And in response to being portrayed, as they see it, as “Uncle Toms” or “sellouts,” some black conservatives are rallying around the narrative that they, in fact, are present-day Harriet Tubmans helping other African Americans escape from the “plantation” of the Democratic Party, with CPAC 2012 featuring a new film by C.L. Bryant called Runaway Slave that’s part documentary, part Tea Party infomercial, and even has the tagline “Run from tyranny to liberty.”
It’s an extension of the charge made by Cain during his mercurial presidential campaign that the nine out of 10 African Americans who vote for Democrats are “brainwashed.” And when asked if the plantation analogy hurts conservative prospects for getting black support, Bryant offered that “the reason it repels them is that it’s a stinging truth” — highlighting his view that “government dependency is the plantation that Democrats support.”
That perception was shared by several others at CPAC, including Florida Rep. Allen West — the only Republican in the Congressional Black Caucus — who told the CPAC crowd Friday that conservatives have compassion, but “we just don’t think the safety net should be used as a hammock.” It’s a perspective that resonates — and rankles — after Gingrich’s frequent references to Barack Obama as the “food stamp president.”
Outside of health care reform, no one expressed what they saw as Obama’s failures, and none outlined a program that they’d offer as an alternative to Obama’s policies. Smith didn’t disagree with the notion that GOP front-runner Mitt Romney has held the same positions as Obama on all of the major issues, but about Romney he said, “I don’t think he’s a socialist, though,” adding, “I’d vote for him over Obama.”
Black conservatives clearly have a message: anti-government, anti-abortion and pro-school choice. It’s just not clear if they think that slave imagery or calling other African Americans brainwashed is a winning strategy for getting the black electorate to consider the alternatives.
In the end, Johnson, who’s in the Sarah Palin biopic The Undefeated and possesses her own Palin-esque star potential, returned to the most compelling case for African Americans to join the conservative cause: not the slave narrative, or abortion, but her belief — expressed passionately — that “you don’t have to convince black people of capitalism” because it’s already there in black culture. She also took time to admonish conservatives that “the way that you’re phrasing things” makes a difference in how the message is received.
She and Daniels conceded that no matter what’s said now, the overwhelming majority of black voters will stick with Democrats in 2012. But Daniels was confident about conservatives making future inroads in the black community.
“We’re not in this just for the 2012 election cycle,” he said. “We’re in this for the long term, and over time, yes, it will happen.”
David Swerdlick is a contributing editor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.