A Black at the Head Table
Jude Wanniski
November 19, 1998

 

Memo To:Rep. Julius Caesar Watts, Jr. [R OK]
From:  Jude Wanniski
Re: Finally, competition

Congratulations on your election yesterday as chairman of the House Republican Conference. The fact that you are a relatively junior member of Congress indicates your colleagues decided to elevate you to this important leadership post as an affirmative action toward black America. And a good thing too. Whether you turn out to be an effective chairman or not is not nearly as important as this historic breakthrough in the Republican Party. If you are effective, so much the better, as it will then hasten the realignment of the two major political parties that must occur sooner or later.

Several years ago, in a conversation with Harlem Democrat Charlie Rangel, I offered a thesis on why blacks have lagged politically since emancipation: There has never since been a simultaneous competition for black votes by the two political parties. That is, from 1865 on, where blacks did vote, they voted for Republicans, the party of Lincoln, and the Democratic party conceded that vote to the GOP. Party realignment occurred beginning in 1932, when the Great Depression drove blacks out of the Deep South into the north and into the hands of Democratic political machines. By 1960, Republicans were in the position of conceding the black vote to the Democratic Party. That was the year John F. Kennedy identified himself with the political activism of Martin Luther King Jr. and Richard Nixon identified himself with the passive symbolism of Jackie Robinson. In the years ever since, there has been no concerted effort by the national Republican Party to directly solicit black votes in presidential elections. In my new book, The Last Race of the 20th Century, I describe how Jack Kemp made many efforts as Bob Doleís running mate to spend a fraction of the campaign budget on black outreach, but in the end not one dime was spent on advertising in black media. I was not surprised when Jack told me last week that he was actively supporting your campaign for the conference chairmanship -- a post he held in his last years in Congress. 

A metaphor I used with Charlie Rangel in elaborating on my thesis was that of a banquet. In the banquet of the Democratic Party, I said, black Americans were invited and seated next to the kitchen. In the banquet of the Republican Party, I said black Americans were invited to sit inside the kitchen. Only when Republicans decided it was time to move blacks out of the kitchen at tables closer to the front would the Democrats have any incentive to move blacks closer to the front. I had to smile last night, watching CNNís "Crossfire," as Bob Novak needled Rep. Maxine Waters of Los Angeles, who is chairman this year of the Congressional Black Caucus. Novak essentially asked why, with blacks providing such solid support for the Democratic Party and having almost three dozen seats in the House, there are none in the Democratic leadership. You could almost see the smoke coming out of Maxineís ears as she recited the various minor leadership posts blacks have held in years gone by and how we probably should have run for more posts this year. I note in the Times this morning that you are not only the only black Republican in Congress, but also the only black who is not a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Now that you outrank all the Democrats in that Caucus, it probably makes sense to join it, or at least ask to join it. Doing so would actually empower the Caucus, making it clear to the Democratic leadership that unless they begin moving more blacks closer to the head table at their banquet, there may be more choosing dinner with Republicans instead.