Black Republican vs. Black Democrat
Jude Wanniski
July 19, 2000


To: Frank Rich, The New York Times
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Dylan Glenn vs. Rep. Sanford Bishop [D-GA]

Your Saturday NYTimes column is always interesting, Frank, and often extraordinary. You really pushed the political envelope with “Tomorrow Is Another Day,” about Dylan Glenn, “The great white GOP hope” in southwest Georgia. While all the “regular” political reporters seem to be permanently bivouacked in Manhattan on the Rick/Hillary campaign, here is the former theater critic of the Times in Albany, Ga. (Pop. 80,000), writing about the white-majority second congressional district, one of the poorest in the country, that “offers no white choice in its House race.” Until I read your piece, I had no idea there was a young black Republican challenging the incumbent black Democrat, Sanford Bishop, and if he wins, he will be the first black Republican from one of the former Confederate states elected to Congress in a hundred years. Instead of seeing it merely as another horse race, you did see its importance “on the margin,” which is where all change takes place. At first I thought you make light of the race, but you made it pretty clear that you are rooting for this former White House aide in the Bush administration, who “hammers” away at “the classic Republican mantra of ‘growth, lower taxes, opportunity, individual responsibility, jobs.’” The only thing we learn of the incumbent is that he is “formidable” and that Mr. Glenn regards him as “a decent man.”

It may not surprise you to learn that practically every black Democrat political leader I’ve met in the last dozen years has instantly agreed with my thought that it will be a great day when half the black vote goes to Republicans and half to Democrats. As an institution, the Democratic Party certainly doesn’t want that to happen, but black leaders know how much easier it would be to advance black interests if both major parties were simultaneously courting the black vote. I’ve written about this several times, but it is worth repeating that every ethnic group in America has had the two parties seeking to represent them, but it has been the history of blacks since Reconstruction that they have been represented by one party and shunned by the other. Until the Great Depression brought about a realignment of the two parties, the black vote was always solidly Republican, the Democratic Party resting on the foundation on the Solid South. In your column, you mentioned the Bush campaign last week making light of a Washington Post reporter who dared bring up the hard-line white supremacist past of its ally, Strom Thurmond.” Hey, Strom, now almost a hundred years old, was “on the margin” when he left the Democratic Party after an interlude as an Independent in 1948.

There was a time in the 1950s when there might have been two-party competition for the black vote, Frank, but President Eisenhower was a man of the political establishment, the status quo. It wasn’t that he was anti-black. He surely wasn’t. And his appointment of California Gov. Earl Warren to be Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court did, after all, produce Brown vs. Board of Education. He also stood up to George Wallace in protecting Autherine Lucy with federal troops when she became the first black to enter the University of Alabama. But there was no real political effort to pull younger blacks away from the Democratic Party. By 1960, with John F. Kennedy going up against Richard Nixon, the Democrats nailed down the younger black activists. It was JFK who made all the right symbolic gestures, offering public support for the Rev. Martin Luther King at a time when J. Edgar Hoover and conservative Republicans looked upon King as a trouble-maker at best, a socialist at worst. Nixon had Jackie Robinson in his corner, and later, Sammy Davis, Jr., but these were passive signals to a black community that wanted an expanding economy, upward mobility, a piece of the American dream.

The GOP regulars finally broke the Democratic hold on the presidency in 1968, with Nixon, but the key to its success was the Republican “Southern Strategy,” which finally broke the Solid South’s grip on the Democratic Party. The Democrats had to choose between crackers and blacks and when they chose blacks, the crackers became available to the GOP. It now may seem distasteful that Nixon and the GOP establishment went this route, but after a century of Dixiecrats, it was historically essential that this be done, so that in this year 2000, there is a true two-party system throughout Dixie. The Glenn/Bishop contest in Georgia is a new chapter in this political evolution.

My good friend Charlie Rangel, the Harlem Democrat, told me years ago that the Republican Party would never truly be a national party worthy of both the White House and the Congress until it actively sought black votes again. When I mentioned this to Bob Dole some years ago, he quickly noted how he always kept an Open Door at the Republican National Committee when he was both U.S. Senator and RNC chairman. I told him what Rangel had in mind was the RNC chairman going out of that open door, into the streets, and asking blacks to vote Republican. The easiest way to get people to vote for you is to ask them, which is something former Senator Bob Packwood taught me back in the 1960s. “Yes, it is an offer of a contract,” Rangel told me. If you don’t ask for their vote, you are not offering a contract. Bret Schundler, the Republican mayor of Jersey City, NJ, proved that by simply going door to door in black neighborhoods.

What do blacks want? They want competition for their votes, which is what empowerment is all about. Rangel sometimes uses a quote I suggested to him, that “In the banquet of the Democratic Party, the black folks get to sit next to the kitchen. In the banquet of the Republican Party, black folks get to sit inside the kitchen.” Only when there is competition will blacks get seats up front, the way every other ethnic group has moved to the head table. In no presidential campaign I’m aware of in the last half century has the national GOP budgeted funds for advertising in the black media. Remember Ed Rollins, Frank? When he ran Christie Whitman’s re-election campaign in New Jersey three years ago, he boasted that she won partly on his idea that campaign funds be handed out to black preachers in New Jersey to discourage them from urging their congregations to get out to vote... because they of course will vote Democratic. Rollins subsequently denied doing any such thing, but that has been the mind set of GOP political operatives: Let the Democrats have the blacks and we will get the whites.

Maybe that’s going to end this year, although thus far you are correct in seeing George W. Bush as not doing much more than making symbolic gestures in that direction. Change may have to come first in the second congressional district where two black guys are duking it out in this most unusual contest. I thank you for spotting and reporting.