Events in Ferguson, Missouri, have persuaded reform conservative Reihan Salam that Democrats might start losing a significant chunk of the black vote soon. I'm not saying that can't happen. However, it's extremely hard to imagine that it's going to happen in the bizarre Rube Goldberg sequence Salam outlines.
What got Salam thinking about this was Al Sharpton's eulogy for Mike Brown:
Byron York, columnist for the Washington Examiner, has just written a dispatch from Michael Brown's funeral, where the erstwhile presidential candidate, activist, and television news personality Al Sharpton delivered the eulogy. In classic form, Sharpton started off his eulogy by condemning "the police, the government, and the American system, concluding that they all combined to end a promising 18-year-old life." Yet Sharpton then addressed a different set of concerns:Sharpton went on in this vein and, York tells us,
After a demand for broad reforms in American policing, Sharpton changed course to address his black listeners directly. "We've got to be straight up in our community, too," he said. "We have to be outraged at a 9-year-old girl killed in Chicago. We have got to be outraged by our disrespect for each other, our disregard for each other, our killing and shooting and running around gun-toting each other, so that they’re justified in trying to come at us because some of us act like the definition of blackness is how low you can go."
"Blackness has never been about being a gangster or a thug," Sharpton continued. "Blackness was, no matter how low we was pushed down, we rose up anyhow."
The cameras cut to director Spike Lee, on his feet applauding enthusiastically. So were Martin Luther King III, radio host Tom Joyner, and, judging by video coverage, pretty much everyone else in the church. They kept applauding when Sharpton accused some blacks of having "ghetto pity parties." And they applauded more when Sharpton finally declared: "We've got to clean up our community so we can clean up the United States of America!"So what does this have to do with Democrats losing the black vote? Let Salam explain:
Not every observer was pleased by Sharpton's address, of course. Some were appalled by the implication that Brown's funeral should prompt a discussion of black personal responsibility, as York reports.Salam quotes a New Republic piece by Julia Ioffe about respectability politics in the black community; we're told Ioffe is not a fan of the self-criticism.
Yes, but what does this have to do with Democrats losing the black vote? Relax, I'm getting there.
You see, according to Salam, angry progressives really might push the Democrats to the left on this issue, flipping the bird to everyone who might have applauded Sharpton's words:
... I don't doubt that many younger liberals, including many younger African-American liberals, feel as [Ioffe] does. One wonders if Al Sharpton has lost the plot in his old age, and if other voices, who forcefully reject the politics of respectability, will soon come to the fore.And this, says Salam, is going to send a lot of black voters into the welcoming arms of the Republican Party:
Josh Barro, writing for The Upshot, raises the intriguing possibility that at some point, a Democratic political entrepreneur will run a national campaign that "gives[s] voice to the anger we're seeing in Ferguson."
I suspect that Barro is right, and that we will see a Democratic presidential campaign in the 2016 or 2020 primaries that offers a racially-infused critique of the American criminal justice system....Let me remind you that the about-to-nominate-Hillary Democratic Party does not appear to be in danger of turning into the Malcolm X/Emoprog Party anytime soon -- or even having a prominent left-leaning candidate who would reject Sharpton's words on respectability. Let me also add that Sharpton does not appear to be yesterday's man on race for the simple reason that, while he may talk about respectability, he's also extremely forthright on the subject of police brutality and disrespect, as well as on the need for all Americans to recognize the dignity and worth of black people. That puts him far to the left of mainstream discourse on this subject.
Note, however, that not all African Americans will welcome this critique. Indeed, there may well be overlap between those who embrace the politics of respectability and those who are wary of an overtly racialized conversation about criminal justice reform. The now-famous Pew survey which found "stark racial divisions” [http://www.people-press.org/2014/08/18/stark-racial-divisions-in-reactio... in reaction to Michael Brown's death reveals ... that 18 percent of blacks agree with 47 percent of whites that "race is getting more attention than it deserves"....
It is important not to extrapolate wildly from the existence of this contrarian slice of the African-American population. But one wonders if these voters might at some point be open to voting for a Republican Party that talks about criminal justice system more sensitively and intelligently without fully embracing a racialized critique and, most importantly, that places a much heavier emphasis on middle-class economic interests.
People who are steeped in politics regularly overestimate the size and strength of the angry lefty bloc in American politics. To me, it's the Nader vote, with all that says about size and strength. It's not enough to pull the whole party leftward on race and leave Sharpton behind.
And then there's Salam's vision of a Republican Party that -- I'm trying to contain my laughter -- "talks about criminal justice system more sensitively and intelligently," and that appeals to some black voters based on "a much heavier emphasis on middle-class economic interests." I'm sorry -- apart from a few wonks (like Salam himself) and a few 2016 wannabes looking for photo ops and good press, the GOP is a collection of politicians who unashamedly describe the country in terms of Us and Them, "knockout game"-playing "thugs" as opposed to decent citizens, "makers" as opposed to "takers," people worthy to vote as opposed to people whose voting rights need to be curtailed, people who deserve tax cuts (the rich) allegedly besieged by people who deserve the back of the government's hand (everyone else).
And if George McEmoprog somehow becomes a serious Democratic presidential candidate in the near future on an "Off the Pigs" platform, does Salam seriously think the GOP is going to decrease its racial scaremongering? Please. So this is a ridiculous scenario.