by Donald R. Barbera
In relative terms, it wasn't that long ago that Blacks in general and individually were Republicans largely because of the perceived effect of the Emancipation Proclamation signed in to law by Republican President Abraham Lincoln. Though there were many in the north who sympathized with the plight of the slaves, there were few within the realm of politics who had the courage to do anything about it. As much as it is touted as a blow for freedom, in reality the Emancipation Proclamation was more about destroying the South's "economic advantage" and giving Southern slave owners another distraction (rebellious slaves) to deal with during the war than taking a stand for human rights and dignity.
The South had an "economic advantage" in slavery that was not "morally" available to the north though slavery existed in certain portions of the North and even where it didn't exist the North's treatment of Blacks was little better and in many ways mirrored that of the South including lynching and slavery. Although it turned out right in the end, the Emancipation Proclamation's main purpose was to remove the South's economic advantage of free labor and help stir the anger of the already severely disenchanted slaves thus destroying the South's ability to make war which the North was ultimately successful in doing.
The by-product was a seemingly "moral" victory against an "evil" South in the form of the Emancipation Proclamation. Judging from surface appearances and "school book" history it would seem to be so; but close study, as it often does, reveals that much of what the Republicans later took credit for when Negroes attained suffrage rights wasn't the way it was meant to be. The first Reconstruction of the South was largely a pipe dream fueled by the North's desire to humble and humiliate the South and it was also a chance to rape the land and resources of the area. This wasn't readily apparent until an unrepentant and even more vengeful South canceled the few gains made by newly freed Blacks less than a decade later.
When it was all over Blacks who could vote, did vote and voted Republican; and, it remained so until the Great Depression and the beginning of the Roosevelt Regency. With the New Deal, Roosevelt brought the working class, poor and people of color to the Democratic ticket. Over the years and until the recent past, the Democratic party has been perceived as doing more for Blacks or at least more than the Republicans when it came to enforcing the basic laws guaranteed by the United States Constitution and in some cases that has actually been true but time has brought about a change.
The dichotomy between Republicans and Democrats has become a wide chasm that no one has filled when it comes to Black prospects in the United States. After the great FDR shift there was a clear perception that Republican politicians were "undercover racists" and Southern Democrats like Strom Thurmond, who will not die, and Jesse Helms, who is another Strom Thurmond, or just about any politician with a southern accent was not a friend and many of those feelings lingers today and with good reason, as Strom Thurmond is still alive and Jesse Helms, among other "sons of the confederacy" are still in office.
Often politics requires choosing the lesser of two evils, but if the evils are the same, everything changes. Aside from an elephant and the donkey used to symbolize the two parties, it is difficult to tell one from the other with our eyes open and, clearly, that is the intent because the nature of politics is not to clarify but, rather, to obfuscate.
Where are the "bleeding heart" liberals? They are a figment of the conservative imagination. The "liberal" is the equivalent of the boogieman for conservatives. The number of true liberals in this country has never been large and that is why the two parties are so similar in nature. What of the Eastern Liberal Press? It never existed. Possibly the only place where any liberalism exists at all is in the realm of social issues and even this "Christian" country; money always comes before people and it is reflected in poll after poll of Democrats and Republicans. We only solve social issues if we are forced to do it and then we do it with the prize going to the lowest bidder.
Black voters have been misled year after year actually believing there were real liberals in the political fold when there are only Democrats and Republicans conservatives of varying degrees. Democrat or Republican? Clearly, it is a redundant choice. With the emphasis on staying elected (remaining employed), politicians care little for people except for those who vote for them and this is exactly where the dilemma lies for black voters.
Democrats have too long taken the Black vote for granted. We have become the spouses who no longer merits a kiss before intercourse and it has been going on so long we have forgotten why we were together in the first place. Too many promises have not been kept, too many people have been left disappointed and too many "just be patient" statements have been happening all too frequently.
Democrats are the beneficiaries of the current bias, prejudice and warped tradition most Black voters associate with the Republican Party. It is fortunate that politicians talk even if it is out of both sides of their mouth because as one talks one reveals themselves. It may not be time to start lining up with the Grand Old Party; nevertheless, it is the perfect time to start sending strong messages regarding a temporary separation pending divorce proceedings from the Democrats if our vows continue to erode.
Perhaps it is time for teaching lessons about political power in a Democracy. As long as people have the right to vote they hold the keys to power if they are wise enough to wield that power and wielding that power means joining the fingers of individual votes into a fist and knocking down those who continue to ignore their responsibility to all of the country. As much as Hollywood plays a role in the continuing political decline of this country, it recently gave us "Bulworth", a political satire that stepped on as many toes as possible.
Generally, the movie was received well and it had a few unsubtle political lessons to teach including the role money plays and more pointedly, why campaigns in the Black community are largely superfluous if not totally meaningless. Blacks have voted Democratic at an almost 80 percent clip since 1960 and there has been little change. Therefore, why should primarily white politicians take the black vote seriously when year after year we are willing to take what they give us? Of course, what they offer is the lesser of two evils, but an evil is still an evil and we deserve better than second best whether the candidates are black or white. Vote the bastards out and if the ones we vote in do not work out-vote bastards out.
If Congress is not acting the way we want-vote them out and then vote the replacement out if they are doing what the community wants. It may take a series of votes but the message will get through even to the mental capacities of politicians. As the saving vote in most races where blacks are a deciding vote in who comes to power, blacks, indeed, have the power to be kingmakers or breakers. We have the power to make paupers of those who do not listen but it requires a commitment that may extend over years. It will not happen over night.
Politicians are much like children in that they go along with whatever seems popular; nevertheless, it is out duty as voting parents to punish the recalcitrant charges and that means withholding our affection for the Democrats. This presents some unsavory choices because if we do not vote for the Democrats we still must vote. It is difficult to even consider the thought for many because to a mass of black voters the term Republican or Conservative equates to bigot, racist, elitist and rich people who don't give a damn about anything excerpt keeping the rich wealthy and there is ample precedent for this reasoning considering the damage done by the Reagan and Bush administrations. Most white Republicans would be surprised to find that many of the black Democratic co-workers, neighbors and acquaintances think their Republican politics make them as bad as any white supremacist.
At first glance, this may seem a harsh judgement, but upon closer inspection, voting records reveal that conservatives and Republicans tend to be pro-materialism rather than pro-people, which includes those white folks who think they are members of the club. Changing from Democrat to Republican is not a task taken lightly. Though the welcome wagon is out at the GOP there are no open arms to go along with it, however, black folk already know this, as do the Republicans.
Still, we have to incinerate Democratic indifference and get them back into the catering game which is what politicians do. Of course, this method calls for something that we have not been very good at doing and that is playing as a team. We have unconsciously been playing as a team by constantly granting the Democrats our votes in enormous numbers. That mold must be destroyed if we are ever to get respect as a community and people.
Will it upset white people? Hopefully. Whites have tried to take the victims place as the America because brown and the playing field has started to tilt towards leveling although it is still far from even reaching a forty-five degree angle. Any country that allows its own to be less than others by starvation, murder, unemployment, despair and hopelessness deserves to be castigated and hoist on its own petard. The Emancipation Proclamation may have been signed into law by a Republican president but the vestiges of slavery have not been removed in white society or in the black community.
Whites have effectively avoided the trauma and indignity of slavery by largely pretending that it did not exist or that since they were not there they have no responsibilities for the remaining vestiges of slavery.