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