Late last month, ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith made come controversial comments at Vanderbilt University’s Impact Symposium about black voters. “What I dream is that for one election, just one, every black person in America vote Republican,” he said, in a comment about politics that has since been dissected by a plethora of journalists and social commentators across the Internet.
In his talk at Vanderbilt, Smith explained,
Black folks in American are telling one party, ‘We don’t give a damn about you.’ They’re telling the other party, ‘You’ve got our vote.’ Therefore, you have labeled yourself ‘disenfranchised’ because one party knows they’ve got you under their thumb. The other party knows they’ll never get you and nobody comes to address your interest.
Smith is essentially saying that historically, the majority of African American voters have supported Democratic presidential candidates, and that because of this, they have backed themselves into a corner where no politicians, regardless of their party, have their best interests in mind. He claims that Democrats seemingly take the black vote for granted, while Republicans don’t even try to earn it.
Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza has since criticized the part of Smith’s argument that claims Republicans have never tried to address the voting interests of African Americans. Republican political strategist Ken Mehlman, who recently spearheaded an amicus brief that 300 Republicans signed as a way to show their support for marriage equality, has made comments about African American Republican voters in the past, Cillizza points out.
In 2005, Mehlman gave a speech in front of the NAACP in which he decried GOP political strategies that alienated black voters. He explained,
By the ‘70s and into the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Democratic Party solidified its gains in the African American community, and we Republicans did not effectively reach out. Some Republicans gave up on winning the African American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.
Although Mehlman’s attempts to eliminate the political polarization that Smith mentioned in his talk at Vanderbilt were mostly ineffectual, it is worth noting that this subject has been addressed by prominent members of the GOP. And even Cillizza, who largely criticized Smith’s comments, can acknowledge that the ESPN commentator is on to something when he expresses the overwhelming number of African Americans who vote Democrat. “It is true that African Americans have been the most reliably Democratic voting bloc going back at least three decades,” he wrote in a recent Washington Post blog.
For reporter Nia-Malika Henderson, a “radically new approach” is necessary for Republicans to appeal to African American voters. She writes, “The depths that Republican candidates have sunk to in terms of black support suggests that a radically new approach is needed. [Rand] Paul gets points for refusing to give up on any segment of the electorate. But, saying he will compete for the black vote is one thing. Actually doing it is another,” of the unlikelihood of a Republican presidential candidate earning the black vote, unless they make an incredibly strong case.
It seems that the majority of criticism aimed at Smith after his comments at Vanderbilt is because he puts the onus on black voters instead of the Republican candidates that should be working hard to appeal to them. Writes author and political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson, “Smith, and 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,” of the fact that not only is the Democratic party a “pragmatic” choice for black voters, but the Republican party continues to prove itself to be a problematic political force.
What do you think about Smith’s recent comments about black voters? Have you been following the criticism he’s received?