By Roland S. Martin
You would think that a black man born and raised in Georgia, who was a teenager during the civil rights movement, would understand the transition of African-Americans from voting overwhelmingly Republican to the Democratic Party.
But GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain clearly didn’t have the common sense that he often speaks of having when he went on CNN’s “The Situation Room” and accused most African-Americans of being brainwashed to vote Democratic.
“Many African-Americans have been brainwashed into not being open-minded, not even considering a conservative point of view,” Cain said. “I have received some of that same vitriol simply because I am running for the Republican nomination as a conservative.
“So it’s just brainwashing and people not being open-minded, pure and simple.”
Cain’s off-base and historically ignorant comments have received widespread coverage. In some quarters, they have been criticized, while MSNBC’s Pat Buchanan, who has a long history of racially offensive comments, didn’t surprise many by coming to Cain’s defense.
It’s not the first time I’ve heard someone question blacks’ allegiance to the Democratic Party — but history has to be taken into account.
According to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank focused on African-American issues, in the aftermath of the Emancipation Proclamation, black folks who could vote in the United States quickly joined the Republican Party out of affection for President Abraham Lincoln. Check the political party affiliation of blacks elected during the period of Reconstruction, and you will see a lot of R’s after their name.
This overwhelmingly support for Republicans continued until the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and continued with the election of President Harry Truman. Yet when President Dwight Eisenhower was elected in 1956, he picked up 39 percent of the black vote; and Vice President Richard Nixon grabbed 31 percent against the eventual winner, Sen. John F. Kennedy.
Yet the shift became even more noticeable in 1964, when the Republican Party nominated Sen. Barry Goldwater as its presidential nominee. It was Goldwater’s ardent stance against the Civil Rights Act that led President Lyndon Johnson to garner 94 percent of the black vote.
What’s interesting to note is that Johnson’s greatest threat to the passage came from white Southern Democrats, known as Dixiecrats. Moderate Republicans played a crucial role in getting the Civil Rights Act passed, yet as the GOP began to go against civil rights, the national Democratic Party saw a chance to solidify the black vote.
Then, in 1968, Nixon returned to the national stage with his Southern strategy — a detailed plan of racial politics that ignored, denigrated and dismissed black voters while playing up racial advancement as a way to incite white voters.
All of this was an outgrowth of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which led President Johnson to say his signing of the law would deliver the South to the GOP for the next generation.
The Southern strategy became the go-to play for Republicans over the next 40 years, as they virtually ignored the interests of black voters and catered to a largely white party.
So on one hand you have a party that totally ignores black voters — the GOP — and then you have Democrats who see a chance to capture those same voters.
If Republicans today are angry about a high-level of animosity coming from black voters, they need to blame their white forefathers who wanted to see the racial divide continue over their refusal to allow African-Americans to be full citizens of the United States.
The problem is that the GOP has done little to change the game since then, virtually ignoring African-Americans and advocating policies that blacks believe go against their interests.
What is so shameful and asinine about Cain’s brainwashing comment is that he assumes that African-Americans aren’t smart and sophisticated to make their own choices. Just like whites, Asians, Hispanics, women, Catholics, Jews, Baptists, Wall Street or any other voting group, they look at the candidates, determine how they line up with their views and make a selection.
So when someone says that blacks don’t vote with their brains, that’s utterly false.
Now, for all of the trolls who usually populate websites comment sections saying I’m playing the race card, answer this: If I said that Southern whites were a bunch of brainwashed, dead-heads who give the GOP their vote, how would you respond?
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that of the 10 poorest states in America, nine of them are mostly red states. The lowest when it comes to education? Mostly red states. The most obese? Nine out of 10 are red states. Worst health care? Mostly red states.
So if the talking points suggest the Democrats advance poverty programs more than the GOP; push for more funding for education; and want a strong health care program, then why are these white voters in these mostly red states voting for the GOP? Have they been brainwashed by virtue of the Southern strategy to keep voting straight ticket?
The GOP has no real plan to even talk to black voters. They are afraid of them. Yes, afraid. If you want to put a Republican in the most uncomfortable position, then see them try to give a speech in front of a room of black folks. There is mistrust on both sides rather than straight talk on the issues.
For years, I have lamented the GOP’s refusal to engage African Americans. We care about housing, economic development, education, any host of issues. But in the minds of a lot of Republicans, it’s all about welfare or affirmative action.
African-Americans are largely social conservatives, but the GOP can’t figure out how to reach us even with God!
I’m the host of “Washington Watch,” a weekly Sunday morning news show on TV One Cable Network, a lifestyles and entertainment network targeting African-Americans, and the GOP flat-out refuses to accept our invitations.
For two years, we’ve had an open invite for any House or Senate Republican to come on our show, no matter the week. Out of 80-plus shows, Rep. Tom Price of Georgia (twice) and Rep. Allen West of Florida (once) have accepted our invitations.
West sat in my studio and told his press secretary to send an email to every GOP press secretary in the House to tell them that my show was a great forum for them to talk to black America. None followed his admonition.
When Michael Steele was chairman of the Republican National Committee, he did my show several times. Steele told me he went to the GOP House and Senate leadership to tell them they should accept my invites, but none did.
Now if the GOP is scared to even come on a TV show that targets blacks, do you actually think they’ll show up in a black community?
If the GOP wants black folks to consider voting for them, their candidates will have to make an effort to reach out. The distrust is wide and great, but it can be overcome. But doing nothing will get you nowhere, and guarantee a strong voting bloc will do all it can to make sure you are defeated at the polls.
Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN analyst and author of the book “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as Originally Reported by Roland S. Martin.” Please visit his website at RolandSMartin.com. To find out more about Roland S. Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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