Republicans For Reparations

While many political observers - Black and White - were suprised by Senator Trent Lott's verbal embrace of affirmative action in a BET interview, our Black Electorate Communications Financial Market and Political Economy clients were not. That is because for several months now, they have received periodic analysis on the growing possibility that the ultimate political dialogue that would take place regarding America's racial divide would be between the the Black electorate and the right-wing of this country's political spectrum. More specifically, it would ultimately be a Southern or Western conservative politician or group of such who would be on the point, representing White America in any serious discussion with authentic Black leadership over the legacy of slavery and racism. It is doubtful that any Eastern liberal or group of such will be trusted with such an undertaking by the rest of White America. The controversy over Senator Trent Lott's comments regarding Strom Thurmond; Mr. Lott's sudden "embrace" of affirmative action; and the Senator from Mississippi's resulting willingness to meet directly with Black political and cultural leaders is a sign of things to come, although many may not see that now.

Here is the scenario that we first described for our clients on August 29, 2002, almost four months ago:

Watching Democrats Hand The Reparations Issue To The Republican Party

It came out today as part of a discussion with a Black professional Democrat, over lunch. The individual was seeking my advice regarding the depth and intensity of the reparations issue, within the Black community. I emphasized to this person, who thinks the issue is amorphous and lacking in majority support in the Black community, that he and many other political analysts and observers are making a critical mistake in measuring the reparations issue. I stressed that there is a bit of delusion and illusion among the intelligent elite, regarding the subject because, they are superficially evaluating the issue in terms of opinion poll dynamics, electoral fortune, and the pragmatics of how reparations would be delivered.

I explained that this was a monumental mistake - that reparations is a special interest issue to be sure - but that it is being advanced by an intense and emotional minority. The actual numbers in support of the issue almost don't matter, as long as the issue continues to be discussed and local politicians are made to respond to reparations-oriented questions. Already, in Houston, Chicago, and New York City, where millions of Blacks live, the issue has found its way into city council resolutions and debates. I then explained the slow creep of the reparations movement - from a narrow collection of Black nationalists, radicals, pan-Africanists and militants and now, into the civil rights movement and the leading figures of civil society in Black American academia, culture and business. It has become chic to support reparations, and an increasingly articulate and well-researched body of information is being generated in support of the cause.

I told my lunch companion that in the current atmosphere a White Democrat, with national stature, if they supported reparations, could never be trusted by the American electorate. I made an analogy with appointments, stating that the "first Black President" Bill Clinton could never appoint a Black Secretary of State and Black National Security Adviser. On the issue of race relations (as is the case with any high-stakes negotiation) White America trusts only those, within its ranks, who lean against the wind, with the most callous of dispositions. It was the previously pro-slavery Democratic Party that was trusted with accepting and absorbing the grassroots civil rights movement, not the "sympathetic" Republican Party of old. A President Bill Clinton, would have been seen as too sympathetic to Blacks to be trusted with them at his right hand in cabinet slots that deal with a non-White world, not to mention the conduits of access that such positions provide the Black electorate, under a Democratic administration.

In that context, I suggested to this Black Democrat that ultimately, a White Republican stands to get more mileage from the issue of reparations than their White counterparts in the opposite political party. The Republican, bold, secure and ambitious enough to embrace a form of reparations policy is already among us - being shaped and influenced by the flow of race relations and the relationship between the Black vote and the two-party system in a way that leads to their embrace of a reparations "plank" in their agenda.

The American electorate, I argued would be willing to accept a Republican embrace of H.R. 40, the reparations "study" legislation, championed by Rep. John Conyers that only seeks to study the impact of slavery and establish a commission to look into the remedies for the damage done.

Very quietly, White Democrats like Al Gore and Senator Lieberman have offered their verbal support of H.R. 40 to Black politicians but have never informed White audiences of such because of the implications. A White Democrat can't move to the center if he or she is seen as too closely identified with the Black electorate. However, a White male Republican, as say, a Presidential candidate, could move to the center with the very same action, particularly if the White Republican would read the text of H.R. 40 to White America. With the correct emphasis here and there, Whites in the center and right would pick up that the bill is only an avenue to the latest study and toothless commission and they would tolerate and even applaud the boldness of the move. White Democrats would be boxed in by the move because it would show a form of leadership and relevance by Blacks that they have failed to demonstrate. And it would place Black leaders in a quandary - Independents and Democrats - who support H.R. 40. The Black electorate would recognize the maneuver as the boldest form of Black outreach yet, and be willing, I believe, to give the Republican politician at least 10% - 15% support on that issue alone. Along the way, the Republican, if he were moderate or a pro-economic growth in orientation could style their agenda of vouchers, tax cuts, and health care as "reparations-friendly". All that would be necessary would be for the Republican to link the policy with the current problem's genesis in slavery - something the Democrats and Black leaders used to do, during the 60s and 70s. In the final analysis, only Republicans are capable of delivering the reparations-for-affirmative action exchange that the American electorate may require.

With Rev. Sharpton raising the reparations issue in the context of H.R. 40, the Democrats have a problem of sorts. The reality that Rev. Sharpton still scares White America remains true, although diminishing a bit every day. And the coupling of Sharpton-For-President-As-A-Democrat, with his support of reparations, provides a window-of-opportunity, though closing, for the GOP or our yet-to-be-identified fearless White Republican politician. As long as Rev. Sharpton is the poster child for reparations among all politicians, Democrats won't support "his" issue. If Rev. Sharpton runs for President, that stance becomes problematic if the New Yorker is able to get significant Black support in the Democratic primaries. If Rev. Sharpton makes a strong showing in key states, he sets the stage for the ultimate bargain with the Party Chair and nominee - put support of H.R. 40 in a prominent position in the Party platform and make the issue a visible fixture of the campaign message of the Party's presidential ticket. If the Party and nominee bow to Rev. Sharpton's demand, the issue is absorbed by the Democratic Party and only a dramatic rupture of the fabric of American society through a race-oriented disaster could swing the reparations pendulum back in favor of the GOP, were a Republican President or Party leadership to offer a reparations settlement to Black leaders in exchange for "putting out the fires" in distressed rural and urban areas (read severe race riots).

If, on the other hand, Rev. Sharpton does not run for the President and the reparations issue remains in Black civil society; or if the Democrats ignore or rebuff Rev. Sharpton's advances - the issue remains in play for a Republican initiative and embrace, either from the very top or bottom of the political power pyramid.

President Bush has the track record of symbolic gestures, combined with the standing in the American electorate to accomplish all of the above. But he would only do so after "doing Iraq" and giving a crack at fixing the economy a bit. But neither a war or recession, if ongoing in 2003 and 2004 could guarantee the shelving of a reparations-initiative. As a matter of fact an unemployment rate over 10% for Black America; 40% for Blacks 16-19 years of age; and 400,000 Black troops in the armed forces make a deepening of the racial divide and therefore a reparations-oriented program more palatable.

With each passing day of White Democratic negligence of the reparations issue and Republican frustrations with earning the Black vote and winning the Hispanic vote, as a suitable replacement - the possibility of a Republican reparations initiative becomes greater and greater.

Cedric Muhammad
August 29, 2002

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Wednesday, December 18, 2002