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Black Republicans to the rescue

Joey Falco | Monday, March 6, 2006

Just when it looked as though fierce partisanship and violent faction were going to leave America’s democracy in shambles, two vastly different groups arose from the political mire and took the first steps toward ensuring that the States of America stay United well into the future.

Who were they? Black Republicans (no, it’s not an oxymoron) and Catholic Democrats.

It’s no secret that GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman has been fighting hard to rally African-American voters back into “the party of Lincoln” since the realization that President George W. Bush’s share of the black vote climbed from 9 to 11 percent in 2004. In the tumultuous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina – in which 59 percent of the victims were black – he has had to work extra hard, speaking in 46 minority communities and publicly schmoozing with influential black leaders like boxing promoter Don King.

While the fruits of his labors will go largely unnoticed until November, the emergence of several African-American candidates for major political seats this year is the first sign that the black vote may no longer necessarily be a lock for the Democrats.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, former Pittsburgh Steeler Lynn Swann is attempting to become only the second black governor in U.S. history – and the first ever from the Republican Party. He is currently neck and neck with incumbent Ed Rendell, according to most polls, and the implications of a black Republican governor in a major swing state could certainly throw a wrench into Democrats’ plans to take back the White House in 2008.

The same situation goes for neighboring Ohio, where the African-American Secretary of State Ken Blackwell is seeking the governorship in a state where Bush’s black support soared from 9 percent to an estimated 16 percent in 2004.

While some Democrats might be shivering in their boots at the thought of losing their most reliable voting bloc, the reality is that this shift in party loyalty could work wonders for America’s minority populations. After years of “entrenchment” in the Democratic Party – a period in which many argue that Democrats only paid lip service to black causes and never really legislated in their favor – African Americans have finally decided to make their vote mean something by giving up their status as single-issue (racial politics) voters and shifting toward a moderate independent position.

Of course, the memory of the implicit racism of the GOP’s “southern strategy” will be hard to shake. (Who can forget Republican Senator Trent Lott’s foolish decision to declare in 2003 that America “wouldn’t have had all these problems over these years” if the segregationist Strom Thurmond had been elected president in 1948?) Still, if black voters are willing to put the past behind them and instead focus on real issues – like the fact that black unemployment has actually fallen under Bush’s leadership – it will only force both parties to fight harder to receive their support.

On the other side of the aisle, Catholic Democrats made a similar move toward moderation last week when they released a “Statement of Principles by Fifty-Five Catholic Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives.” In an effort to fight back against being labeled “good Catholics” or “bad Catholics” based on the single issue of abortion, these 55 Representatives (who included some of the staunchest pro-lifers in Congress) tried to emphasize the importance of other issues – like social justice, poverty, war and the death penalty – to their Catholic faith.

While still admitting that they sought “policies that encourage pregnancies to be carried to term” because of “the undesirability of abortion,” these Democrats seemed to be imploring the Catholic electorate to expand its voting decisions beyond the single issue of abortion in order to elect representatives who will fight for a variety of faith-based issues in Congress. Not only does this send a strong signal to the Catholic bishops who unnecessarily campaigned from their altars in 2004 by claiming that John Kerry’s pro-choice stance meant that he should not receive communion, but it also suggests to Catholic voters – who have been slowly shifting their loyalties toward the Republican Party since 1952 – that their political influence can be dramatically increased if they are not seen as a single-issue, “sure-thing” voting bloc.

These shifts toward independence, moderation and multiple-issue voting represent an extremely positive move for both African Americans and Catholics. After all, history has shown that when a particular group becomes too entrenched in one political party, the issues that are most important to them are often ignored by legislators who no longer have to fight for their votes.

Beyond these two groups, though, the significance of these tiny political realignments could suggest a coming end to the single-issue divisiveness that has made political conversations impossible and bipartisan agreement unimaginable over the past decade. Only when African Americans can step outside the sphere of racial politics, Catholics can step outside the box of right-to-life politics and neoconservatives can step outside the brave new world of global democratization politics will a majority of Americans be able to agree with the political direction of their democracy.

Unless someone thinks that 34 percent of the public supporting the president constitutes a democratic majority.

Joey Falco is a junior American Studies major. His column appears every other Monday. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.