Nope, No Racists Here

by Brien Jackson

You rarely get the sort of candor Jonah exhibits here:

For starters, I think the ideal Republican candidate just might be Hispanic — and tough on immigration. The way our politics work, you need some kind of authenticity, some kind of membership, to go after sacred cows. Not just in the Nixon to China or Sista Souljah sense, but in the sense that only members of a “special group” can challenge the orthodoxies of the self-appointed (left-wing) leadership of that group. Blacks can challenge racial quotas in ways whites can’t. Women can attack feminism in ways men can’t. Jews can criticize Israel, Catholics can challenge the Church, gays can question gay marriage, and so on. Yes, they’ll still be attacked for their heresy. But the chief weapon — charges of bigotry — is severely blunted when “one of your own” leads the assault. I don’t like it, but it is what it is.

So, with that in mind, I think an Hispanic Ward Connerly could do wonders for the GOP. For starters, he could set the immigration debate right in a way that fixes much of the GOP’s so-called branding problem. He — or she, though my sense is it would need to be a he — could make it clear that legal immigration is good (though in need of reform) and that illegal immigration undermines not only continued legal immigration, but assimilation. More important, he could allow the GOP to reclaim at least some of the extremely good and noble narrative of immigration as a story of individualism, entrepreneurialism, and patriotic assimilation rather than group victimization. An Hispanic businessman could shake things up in all sorts of ways. He could send the signal that the GOP is still the party of opportunity and self-reliance. He would help with the deteriorating Catholic vote, with the Western states, and even some Eastern urban areas.

But most of all, an Hispanic candidate would help win back Republican moderates. Remember how important Colin Powell and the diversity pageant at the 2000 GOP convention were. It was never the intent to win over huge numbers of black voters. Rather, it was to send the message to soccer moms and the like that it wasn’t “racist” to vote for the GOP. An Hispanic candidate could have the same effect. The trick, however, is for the Hispanic to be a conservative who sells conservatism to Hispanics and others, not a Hispanic who tries to convince conservatives that La Raza is basically right and that Republicans need to get over their alleged racism.

There’s actually two unseemly aspects of modern conservatism here. The first, obviously, is the way tribal conservatives view everyone else through comically caricatured veneers of identity politics. Much like non-conservative females are reduced to caricatures of feminists, and African-American voters are assumed to care only about affirmative action (and welfare, don’t forget the welfare), in imagining conservative “outreach” to hispanics, apparently the only thing Jonah thinks conservatives need to work on is convincing hispanic voters that Republicans are right about…illegal immigration. And something about La Raza. And assimilation. But really, who could ever guess conservatives have a hard time attracting support from minorities?

The second, and more disturbing/amusing, is the modern conservative’s penchant for self-delusion, as evidenced by the way Jonah analogizes his envisioned candidate as a “Hispanic Ward Connerly.” Because Ward Connerly is a model of Republican outreach to minorities? Ward Connerly has made a name for himself in some circles by opposing affirmative action, but not as an appeal to black people, as an appeal to white males. Moreover, the last time I checked, the GOP hadn’t really made any measurable gains with black voters in the past 40 years so, regardless of his intended audience, it certainly seems strange to try to credit Connerly for something that hasn’t happened.

And, of course, there’s the paens to the “alleged” nature of Republican racism. It would certainly be wrong to say that all Republicans, or conservatives, are racists, and it would even be over-simplifying a bit to say that conservatism is founded on vaguely racist conceits (although not by much, at least in the contemporary sense), you would think someone writing under the masthead of a publication whose official position was that ending segregation was worse than segregation itself, who’s writing on the same group blog as someone who wrote a book entitled The New Case Against Immigration, Both Legal and Illegal, and which boasts almuni who go on to write columns explaining why the opinions of black people don’t really count might have a better sense of why some people perceive the conservative movement of being, at the least, a little too tolerant of racism and racists.

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