Flag? Why do Republicans honor that “heritage?” South Carolina (and the GOP) should abandon the Confederate Battle Flag because it represents anti-Americanism and appropriately alienates blacks.
Republicans representing the Party of Lincoln should understand that better than anyone.

The Free Exchange (15-010)

The Free Exchange is a series dedicated solely to answering comments from you. I appreciate your reading and always enjoy hearing from you, even when you disagree. Thank you for your participation.


 

Rand’s Gambit

BJ writes:

I don’t know what to say about this guy. He’s got such mix of confusing values. As you listed, he seems and sounds libertarian just like his father. But he has many non-libertarian views as you articulated. We have discussed what we think of libertarianism in the past, especially involving that awful Brink Lindsey.

 

One observation that I would love to hear your comment on: it seems like many non-religious conservatives like to call themselves as libertarians. But when confronted with specific issues such as drug legalization, many fall on the traditional conservative side rather than the libertarian side. And so I have always thought of the so-called libertarians as frustrated conservatives who oppose the Iraq War and is OK with same-sex marriage. In other words, moderate Republicans. (Especially those who did not like President Bush the younger.) Most of us have a mix of view on issues. However I don’t think these people truly understand libertarianism as it is classically defined.

 

All of this is to agree with your point; I don’t see Rand Paul as any kind of serious candidate. A few questions for you though: do you see Rand Paul as just another younger version of his father Ron Paul? I find it funny that Ron Paul is not running although he’s been running for decades. Do you know if they disagree on anything?

 

Also what do you think of Rand Paul being aggressive with the liberal media but it backfiring when he’s labeled as sexist against women reporters since for whatever reason, he’s only been interviewed by women reporters since his announcement?

 

J Hunter:

 

Thank you for commenting BJ!

As usual, I think you’re spot on about libertarian frustration.

 

I highlight Nate Cohn’s piece in this article because I think that it best illustrates the state of libertarianism in the Republican Party today–small, insignificant, and only marginally interesting. Cohn explains that the swath of people who call themselves libertarian don’t truly hold libertarian views, and that the term has become a catchall for liberals and conservatives who want to have their cake and eat it too: fiscally responsible and pro-gay marriage, for example. In short, it’s becoming a shorthand for moderate–as you suggest.

 

That’s really a shame, in my opinion, because I think classical liberalism–libertarianism–has its place in political debate. There are instances in which I’d like to see a more Millian sense of liberty enacted, but Millian liberty offends liberals and conservatives alike. And that’s where I see libertarianism’s greatest shortcoming: liberalism and conservatism advocate for a sense of fairness and morality, whereas libertarianism does not.

 

Failed policies thrive because their defenders are motivated by their morals. People want to raise the minimum wage, for example, because they believe that it’s immoral for a company to make a profit while some workers live paycheck to paycheck. Arguments about the negative impact of raising the minimum wage don’t persuade these people. It sounds like white noise to them because they weren’t motivated by cold arguments in the first place. Moral pitches against raising the minimum wage would be more appropriate.

 

I say this because libertarians, to their detriment, market themselves as cold, policy wonks–economists concerned with auditing the Federal Reserve, returning to the gold standard and championing an abstract concept of liberty. Abstractions don’t resonate with people, and neither, therefore, does libertarianism. You and I know that liberty and morality sit on opposite ends of a spectrum: a theocracy obsesses over morality at the expense of liberty. Likewise, liberty can work against morality. So, libertarian obsession over liberty offends liberal and conservative notions of morality, and libertarians’ unwillingness (or inability) to make the moral case for their positions keeps them small, insignificant and only marginally interesting.

 

As it happens, I don’t see Rand Paul as a mirror of Ron Paul, but I think that Rand should do more to distance himself from his father. The biggest differences I see between the two is that Ron Paul is anti-American. Ron Paul pedals dangerous conspiracy theories and racist theories. To the best of my knowledge, Rand does not follow suit.

 

As for Rand’s treatment of female interviewers, I agree that Mr. Paul has behaved obnoxiously. Even if Republicans weren’t trying to change their fortunes with women, Paul’s “shushing” reporters should never have happened. It’s something I suspect his advisers have warned him to stop. I hope he listens.


Rubio in the Running

BJ writes:

Ah Rubio. This is my current man-crush of all the GOP candidates running right now. Like you, I vote based on ideas and party rather than the candidate. And so I am not wedded to Chris Christie or any one person. But of all the people running, Rubio is the man for me. In terms of values as well as excitement and charisma, I don’t see anyone better. Fiorina would be my second favorite.

 

I understand you take a more cautious approach which is fair enough. His inexperience and some financial potential mini-scandals that I’ve heard about back in Florida are concerning. The fact that he’s not been a governor is a minus but nothing fatal. Everyone talks about his flip on illegal immigration and Prager worries about his tax plan. Nonetheless, he seems to be the best out of all of them so far. But it is early and I am cautiously excited.

