Sunday, February 19, 2006

George Will's fantasies about Ken Blackwell

George Will writes that Ken Blackwell will win the Republican primary for Ohio governor in May. According to Will, this politician's primary asset in the race is that he's black:
He appeals to blacks by being black and because many blacks are cultural conservatives: George W. Bush won 16 percent of Ohio's black vote in 2004. In Blackwell's three statewide races, he has received between 30 and 40 percent of the black vote. If in November he duplicates that, he will win, and Democrats in many blue states will blanch because if their share of the black vote falls to 75 percent, their states could turn red.
Well, Ken Blackwell is indeed black, but after that, the paragraph skids off into the thin ice of wishful thinking and naïveté about race. Steve Gilliard, in particular, strongly believes that this line of argument is ridiculous because conservative whites will not vote for a black man. That's completely plausible to me, but I cannot say more without research. Steve also makes the excellent point that Blackwell has done well only in low-profile races, where his race may indeed have helped him. In a maximum profile race for governor, his intensely conservative beliefs will be widely covered, and will repel more voters of all races, more than they will attract. As several people have noted, he is more conservative than most Republicans.

When I look at the polling data for Ohio, I see primarily fulminating hatred for Bush from the black population, with an approval rating that ping-pongs between 10 and 15% among blacks. Bush has no coattails for Blackwell to hang on to. Further, as Will points out, the existing Republican machine in Ohio has completely screwed things up:

In 1998 party elders pressured Blackwell into stepping aside to clear the path to the governorship for Bob Taft ... . Today, Taft's job approval rating has plunged to 18 percent among Republican voters. The rest of the electorate is more hostile. Republicans hold 12 of 18 U.S. House seats and both Senate seats. Unfortunately for Ohio Republicans, they also control both elected branches of the state government, and their record of scandals and un-Republican governance — substantial tax and spending increases — have Blackwell ... running against his party's record.

So Blackwell has several big strikes against him.
  • Black candidate who requires conservative whites to vote for him.
  • GOP candidate in a state with a mind-boggling history of scandals and corruption.
  • GOP candidate in a country where the Republican president is universally unpopular, and frequently mentioned as a likely candidate for impeachment.
In other words, one way of looking at Blackwell is that he is the sacrificial lamb, much like those poor deluded 20-year-old conservatives that the Republican party would occasionally run against super-liberal congressmen like Ted Weiss or Jerrold Nadler on Manhattan's notoriously liberal West Side. I never knew if those kids were trying to pad their resume for law school, but they didn't have a snowball's chance in hell.

However, that is not what is going on here. The GOP is following a branding stategy with this flurry of black Republican candidates. Ken Blackwell, Michael Steele, and Lynn Swann are all being encouraged to run for office not to win, but instead, to shift people's thinking about the Republican party: "We're not racist! See, we have several black candidates." One reason why car manufacturers run so many advertisements is to comfort people who have already purchased their cars, not just to get new customers. Running black candidates is a way of changing the branding of the Republican party, which has become associated with virulently anti-Black attitudes. If the re-branding does not work, no loss: the Republicans weren't going to win those races anyway. If it does work, it will let people everywhere feel more comfortable about their votes going to people who were obviously indifferent to the death of thousands in New Orleans or Darfur. After all, even racists don't like to think of themselves as racist.

Update: Carpetbagger reports on Blackwell's new alliance with anti-Catholic, anti-Muslim lunatic Jerome Corsi. It's interesting that a few conservative folks commenting on this page believe that it's inconceivable that conservatives are racist. Please understand that if you think black voters will vote for Blackwell because he is black, you're making a claim for racial allegiance. It's the hope that every white voter will ignore Blackwell's race while no black voter does. That's just implausible, not even taking into account the vicious race-baiting that the GOP has done in Ohio and elsewhere.

(Flying pigs picture from


Anonymous wrd said...

Everyone should know by now that George Will is best seen (ok, maybe not) and not heard (or read), unless the topic is baseball. And remember the stolen Jimmy Carter debate book. Will's sleaze-factor is a bit on the high-side, too.

Wednesday, 22 February, 2006  

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