If you want to see one of the best examples of arguments that repel black voters, here you go. We’re talking about the commonly-used “Democrats supported slavery and Jim Crow” trope that many on the right use to persuade black Americans to rethink their support of the Democratic Party. If you have been a conservative for any length of time, you probably can’t even count the number of times you have seen it in op-eds, on social media, and your favorite right-leaning news channel.
Indeed, the notion that the evils of slavery and Jim Crow would fail to turn black Americans away from the left might seem counterintuitive at first. After all, these are some of the worst atrocities committed in the United States. But when you look closer, it becomes clear why conservatives might want to develop better arguments if they wish to see the long-awaited black exodus from the Democratic Party.
Slavery Argument has Fatal Flaws
Author Jerome Hudson wrote a piece for Breitbart News titled: “The Party of Slavery Is Now the Party of Reparations for Slavery.” He makes the usual points about the Democratic Party’s brutal history of racial oppression. He discusses the accomplishments made by black Americans after the end of slavery despite still being subjected to cruelty:
“These achievements occurred despite the Democratic Party’s political terrorism after Reconstruction, when wanton lynchings, rape, and arson of black people and their property persisted. This long campaign of racial savagery by Democrats and the Ku Klux Klan before and during the Civil Rights Movement cast a long shadow over African Americans in this country.”
This is typically how the argument goes. The Democratic Party supported and fought for slavery. After the Civil War, they supported Jim Crow laws and opposed Civil Rights legislation. For this reason, blacks in 2019 are supposed to abandon the party.
So what’s the problem? Everything Hudson wrote in this passage is absolutely correct, and the Democrats’ troubling history appears to be the type of low-hanging fruit that might entice a black voter to reconsider their allegiance to the party, right? But the truth is that the slavery/Jim Crow approach is an ineffectual argument with little to no chance of changing the mind of the average black person.
Why Doesn’t it Work?
There are multiple reasons why using this bit of history fails to move the needle. For starters, every single Democrat that supported slavery is long dead. No Democratic politicians alive today are promoting Jim Crow laws, nor are they opposing Civil Rights legislation.
Everyone – including black Americans – knows that political parties change over time. They understand that it doesn’t make sense to leave a party for something it did 150 years ago. It would be like claiming today’s GOP does not want blacks in the party because of the Lily White movement, which began systematically removing blacks from leadership and deliberately pushing black voters away in the 1890s.
Another reason the argument falls flat is that black Americans are no longer enslaved and are no longer living under Jim Crow. They might believe that the legacy of slavery has had an adverse impact on the black community, but it is clear that those days are not coming back. This is one of the reasons the “Democratic Plantation” metaphor is also impotent against the left.
Finally, black Americans recognize that the parties have changed. No, they did not switch places as the left is fond of claiming. But they are different. The Democrats are now that party that is willing to show up and talk to blacks in person while the Republican Party largely stays out of their cities. Yes, the Democrats have lied to black residents of inner cities, making promises and failing to deliver. But while the left’s policies have devastated black cities, their politicians have provided some positives, albeit not many.
On the other hand, the GOP has strayed from its roots as the Party of Lincoln and no longer engages with black Americans in person. In many inner cities, residents will tell you that they have not seen Republicans campaigning seriously in their neighborhoods. Constantly pointing out the Democrats’ history with slavery, Jim Crow, and the Ku Klux Klan doesn’t mean much when the party one represents does not engage with black Americans as they do with white Americans. In the end, blacks support the “devil they know” rather than the party that stays away.
A Fresh New Approach
By now, you might be wondering how the right should approach blacks if they are not going to point out the history of the Democratic Party. Well, it’s not as hard as one might think. Polls show that the top issues for black Americans are the economy, jobs, healthcare, and education. In each of these categories, the left has been an abject failure for the black community. A better strategy would be to focus on what the Democrats are doing now, not what long-dead slavery advocates did 150 years ago.
But it is not enough to merely point out how the Democrats have failed; Republicans need a clear, cohesive message that black Americans can get behind. They must show how conservative policies are superior to progressives’. Most importantly, they must take this message directly to the people. Success requires a face-to-face approach.
The overall Republican strategy to earn black votes has been largely unsuccessful for decades. We all know the definition of insanity, don’t we? Now is the time to develop new strategies and better arguments. If the GOP wishes to remain relevant in the future, it will need to widen its reach and attract more voters – and it can’t afford to continue relying on methods that have been found wanting.