By Ruben Navarrette
African-American Republicans catch a lot of flak, but they can also be an illuminating force in the American political system.
The reaction they often generate shows that liberals aren’t as progressive as they pretend to be. The left will not hesitate to come after anyone who threatens to weaken its hold on black voters.
The same is true with Hispanics, where most of the activists on the left are Democrats first and Hispanics second. They tend to put their party before their community, often with disastrous results.
In the African-American community, black Republicans are regarded with suspicion. The few African-Americans who aren’t Democrats are considered unrepresentative and out of step.
In this year’s presidential election, President Obama got 93 percent of the African-American vote. It’s tempting to treat the 6 percent of black voters who supported Romney as an anomaly.
As evidence, consider the nasty treatment that Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., is receiving after South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley announced recently that she would name him to replace retiring Sen. Jim DeMint, who is leaving to run the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
The appointment is a big deal. Scott will become the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction and, at present, the only African-American in the Senate from either party.
Not bad for someone raised in poverty by a single mother. This is an American success story. It’s what progress looks like.
So are those on the left celebrating? Of course not. If Scott were a Democrat, they would be raising champagne glasses. The activists would label his arrival in the Senate a historic event, and the media would run stories about how African-Americans in the South are gaining political prominence.
But since Scott is a Republican, the left sees nothing positive in this appointment. In fact, Scott becomes a target — just like Hispanic Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and GOP Sen.-elect Ted Cruz of Texas. The goal will be to discredit Scott as an intellectual lightweight, a religious zealot, a right-wing extremist or all of the above.
The offensive — and that is the right word for it — has already started. In a snarky op-ed in The New York Times, Adolph L. Reed Jr., a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, dismissed Scott as a “token” put up by the Republican Party to camouflage its hostility to African-Americans and other minorities.
“I suspect that appointments like Mr. Scott’s are directed less at blacks — whom they know they aren’t going to win in any significant numbers — than at whites who are inclined to vote Republican but don’t want to have to think of themselves, or be thought of by others, as racist,” Reed wrote.
“Just as white Southern Democrats once used cynical manipulations — poll taxes, grandfather clauses, literacy tests — to get around the 15th Amendment, so modern-day Republicans have deployed blacks to undermine black interests.”
Really? Isn’t it clear to just about everyone by now that what undermines “black interests” — in the realm of politics — is the fact that African-Americans are taken for granted by Democrats and written off by Republicans? It’s undeniable that Obama inspires pride within that community. But even he has come under fire from some on the left, who are upset over his lack of attention to issues such as urban violence, neglected neighborhoods, and an unemployment rate among African-American youth that hovers around 30 percent.
Besides, the GOP has broken its share of racial barriers. The only two African-Americans to serve as secretary of state — Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice — were nominated by a Republican, George W. Bush. Why didn’t Democratic presidents break that barrier when they had the chance?
That raises a broader question. Why haven’t Democrats done more in recent years to improve the condition of African-Americans and other minorities?
It’s not enough to attack black Republicans as inauthentic or inadequate. Democrats have to show that they still merit the backing of some of their most loyal constituencies. If they can’t do that, then they no longer deserve the support.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2012, The Washington Post Writers Group