The Conversation

Friday, March 15th, 2013 and is filed under Blog, Issues

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I sat down with some black folks on two occasions recently and listened to their conservations about the issues of the day. It was informal. Some in the room knew about my status as a non-Democrat. A few knew about my vigorous opposition to the policies of President Obama. Nothing I heard in the two hours I spent as a passive audience was different from what I’ve heard from black citizens in barber shops, basketball gyms, churches, schools or barbecues over the last thirty years. I’m skeptical any official organ of the GOP does this so I’m recording it here.

On Gun Control:

Most were gun owners. A few loved guns and spoke of various makes and models authoritatively and with great passion. They were solidly against a repeal of the 2nd Amendment or any laws that would restrict gun ownership for law abiding citizens. One person even ventured the opinion that gun ownership was proof of being a good citizen because of the background checks a person needs to pass to purchase a gun. The pro-gun individuals were not anti-gun control out of deep cogitations over the natural rights of man or Constitutional law. They believed in the right to own a firearm for one reason: self-defense. These people live in high crime areas and they believe their right  to protect themselves supersedes the government’s case for confiscation. Where these people live churches are robbed on Sundays. Even the collection plate is up for grabs in bad neighborhoods and two of the men present said they are armed during church service — with the knowledge and approval of their pastors.

I don’t want to paint a picture that these are strong NRA backers irrevocably bound to the Second Amendment. I believe the gun owners in the group could be convinced to support an absolute ban on gun ownership if they believed they were safe in their homes and neighborhoods. Crime is the issue and why the GOP doesn’t hang it around the necks of the Democrat establishment in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Oakland et al. is beyond rational comprehension.

On Entitlements:

Black people know government programs. Trust me on this. Unless you are a policy wonk at a well funded think tank don’t ever get into an argument with a black person about how a federal entitlement program operates — especially middle aged black women as they are the caretakers of sons, grandsons, brothers, uncles and fathers. From SSI, to prisoner re-entry programs, to TANF, to Unemployment Insurance, to the VA the federal government underwrites much of the economic activity in black neighborhoods. And it isn’t, in the main, a product of fraud or greed. Everyone in the room (including me) knew a single mother, an unemployed worker, a disabled person, a minor with a deceased father, a felon back from prison looking for work,  or a veteran. And not just as acquaintances. They are close relatives. The foundation for much of the conversation I heard was on how to maximize or properly access money provided by various government agencies. Not for gain but for budgets. Everyone of working age in the room was employed but their incomes were not sufficient to provide for the unofficial dependents in their families. When these people hear about Republicans wanting to cut government spending they take it personally because it represents a threat to their disposable incomes and to what little social fabric remains in their neighborhoods. For better or worse, they are wedded to the welfare state and fifty years into this union any talk of divorce sounds ludicrous no matter how debilitating the relationship.

The wise Republican, wishing to make inroads with his black constituents, would focus on jobs and prison reform. He would frame his plans for entitlement reform in terms of federalism and how the states could do a better job helping the truly needy than the feds. He would acknowledge that Americans clearly want some form of a welfare state but that the one we currently employ has us on the road to financial ruin. He’d leave the sermonizing on marriage and child raising to people and organizations better positioned to make those arguments. But that’s a wise Republican politician. How many of those exist in the country today?

On Education:

Everyone in the room voiced strong opinions about education with their sentiments running solidly pro-teacher. They were almost anti-student so strident was the current of support for public school teachers. Black women work in public schools as teachers, administrators and cafeteria workers. In some ghetto schools I’ve visited black women are the overwhelming majority of the staff. Any black man working as a teacher in such a school is held in so high a regard in the school and community that it has to be impossible for him to have trouble getting a date. A common line of thinking expressed was that it is the student’s job to obey the teacher and be prepared for class. The onus for better performing schools lays with the student. Education reform equals student behavior reform. Assaults on public schools are seen primarily as assaults on employment. Charter schools are viewed as an enemy of the public school system only if they  are seen as siphoning off “good” students from regular public schools while leaving teachers with only “bad” students. The traditional link seen between education and employment for youth is secondary to the link seen between the public education sector and teacher employment.

Conservative appeals for education reform that don’t honor teachers and have them as the centerpiece of change will be met with maximum resistance in the black community.

On Moral Decline in black neighborhoods:

Twenty years ago when the first massive out migration of Californians was occurring I used to joke that California felt like the world’s largest outdoor prison because of all the whispered conversations about escape. It’s the same with the social collapse of the black family and basic morality in black neighborhoods. It is spoken about but not openly. People are bewildered by the criminality, lack of decency (think of belt-less youth in public places with their underwear showing) and aggressive narcissism. They realize it is accelerating.

From my perch it does not seem they are aware of the comprehensive nature of the breakdown and are therefore unable to get a grasp on solutions. I don’t believe politicizing these sensitive issues is the correct approach. I think that is a job best left to the black aristocracy spoken about here recently. The welfare state is a soul crushing enterprise that leaves broken people in its wake. Conservatives can’t expect that merely rolling back the welfare state will heal a community. It will have to be replaced with (preferably non-governmental and local) enterprises that will restore families and healthy traditions.

On President Obama:

He is seen as sensible, centrist and the ultimate in black American achievement. Disagreement with him (from blacks) is heretical and (from whites) racist. He is not seen as infallible but his decisions will always be defended. He has easily supplanted King as the iconic black American for any black voter under the age of 60. Attacking him or his agenda is a fool’s errand.The Obama juggernaut in the black community cannot be overthrown and its legacy will endure for eternity.

What the GOP can do is use Obama’s characteristics against Leftist propaganda. President Obama was educated outside of the public school system. He is ambitious, determined and (seen from the point of view of black voters) selfless. He is a married father to his children. He is a striking success even though he himself was abandoned by his father. He worked hard and embraced the opportunity America provides. He is not beholden to the federal government for his achievements. Use Obama’s story to replace the Left’s low standard of perpetual grievance and dysfunction. Make it a contest of which party stands for erudition, excellence and advancement and which party stands for the mean servility that is the modern welfare state. Something along the lines of a common refrain I heard — “We can do better” — would make a good slogan. Yes, take it. Use it. Just remember my royalty fee.

Another way Obama would be useful to the GOP is if they studied his outreach tactics to his base. Smartly, incredibly and superbly well executed was the Obama campaign’s effort to ensure their most loyal voters showed in full force at the polls. One, the GOP needs to learn how to hold its conservative base even when it is not fielding the best possible candidate (and with astronomical black unemployment rates Obama was far from the best candidate for black America). Two, the GOP needs to follow the Obama campaign’s roadmap for reaching black voters. Hint: it doesn’t involve black pastors.

Black people are not alien robots programmed to vote for Democrats. The Republican Party’s befuddled neglect has made it seem that way. The road back to being a viable political option for blacks is long but not complicated. First, listen and understand. Then seek to be understood. It’s a simple tactic really — one we employ with our spouses, co-workers, children and neighbors all the time. Odd that it never occurs to the GOP as it endlessly obsesses over getting ten more votes in obscure precincts in Ohio.

Author Wendell Talley