The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Tuesday, January 21, 2003
No ducks around affirmative action - why does Bush bother?
The University of Michigan saga prompts me to ask why Bush fails to heed the wise words of one of the founders of the modern Republican Party: when you're hunting for votes, you go where the ducks are.
My hypothesis: there is nothing that Bush can do for American blacks (in policy, appointments, PR, any sphere at all) - which he can do without vastly disproportionate damage to his base support - that would significantly affect the result of the 2004 presidential election .
Some history  and some numbers to help test the hypothesis:
Before the Civil War, most free Negroes (even in the North) were disenfranchised; and the vast bulk of Negroes were slaves. After the War, during Radical Reconstruction, substantial numbers of Negroes voted for the first time: and naturally, they voted for the party that voted them free rather than the party that seceded to keep them slaves. No-brainer.
Come 1877, and - gradually  the Negro was squeezed out of the voting booth in the South (where the vast bulk continued to live). But where they had the chance, on the whole, Negroes continued to vote Republican, right up till 1932. Neither party did anything of substance for them; so it was Amendments 13-15 that still tipped the scales.
Franklin Roosevelt gave the Negro a share of the New Deal - less than his white fellow-citizen's share, of course, to preserve the caste distinction so necessary to keeping sweet his Southern base, the Jim Crow liberals included; and, over the FDR presidency, that brought the Negroes in a clear majority definitively into the Democratic column.
There was a compounding effect: as the proportions shifted in favour of the Democrats, so the effect of the migration of Negroes to the North meant that the absolute numbers effectively able to vote was increasing substantially . (The effect of the 1944 Supreme Court decision in Smith v Allwright  on Southern Negro voting was much less significant.)
But a substantial minority of the Negro vote still went Republican. And this was bolstered during the 1950s by the hotting up of the war over Jim Crow: where the (most of the time) Democratic-controlled, 2/3rds-cloture, Southern-dominated US Senate was a large part of the national image of the Democratic Party. Eisenhower in 1956 and Nixon in 1960 both snagged around a third of the Negro vote. Despite Little Rock and the 1957 Civil Rights Act, these, arguably, were votes that the Dems were losing, rather than the GOP was doing much to garner .
Then came 1964 and Goldwater - who, apparently, took as much as 6% of the Negro vote! Perhaps the GOP could have had a Southern Strategy  without such a drastic fall-off in Negro support - clearly, the party already had, and would have continued to need such a strategy whether or not a Goldwater had been available as a candidate.
But the deed was done. Just as Negroes voted in 1920 for Warren Harding as the successor-in-title of Abraham Lincoln - and for no better reason - so, black voters today would, on the whole, vote en masse for virtually any Democratic presidential candidate, in preference to virtually any Republican, just because of Goldwater and his associated baggage.
Always recall, however, that much of the damage had already been done by Franklin 'I See No Lynching Bill' Roosevelt.
But beware a Zeno's Paradox: don't get caught up on percentages, and fail to look at absolute numbers of votes. (It's numbers, after all, that mean winning or losing.)
According to an analysis from the US Census (p5), there were 186.4m US citizens over 18 on Election Day 2000: of which 144.7m non-Hispanic white and 22.8m black.
There was little difference (p6) between the two races in either registration rate or voting rate : 89.5m NHWs, 12.9m blacks voted in the Presidential election.
According to this UPI analysis, Bush's share of the black vote (based on exit polling) was 9%. Or 1.2m votes.
Compared to Bush's 340,000 deficit in the popular vote in 2000 a significant figure. But compared to his share of the NHW vote ?
Arithmetic dictates that even a doubling of Bush's black vote yields him only (ballpark) around 2% of his NHW vote.
And how exactly is he to achieve this miracle? Only, one supposes, by making the most extravagant concessions (a reparations pork barrel, for instance. Or a full-blooded affirmative action bill.) Only, that is, by alienating substantial sections of the (NHW) vote that is (again, ballpark) 50 times larger than his black vote.
Can you say leverage? The slightest percentage falloff in Bush's white vote cancels the most Pollyanna-ish forecast of increases (in numbers of votes) in his black vote.
The suggestion is that the Republican edge right now is a dying breed of white Protestant, heirs of the Scots-Irish Southerners of yore; and that they need some new shtick to catch the up-and-coming Hispanic demo, in particular. But, surely that has to be done by persuading a large section of Hispanics (a far from homogeneous group, of course) that their interests closely resemble the white, middle-class, non-ethnically based interests which are the core constituency of the GOP.
And contrast the Republican approach to the grievance politics offered by the Dems to their black constituency: living in the past, the mirror image of poor old Trent Lott's pathetic nostalgia for the Old South, combined with a sort of Tammany ethnic politics that, for other groups, is surely dying or dead. There is simply no mileage in the GOP trying to pretend it cares about grievance politics: it comes across as phoney every time. Rimming Sharpton no doubt causes mirth amongst more black voters that would ever vote for the man; but the benefit is surely outweighed by the loss of morale in the GOP's core constituency.
When it comes to AA, a two-faced strategy is apparent from the (minimalist) Government briefs [scroll down], and the (broader) Bush statement on the UMich case. Grievance politics is in the Dems' wheelhouse, and they won't be stinting in attacking Bush on race any way they can manage. No doubt, the White House analysts have run the numbers on the effect of Bush taking a principled stand against diversity as a goal in AA, and found the fudge to be safer.
Pity. Absent Grutter, silence would have been the best policy, as previously discussed. But since Bush was clearly obliged to say something once the Supremes had granted certiorari, I don't immediately see why something approaching the truth would necessarily have hurt him more than the fudge will.
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