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Morning Jay: Why Herman Cain Could Be a Game Changer

6:00 AM, Sep 30, 2011 • By JAY COST
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A final thought. The period of robust progress on civil rights lasted from about 1945 to 1965, and this occurred for two big reasons. First and most important was the civil rights movement, which put political pressure on an inert establishment. But the second and often overlooked reason is that the two parties were finally competing for the black vote, for the first time everSouthern Democrats had totally suppressed the Southern black vote from about 1890 forwards, but African Americans began migrating to the North in large numbers around the turn of the century, so that the first Northern African American member of Congress, Oscar De Priest (a Republican), was elected from the South Side of Chicago in 1928. FDR won a majority of Northern black voters in 1936; this woke up the Republican party – which had long taken African Americans for granted – and finally pushed it forward on civil rights. The GOP platform in 1944 was much more liberal on civil rights than the Democratic platform, and GOP nominees for most of this period (Thomas Dewey in '44 and '48, Dwight Eisenhower in '52 and '56, and Richard Nixon in '60) were relatively friendly to black interests, and Democrats eventually responded by liberalizing as well. This helped set the stage for the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, both of which received broad bipartisan support. In other words, competition for votes contributed to big policy breakthroughs.

Now, Herman Cain would not be able to change any of this overnight. And maybe not at all -- it would take a great deal of political capital, a deft touch, and a little bit of luck. But the point is this: a Republican candidate for national office, who took competing for the black vote seriously, might help revive Republicanism in the black community. The process could be similar to the kind of top-down advancement the GOP enjoyed in the South after World War II -- when Dwight Eisenhower, the Texas-born national hero who beat the Nazis, convinced Dixie to give the Republican party a second look. If Herman Cain could do that for the GOP with African Americans, there would be a real potential not only for the party to do better nationwide, but for African Americans to leverage their voting strength more effectively.

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