I would love to hear what specific reservations you have about him; not for me to refute but to see if there’s something about him that I’m not seeing. In terms of the various writers you quoted, none of what those people say concerns me. In fact, they sound more like bad sports broadcasters. What Bouie says about only 5.6% saying he is their top choice now is exactly that: now. Just because Rubio isn’t the clear front runner like Hillary, doesn’t mean he’s going to fail. That’s a lame criticism of Rubio or anyone. Any her continued criticism of oh-there-is-some-candidate-for-every-demographic is also ridiculous. Bush will not succeed since when it comes down to it, GOP voters won’t think that he can win due to his name. And so that won’t be a factor in taking away Rubio’s specialness of him being a Latino, as she is pathetically saying.

 

Wright’s comments reek of time-filler for these pundits who are biased and are trying to say something profound but comes off as someone who is looking at politics as some kind of sports game. You dismantled her words much better than I. It is too early and I am not wedded to Rubio. But I loved him when he ran for the Senate in 2010. And I am a little surprised that he’s running now. I thought he may wait since he is so young. But I’m glad he’s running since I do believe that he’s the best so far of all the people that’s running. As you said, we shall see.

 

J Hunter:

Well, BJ, I am leaning hard in the Rubio direction. I even donated to his campaign. I’ve been a big fan of Mr. Rubio’s for years for many of the reasons that people are discovering about him right now: he’s an excellent communicator and a problem solver. He’s a political man-crush of mine as well.

 

As for my piece, I agree that the arguments against Rubio are pretty flaccid. I only added them to keep from writing a gushing piece. The truth of the matter is, if he continues to be as nimble, positive and substantive throughout the campaign as he has been so far, I think we could nominate him and make history.

 

Rubio is mainstream; he appeals to the many different factions of the Republican Party; he’s young, energetic, Spanish-speaking, and inspiring. I ask myself when choosing a candidate for the nomination race: “What does this candidate bring that’s lacking?” When I ask that question, I rule out people like Ben Carson, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham. What they bring, we either don’t need or another candidate does it better. For this reason, I hope that Jeb Bush does not enter the race (though I suspect that he will). While I like and respect Mr. Bush, I don’t think he adds much to the field.
On the other hand, I think Mr. Rubio would make a fine president, and he’s at the top of my list of 2016 GOP candidates.

Thanks for reading and commenting, BJ!


 

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3 Reasons Why a Big Republican Field is a Good Thing in 2016

or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the 2016 Candidates


Every day, it seems, a new Republican enters the 2016 nomination race. Media reporting on announced, as well as potential candidates, like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, adds to the wall of noise and to the anxiety for Republican voters interested in winning the White House and improving the Grand Ol’ Party’s reputation. As 2016 shapes up with Governor George Pataki, Governor Rick Perry, Senator Rick Santorum and Senator Lindsey Graham among the most recent entrants to the race, I would like to share 3 reasons why my anxiety is subsiding, and if you’re a Republican, why yours should too.

Reason One: A Crowded Field Indicates an Optimistic Outlook

Especially when you consider the expenses involved with running for president, candidates must believe that he or she can conceivably win the nomination and the general election before getting involved in the race. Governor Mike Huckabee and Senator Santorum, specifically, know how much money presidential races can cost. Surely, Rand Paul has experienced this vicariously through his father’s perennial races.

Marco Rubio may face the greatest sacrifice, as Florida law precludes candidates from appearing twice on a ballot. That means that if he loses the nomination for president, he’ll also lose his senate seat.

Still, though, these men, and the throng of other candidates, choose to spend their own money, time and reputations on a bet they believe will pay off.

The Democrats, on the other hand, enjoy a particularly weak field aside from their frontrunner who enjoys name recognition and deep pockets. Even Hillary Clinton, though, exudes an air of vulnerability (rather than inevitability), and the Republican bench senses that.

Reason Two: RNC Changes Diminish the Prospect of a Protracted Intra-party Fight

The spectre of 2012 still looms in Republican minds, and we remember the crowded stage of 10 candidates (11 if you count Gary Johnson) debating “vulture capitalism,” a manned trip to Mars, and a $10,000 bet. President Barack Obama smartly looked on while Republicans did his bidding–eviscerating each other publicly so that he could sustain the attacks on the eventual nominee simply by parroting his primary opponents’.

RNC Chairman, Reince Priebus, well aware of the effect the vicious primary debates had on Governor Mitt Romney, the party nominee, has taken steps to avoid that this time around. First, the RNC shortened the primary season so that the party has more time to coalesce around a nominee. Second, instead of holding 20 debates, as we did in 2012, 9 are scheduled with no more than 3 more discussed as possibilities. Finally, Priebus plans to make better use of the thresholds needed to participate in debates. In other words, a candidate must have a certain percentage of support before he or she can grace the debate stage.

Reason Three: The Large, Diverse, Field Quells Anti-Republican Stereotypes

Though Democrats incessantly work to paint the Republican Party as one hostile to racial minorities and women, that argument continues to lose steam every time one looks at the GOP office holders and presidential field. With Republican women like Governor Susana Martinez, Governor Nikki Haley, and Senator Joni Ernst in the forefront of our party, presidential candidate Carly Fiorina appears much less like an outlier. Furthermore, Martinez and Haley share their statuses with Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio; and accomplished Neurosurgeon Ben Carson as people of color.

Compare the Republican field to the Democrat’s (all white, mostly male and mostly rich) and what the GOP offers better resembles the diversity of America.

More Republicans will enter the race, and the GOP is a richer party for it.