By Alan Bean
Why did every single Republican official who was invited to speak at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington decline?
The easy answer is that they aren’t big on the civil rights movement, but that’s not true. When push comes to shove, Republican leaders are willing to admit that Jim Crow laws were a bad idea and that equal access to the American dream is a good thing. They might not have anything good to say about the civil rights leaders of 2013, but they are capable of honoring Martin Luther King when the occasion calls for it. In fact, they even held their own quiet, unpublicized commemoration featuring the handful of black congressional Republicans earlier in the week. Associating with conservative Blacks is always a winner for Republicans.
Attending an event organized by mainstream Black America is another question entirely.
The Republican Party may be embarrassed by the fact that not a single member of the red team accepted an invitation to climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last Wednesday and say some nice things about civil rights.
But here’s the problem, the snub didn’t look good to Black people (of every political persuasion) not did it impress white liberals. But, the culture war being what it is, these people won’t vote Republican under any circumstances.
The simple truth is that snubbing civil rights leaders doesn’t hurt Republicans politically and it might even help. No one wanted to be the only representative of the Republican brand associated with last weeks commemoration. It wouldn’t send the right message to the only voters that count to most politicians–primary voters. That’s where the real election takes place in most districts.
True, snubbing the organizers of the event reinforced the Republican reputation as the Party of White; but how many conservative white voters care enough about that to switch their votes. Five? None? Somewhere in between?
On the other hand, being associated with an event this public–especially if you are the only Republican on the podium–could lose you the votes of the Tea Party types who vote disproportionately in Republican primaries. It might not be a big effect. You might only lose a few hundred votes. But when you know that appearing at the event won’t gain you a single vote it doesn’t take a math whiz to work the equation. Speaking would have been a net loser for most Republicans and they have the political sophistication to know it.
Woody Allen once remarked that 80% of life is showing up. That’s certainly true for congressional Democrats. All they have to do to look good in the eyes of Black America is to make an appearance. The expectation bar has been set that low.
John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson had to sacrifice a major element of their political base (the Solid South) to do the right thing.
Democrats like Barack Obama and the Clintons win the support of Black America simply by showing up. Nice work if you can get it.