ESPN host Stephen A. Smith has gotten quite a reputation for being a controversial tell-it-like-he-sees-it guy. That’s fine in sports punditry. He’s an ex-jock, and in that world pretty much any inanity will fly.
But when Smith pursed his lips and ventured outside sportsdom to quip that blacks should vote Republican at least one election go round he proved once again that sports and entertainment personalities that venture opinions about politics more often than not embarrass themselves.
If we want to be more charitable, the best that can be said is that Smith is just the latest in a long line to peddle the delusion that the Republican Party can change its ways and become an open arms party for blacks.
Those who routinely peddle that are usually a handful of GOP would-be presidential contenders such as Rand Paul, an infinitesimal and politically inconsequential handful of GOP elected officials, and an always dependable core of conservative media and think tank contracted black conservatives.
Before, during and after every national election, they kick into high gear and contend that getting more blacks to jump political ship will be a major seismic jolt to the Democrats and be a start toward breaking the lock that the Democrats have on the black vote. Smith, as with the rest that spout this fantasy, grab a headline or two, and get plenty of airtime on conservative talk radio and TV.
Now that Smith has gotten that headline, it’s worth a moment to take a look at what gives his utterance some surface plausibility. The standard mantra is, as Smith said, that the Democrats shamelessly take the black vote for granted, election after election and that blacks get nothing in return for their supposed slavish loyalty to the Democrats.
The black GOP cheerleaders trot out endless studies and reports that purport to show that black poverty, education and health care disparities, prison incarceration rates, homelessness and joblessness have soared during Obama’s tenure in the White House and in the major cities run by Democrats. Smith added a new wrinkle to this.
He claimed that blacks need look no further than the immigration issue to see how both parties furiously court the burgeoning Hispanic vote and this ensures that their interests, most importantly immigration, will be a focal point of both parties concern.
Smith, and the other black GOP proponents, omit one, actually two small facts. The Democrats did not wreak the social and economic damage, race baiting and neglect that characterized three decades of Republican rule in the White House and the sledgehammer attacks on or malign neglect of civil rights leaders and concerns when Republicans were out of the White House.
There has not been one waking moment during Obama’s six years in the White House that they have not turned vilification, obstructionism, hectoring, badgering and barely disguised race baiting of him into a fine art. The party that Smith and others think blacks could have a temporary home in topped this with the invite of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress.
He then promptly turned around and nakedly race baited to win re-election in the recent Israeli elections. The GOP then showed a near treasonous disregard of Obama by attempting to make its own foreign policy with Iran.
There’s the endless foot in the mouth, racially insulting gaffes, racially loaded campaign ads by Republican officials and politicians and the refusal by mainstream GOP leaders to loudly condemn them and even defend some of them. This has continually ignited black fury the last three decades.
The fight of House Republicans against the Affordable Care Act, affirmative action, the slash and burn of job and education programs, and the inflammatory attacks on Obama, time and again reaffirmed that the GOP is chock full of bigots.
The flip side of this is that blacks vote Democratic not solely because of GOP reaction and bigotry but simple pragmatism. Most blacks still look to them to fight the tough battles for health care, greater funding for education and job programs, voting rights protections, affirmative action, and against Reagan, Bush Sr., and George W. Bush’s draconian cuts in job, education, social service, funding and programs, and their retrograde nominees to the Supreme Court who have done everything possible to roll back the civil rights clock, and peck away at affirmative action, civil rights and civil liberties protections.
The Democratic Party often has been roundly criticized and deserves that criticism for not fully mobilizing and engaging African-American voters in state and local elections and for downplaying their interests at times. But even at its worst, the Democratic Party is light years ahead of the GOP in what it has done or will do for black voters.
Smith claims that blacks are props for the Democratic Party. And that it’s time to change that. It will take more than a sports jock’s laughable shock peddling of the GOP to do that.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is “From King to Obama: Witness to a Turbulent History” (Middle Passage Press) http://www.amazon.com/dp/0692370714