Obama Has Black Conservatives Conflicted

Some prominent Black conservatives are thinking about voting for Barack Obama, AP’s Frederic Frommer reports.

J.C. Watts and Colin Powell Photo (2003) Secretary Powell met with J. C. Watts, former Oklahoma Congressman, September 2 at the State Department. Mr. Watts will lead the U.S. delegation to the Conference on Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination, hosted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna, Austria, September 4-5. State Department Photo by Michael Gross

Black conservative talk show host Armstrong Williams has never voted for a Democrat for president. That could change this year with Barack Obama as the Democratic Party’s nominee. “I don’t necessarily like his policies; I don’t like much that he advocates, but for the first time in my life, history thrusts me to really seriously think about it,” Williams said. “I can honestly say I have no idea who I’m going to pull that lever for in November. And to me, that’s incredible.”

Just as Obama has touched black Democratic voters, he has engendered conflicting emotions among black Republicans. They revel over the possibility of a black president but wrestle with the thought that the Illinois senator doesn’t sit beside them ideologically. “Among black conservatives,” Williams said, “they tell me privately, it would be very hard to vote against him in November.”

[…]

J.C. Watts, a former Oklahoma congressman who once was part of the GOP House leadership, said he’s thinking of voting for Obama. Watts said he’s still a Republican, but he criticizes his party for neglecting the black community. Black Republicans, he said, have to concede that while they might not agree with Democrats on issues, at least that party reaches out to them. “And Obama highlights that even more,” Watts said, adding that he expects Obama to take on issues such as poverty and urban policy. “Republicans often seem indifferent to those things.”

Likewise, retired Gen. Colin Powell, who became the country’s first black secretary of state under President George W. Bush, said both candidates are qualified and that he will not necessarily vote for the Republican. “I will vote for the individual I think that brings the best set of tools to the problems of 21st-century America and the 21st-century world regardless of party, regardless of anything else other than the most qualified candidate,” Powell said Thursday in Vancouver in comments reported by The Globe and Mail in Toronto.

Writer and actor Joseph C. Phillips got so excited about Obama earlier this year that he started calling himself an “Obamacan” — Obama Republican. Phillips, who appeared on “The Cosby Show” as Denise Huxtable’s husband, Navy Lt. Martin Kendall, said he has wavered since, but he is still thinking about voting for Obama. “I am wondering if this is the time where we get over the hump, where an Obama victory will finally, at long last, move us beyond some of the old conversations about race,” Phillips said. “That possibly, just possibly, this great country can finally be forgiven for its original sin, or find some absolution.”

Yet Phillips, author of the book “He Talk Like a White Boy,” realizes the irony of voting for a candidate based on race to get beyond race. “We have to not judge him based on his race, but on his desirability as a political candidate,” he said. “And based on that, I have a lot of disagreements with him on a lot of issues. I go back and forth.”

Michael Steele, the Republican former lieutenant governor of Maryland who lost a Senate race there in 2006, said he is proud of Obama as a black man, but that “come November, I will do everything in my power to defeat him.” Electing Obama, he said, would not automatically solve the woes of the black community. “I think people who try to put this sort of messianic mantle on Barack’s nomination are a little bit misguided,” he said.

The piece is entirely anecdotal, offering no survey data to help us analyze the phenomena. Colin Powell is a Republican but even he wouldn’t claim to be a conservative. And, while “The Cosby Show” was iconic, citing an actor that played a tertiary character as the third example is a stretch.

Still, this falls into the “How could it not be true?” category. It’s hard to imagine that black conservatives aren’t at least giving more consideration than they normally would to the presumptive Democratic nominee simply because of his skin color and what the “first black president” would represent. Especially at a time when enthusiasm for the Republican party is at such a low ebb. One presumes the same would have been true of women had Hillary Clinton been the nominee.

A recent Gallup poll has 78 percent of blacks and 88 percent of whites saying Obama’s race “makes no difference” in how they’ll vote. Twelve percent of blacks say they are “much more likely” and another seven percent say they are “somewhat more likely to vote for Obama because of his race. (Oddly, one percent are somewhat or much less likely to vote for him for that reason. Go figure.)

