Jim Brown Says Slavery Wasn’t So Bad. And That’s Bad News for the GOP

Republicans won’t win with a diverse electorate as long as candidates like Brown say things like, “Slave owners took pretty good care of their slaves.”

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Jim Brown

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It’s been well-documented that the GOP is in the middle of an aggressive rebranding campaign intended to woo African-American voters, and in the midst of this, yet another Republican congressional candidate has provoked cries of racial insensitivity.

In a post on his Facebook page that was—in theory, anyway—about federal spending, Jim Brown, who’s running in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, compared modern-day “entitlements” to slavery. But even more disturbing, perhaps, he denied that slavery was, first and foremost, a brutally violent institution:

Back in the day of slavery, slaves were kept in slavery by denying them education and opportunity while providing them with their basic needs .. Not by beating them and starving them. (Although there were isolated cases if course) Basically slave owners took pretty good care of their slaves and livestock and this kept business rolling along.

This flies in the face, of course, of all credible historical accounts, including the recent Academy Award-winning film 12 Years a Slave. Brown’s comments, therefore, not only make him sound woefully ill-informed but—more troubling for Republicans—also make him and his party sound extreme, rendering him a potentially toxic candidate in a winnable district.

The seat that he’s seeking is currently held by Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick. But she barely won re-election in 2012, which makes her a prime, and realistic, Republican target for 2014—but only if the party offers a viable candidate with less-odious views.

In an era in which mixed-race families are the fastest-growing demographic in the nation, 2012 black-voter turnout surpassed that of other demographic groups, Latinos are the fastest-growing demographic of voters in the country and a film about slavery wins best picture—in part because of its unflinching depiction of the institution’s brutality—Brown’s revisionist notions won’t be considered mainstream enough to win elections.

The real question, for Republicans, continues to be this: Can a party that attracts candidates who continually make racially inflammatory remarks ever hope to attract black and brown voters?

In a word? No.

And it’s hard to see how the GOP can recast itself as being racially evolved when the Jim Browns of the world claim the party as their own.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the news that Brown is no longer running in Arizona's 1st Congressional District; he's now running in the 2nd District. On March 13, Brown removed his original Facebook post. An image of that post can be viewed below.

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Read Jim Brown's apology here.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

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