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Grand New Party

These are not your father’s Republicans.

Jan 28, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 19 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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This situation didn’t occur by accident, but grew from the concepts of race, rights, and justice as seen through liberal, and through conservative, eyes. To conservatives, rights accrue to individuals—gender and race describe, but do not define, one—and “racial justice” occurs when people of every race are judged by race neutral standards, or as close to race neutral standards as one can attain in this world. To the left, rights accrue to the group—race and gender define you (and dictate your interests and outlook)—and justice is served when each race or gender is given a proportional allotment of representation or preference. 

Thus, the cure for the low number of nonwhites in the House is specially carved-out minority districts, and the cure for low numbers in elite schools and/or professions is affirmative action (which conservatives backed when it amounted to outreach but opposed when it came to quotas). Liberals agree with New York’s former mayor David Dinkins that the United States is a “gorgeous mosaic,” with each distinct ethnic group as its separate gemstone; while conservatives have clung to the metaphor of the melting pot, aka assimilation, the process by which the Irish, Jews, Poles, Greeks, et al., became over time generic Americans, while generic America became at the same time more Irish, more Jewish, more Polish, more Greek. 

The minority district institutionalizes the theory of the mosaic (for instance, that blacks are best represented by other blacks), while Republicans cherish the theory that anyone from any background whatever can speak for himself, for the country, and for all it contains. Ironically, President Obama, the Democrats’ breakthrough minority star, seems a better fit in many ways with the conservative model: The son of a Kenyan who was brought up by his mother’s white family, he presented himself not as an American ethnic but as a man of the world, whose affect and appeal were both post- and trans-racial, and who, with his mixed Anglo and African background, was a melting pot unto himself.

In the end, however they started, the Democrats’ race-based solutions have turned out rather less well than was planned. They did get more nonwhites into elite schools on a preference system, but many dropped out before graduation, victims of “mismatch,” having been pushed up just one notch or so over the level at which they might have excelled. Democrats did reap a quick fix of minority congressmen, but at the expense of raising a cadre of national leaders, making them spokesmen for one race and not for the others, and leaving them unprepared to appeal across group boundaries.

Democrats would have done better, as arguably would minority groups themselves, had the voters now concentrated in race-based districts been spread through several districts, in which they would be swing votes, if not the majority, thus making surrounding districts a lot less Republican. As Kraushaar noted after the 2010 midterms, “of the 75 black, Hispanic, and Asian-American Democrats in Congress and governorships,” only 9 won in venues that were majority white. Unfortunately, for the Democrats, almost all 50 states are majority-white, not to mention the country as a whole, and if and when this stops being true of the country, no one other race will prevail. Thus, this design has been a dead end for the Democrats: There are few new Obamas in the national pipeline, while Republicans have about six blacks, Hispanics, and Asian Americans who would make plausible national candidates.

That said, the Republicans have a problem, since, as the New Yorker has cogently noted, “getting Republicans to vote for a black candidate and blacks to vote for a Republican candidate” are two different things. As it turned out, the first part was easy: The GOP in 1996 tried to draft Colin Powell for president, welcomed his appointment as secretary of state, cheered the appointment of Condoleezza Rice to succeed him, gave her a standing ovation at the Republican convention in 2012 when she described her rise from her childhood in the segregated city of Birmingham, and would have been delighted had she been on the ticket as vice president. The Tea Party, routinely caricatured in the media as the KKK redux, has brought the GOP an influx of nonwhites and women, backing Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Nikki Haley, and Tim Scott against more establishment figures.  


It is the second part of this question—will minorities one day vote for conservatives, if conservatives run more minorities?—that may not be answered too soon. Republicans have tried, and not done well earlier, but never before have they had so many vibrant and young multihued standard-bearers, eager to talk up the charms of free markets, with examples from their (and their parents’) own lives. 

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