Given that people know that’s what they’re supposed to say, we can reasonably presume that the actual numbers are higher. More blacks and likely decidedly more whites (since white racism is more stigmatized) likely privately consider race a factor than will admit it to pollsters.

Since at least 88 percent black voters already vote Democrat for president, we can reasonably conclude that at least 107 percent will vote for Obama. Or, since that’s mathematically impossible except in Illinois, a whole lot of blacks who ordinarily sit out the election will show up and vote for him.

That could be decisive in swing states with large black populations, such as North Carolina and Virginia, both of which are trending Democrat anyway because of the influx of non-Southerners. The question is whether racially-motivated blacks will be canceled out by racially-motivated white Democrats voting for McCain.

State Department photo by Michael Gross.

Polling passage edited for clarity after reader tip.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Race and Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. capital L says:

    North Carolina also elects a lot of Democrats to state government and has for quite some time, although they are by and large rather conservative democrats. At any rate, that’s another factor that might bode well for Sen. Obama here.

  2. William d'Inger says:

    In the general election, 90% of blacks are going to vote for Obama only because he is black, and 15% of whites are going to vote for McCain only because he is white. The MSM will use those statistics as proof that whites are still evil racists.

  3. James Joyner says:

    90% of blacks are going to vote for Obama only because he is black

    Well, no. 88% of the black vote in 2008 went to John Kerry, a white man, and they’ve voted for the white Democrat somewhere around 90% of the time for years.

    I suspect that number will go up slightly and that more eligible blacks will actually show up to vote because they’re excited about having “someone who looks like me” to vote for.

  4. Bithead says:

    Well, no. 88% of the black vote in 2008 went to John Kerry, a white man, and they’ve voted for the white Democrat somewhere around 90% of the time for years.

    True, but then again, they never had a black choice, before, either.
    Hence, the kind of nonsense that Williams is speaking, here.

    Should we be concerned that such as Williams will make such choices based, obviously, on race alone?

  5. William d'Inger says:

    Should we be concerned that such as Williams will make such choices based, obviously, on race alone?

    No. Look, if whites were anywhere nearly as racist as blacks, Obama wouldn’t stand a chance. The fact that he is considered to be the front runner proves that whites overwhelmingly reject racism (despite the MSM spin on the subject). I think that’s reason to rejoice. Don’t you?

  6. William d'Inger says:

    There’s another good reason for black conservatives (actually all conservatives) to be conflicted. There is no conservative in the race. McCain, like Governor Schwartzenegger, is basically a liberal. Wouldn’t it be better to elect a black president just to get that issue behind us once and for all?

  7. yetanotherjohn says:

    It’s not race, it’s Arugula.

  8. Wayne says:

    Minorities and females will never be thought of and treated as equal until we start treating them that way. The fact Obama is black, part black or whatever should be nothing more than a footnote. What amazing is that the people who are so big on equal treatment are usually the ones who give special treatment and that doesn’t promote equal treatment. I like the way Dungy acted when he won the Super Bowl. He acknowledged and was proud of being the first black to do so but didn’t concentrate on that one thing like the MSM like to do.

    It reminds me of the military when many assume a female Commander made rank simply because they were female. Unfortunately there were cases when this was true. More unfortunate was the many highly competent female Commanders who were painted with the same broad brush.

  9. Rick says:

    “…such as North Carolina and Virginia, both of which are trending Democrat”

    Out of curiosity, why wouldn’t you say that they’re trending Democratic?

  10. Jim Glass says:

    Obama will split the black conservative Republican vote? The GOP may never be recognizable again!

  11. Jamie says:

    What upsets me is the opposite is not true. Black conservatives want to vote for Obama because he is the first black with a good chance of becoming president. but many black liberals I know personally have expressed a bitter animosity towards Colin Powell, J. C. Watts, Condi Rice, and Clarence Thomas as traitors to their race for being conservatives even though they have reach high career pinnacles, Powell even being the first black Secretary of State.

    Maybe I am wrong–I would certainly like to be–but if the republicans had nominated a black man for president, no one would hate him more than blacks.

