On Black Folks and Blue Voting

23 Jan

This is a very good article, in that it goes beyond the rhetoric to looking at the root causes of the black-blue alliance. Well worth a read to get beyond the trash, and racist rhetoric advanced by conservatives. The core rationale for black folks supporting Democrats is economic…

Now that the economy is changing, the response to prevailing economic conditions, and creation of a new economic model which includes black folks is paramount.

Black and Blue

The Black and Democrat Alliance has a lot more to do with factors such as jobs, economic security, and distrust of small government than just race...

When we talk about American social models and the need to go beyond what I’m calling the blue social model and on to liberalism 5.0, race needs to be discussed.  The collapse of the blue social model, a shift from federal to local power and a shift from government to the private sector are not race-neutral topics.  It’s not just the underclass in the inner cities who face problems as the old models of subsidy and support become less sustainable; middle class African Americans compared to whites tend to work disproportionately in public sector jobs or in private sector jobs like health care that are heavily subsidized by government transfers.  A pension crisis for state or federal workers will hit African-American families harder, proportionately, than white ones; municipal layoffs and bankruptcies will have a disproportionate effect on both the African-Americans who depend on these services and those who are paid to provide them.

If you believe as I do that the old model is going to have to change because we just can’t pay for it anymore — and if you also believe that a less bureaucratic and less statist society can be a richer and a happier one — you need to think seriously about what this means for the group in American life most closely tied to the failing blue system.

And to understand the politics and emotions swirling around politics today, you have to come to grips with the racial subtext in the conversation about the breakup of Big Blue.

Not that I am trying to guilt-trip white America.  Most white Americans strongly believe that the struggle for racial equality is a vital component of American life.  Not everyone agrees with what should be done going forward, but you have to turn over the rocks and look hard to find people who want to turn the clock back – say, towards the kind of legal segregation I grew up under in the Jim Crow South.  The conversation we need to have about the next stage of liberal thought isn’t about race blackmail and pious PC.

It’s about history, politics, economics and facts on the ground.  Blacks vote blue; that is an important piece of the American political system.  If Black* voters dropped blue politics, the center of gravity in American politics would shift fast and far as the Democratic Party adjusted to their new views.  As it is, African-American voters are some of the most determined blue state, blue model voters around, and there are good historical and economic reasons why so many Blacks vote blue.

Historically, Black voters associate the expansion of federal power with emancipation and civil rights.  They associate states’ rights and localism with slavery and segregation.  In American history the association between states’ rights and the oppression of Blacks hasn’t always been watertight.  States like Massachusetts invoked states’ rights to oppose the execution of federal laws designed to force the return of fugitive slaves to their ‘owners’.  Much of the anti-slavery opposition that propelled the Republicans into office in 1860 sprang from the belief that an out–of-control Supreme Court was going to invalidate the northern states’ personal liberty laws banning slavery within their frontiers.  Still, people like me who think centralized federal authority is a problem today need to recognize the blindingly obvious truth that the enemies of Blacks have historically sheltered behind the cry for states’ rights.

It was federal power overruling state policies that ended slavery and broke Jim Crow and no honest discussion of the relationship between federal, state and local power can ever proceed as if those facts weren’t true.

Let’s not descend to the politics of ‘gotcha’, but the occasional slips and sashays by prominent GOP figures on questions like the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act and the moral stature of the Dixiecrat movement don’t help much.  Rand Paul, for example, has spent a lot of energy on convincing people that his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not racist in nature. I take Senator Paul at his word on this, and personally I think the time when states’ rights served as an effective cloak for Jim Crow has gone, but Black concerns are substantive and real.  Trust takes time to build, and today’s supporters of decentralized government need to think long and hard about how to dismantle a poisonous and destructive legacy that the actions of past advocates of states’ rights sadly did so much to build.

But the blue voting patterns of Blacks don’t just reflect their historical experience with slavery and segregation.  Nor do those patterns simply reflect the interests of poor Blacks wanting the services and subsidies like food stamps and Medicaid that the government provides.  It is also about middle class jobs.

The Black beneficiaries of the blue social model include the bulk of the Black middle class whose emergence is one of the great American success stories of the last half century.  Once victims of discrimination, Blacks gained access to federal, state and local government jobs in the last fifty years.  Today, Blacks hold a larger share of government jobs (pdf) than their percentage of the population would alone account for – and government employment represents a significant percentage of Black middle income families.  Teachers, police, fire-fighters, sanitation workers, health workers: Blacks are often strongly represented in state and municipal workforces, especially of course in urban areas with large Black populations.

If we start talking about cutting government employment, scaling back unsustainable government pensions and similar ideas, we need to be clear: we are going to be striking at the economic foundations of a substantial chunk of the Black middle class.  As readers of these posts know, I believe that these changes are coming whether we want them or not; the question is what happens to Black America as these changes take place – and how can an upgrade to a less bureaucratic, more flexible and entrepreneurial society work to strengthen rather than undercut the Black middle class?

This matters.

Making an upgraded America work better for Blacks is more than a question about racial justice or even than about the future hopes of real people and real families – important as those things are.  Liberal politics (and here I mean the whole great history of Anglo-American political thought that has been guiding us into greater prosperity and freedom for 400 years rather than the worn out nostalgia that calls itself liberalism today) is about promoting the well being of all kinds of people, reducing religious and social discrimination, allowing each individual to reach something closer to his or her full potential and to engage in the pursuit of happiness with less and less restraint and coercion.  Human slavery disgusted the liberal soul; so did Jim Crow; so does the plight of American families stuck in high crime neighborhoods, children stuck in unsafe and inadequate schools, and all the other problems bedeviling those African-Americans still mired in rural and urban poverty around the country.

4.0 liberals would like to claim a monopoly of concern about race; race-baiting is one of the basic elements in the 4.0 playbook whenever Americans of whatever color challenge the core assumptions of the blue social model.  Blue liberals cry “racist!” the way Joe McCarthy cried communist – and often with as little justification as McCarthy frequently had.

Those of us who believe in a better, brighter future than the blue model can offer need to strike this weapon out of the hands of those who want to forestall badly needed social change.  More, the effect of reforms and changes in the American way of life on both the Black middle class and the urban underclass (of many colors, but disproportionately Black) is an important and legitimate test that any political program should be measured against…



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3 responses to “On Black Folks and Blue Voting

  1. nanakwame

    January 24, 2011 at 11:07 AM

    Why I debate as I do well thought out article

    One of the tragedies of Black history in America is that Blacks often only get to the gravy train when the locomotive is coming to the end of its run. Blacks are qualifying in large numbers for civil service pensions just as those pensions are looking shaky. Blacks have moved into professional, middle class government employment just as state and local governments are heading over the financial cliff.


    • btx3

      January 24, 2011 at 12:29 PM

      Yeah – but you know as well as I do that the reason black folks are concentrated in those jobs is the lower level of employment discrimination.


  2. nanakwame

    January 24, 2011 at 1:25 PM

    Yes – so correct baby brother, but; some folks think history began with them, and protecting one’s grouping has no bias. The Hypercritics are so thick these days.
    Here is another good report, they aren’t talking about and won’t touch at BR



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