  12. mannning says:

    It’s the policies and positions that count, and anyone that votes by race alone is not particularly bright in this matter, to understate the situation.

  13. Ken says:

    How someone like Colin Powell can say that Obama is as qualified to be President as McCain, astounds me. Anyone who votes for Obama is absolutely overlooking experience – they have to be, because he has none. People will vote for him because he is a novelty and a “first”. My God, what a reason – what a travesty!

  14. Bithead says:

    No. Look, if whites were anywhere nearly as racist as blacks, Obama wouldn’t stand a chance. The fact that he is considered to be the front runner proves that whites overwhelmingly reject racism (despite the MSM spin on the subject). I think that’s reason to rejoice. Don’t you?

    Of itself, perhaps. But why can’t we be having this discussion over the candidacy of Thomas Sowell? And Jamie points this up rather well.

    And I wonder how the perception of black racism would be now, and would we be considering blacks conflicted, were one of the folks as Jamie lists nominated, instead?

    There’s another good reason for black conservatives (actually all conservatives) to be conflicted. There is no conservative in the race. McCain, like Governor Schwartzenegger, is basically a liberal. Wouldn’t it be better to elect a black president just to get that issue behind us once and for all?

    I suppose that to depend on our ability to survive him. Not because he’s black, but because of his politics.

  15. Jersey Paul says:

    So if blacks who disagree with Senator Obama’s politics vote for him just because he is black, then it makes sense that whites should vote for the white candidate.

    The press would serve us well by ceasing to write these race based stories and concentrate on issues.

  16. Michael says:

    Out of curiosity, why wouldn’t you say that they’re trending Democratic?

    Because in such a phrase, it could be interpreted as saying that they do not currently have democratic representation in government. A member of the “Democratic” party is referred to as a “Democrat”, so saying they are “trending Democrat” is easily understood as meaning they are leaning towards members of the “Democratic” party.

    People should not use “Democrat Party” as an under-the-radar jab at their opposition, but at the same time people should not get upset about something so inconsequential.

  17. Michael says:

    Of itself, perhaps. But why can’t we be having this discussion over the candidacy of Thomas Sowell? And Jamie points this up rather well.

    I remember that early in Bush’s first term there was quite a bit of talk about a Powell presidency, and at the time most people I talked to, Liberal and Conservative, were positive about the idea. The only animosity I hear about him from the black community was largely due to the perception that he provided racial cover to President Bush, who was seen as unsympathetic to the black community.

    Of course the events leading up to the Iraq war pretty much soured him on the idea of staying in politics, which was a big loss for the Republican party in my opinion.

  18. Bithead says:

    I remember that early in Bush’s first term there was quite a bit of talk about a Powell presidency, and at the time most people I talked to, Liberal and Conservative, were positive about the idea. The only animosity I hear about him from the black community was largely due to the perception that he provided racial cover to President Bush, who was seen as unsympathetic to the black community

    Ohhh… is THAT what they mean by ‘Uncle Tom’? I did wonder.

  19. Floyd says:

    I guess it come down to a choice…
    Vote with your skin or vote with your brain!

  20. graywolf says:

    So what?
    How many black conservative votes exist, anyway?
    In battleground states?
    20,200,2000?

    If blacks vote for a black, that’s a good thing
    because of:
    slavery?
    hip-hop?
    solidarity?
    Whatever.

    But if I vote for a white candidate, I’m a RACIST KKK’er.

    If Obama gets every black vote, every academic vote, every media vote, every public employee vote and doesn’t get much of anyone else (white people with real jobs), he loses.

  21. The Plight of Black Republicans… GOPs Need To Worry

    The national spotlight is quickly focusing on what has customarily been an ignored … and often “unappreciated” constituent base: Black Republicans. With Senator Barack Obama’s foot literally on the doorstep of the White House, some Black Republicans find themselves betwixt and between in this election cycle.

    The angst so many Black Republicans now face is: 1) not wanting to be on the wrong side of history by not casting their vote for someone who looks like them and whose very cultural roots are entwined… and, 2) not wanting to be viewed————any worse than already labeled by Black Democrats—— as “Uncle Toms”.