Losing two presidential elections in a row has put leaders of the mainstream Republican Party in panic mode. As a result, they are rushing ahead in an attempt to re-define themselves. The strategy being debated among party professionals for 2016 involves becoming a kinder, gentler party that adopts Democrat principles in an attempt to win back the White House. Republican Party professionals remind me of a tennis player who focuses on the scoreboard instead of the ball, a strategy for certain failure. Before diluting their conservative principles and changing the party’s name to Dempublicans, leaders of the Republican Party should investigate the causes of their losses to Barack Obama a little closer.
A careful examination of the presidential campaigns of 2007 and 2011 will reveal that Barack Obama is an aberration. He is not the new face of American politics the mainstream media portrays him to be. In 2007 Barack Obama had history and racial atonement on his side. Many white Americans were so determined to hammer one last nail in Jim Crow’s coffin that they were willing to vote for Barack Obama regardless of the considerations that usually guide voting behavior. Further, many black Americans approached the election of 2007 harboring pent-up resentment that could be traced all the way back to bad old days of slavery, and understandably so. For those people—black and white—who felt the scars of slavery and Jim Crow would never heal until a black man was elected President of the United States, voting for Barack Obama was about something bigger than his policies and promises. This is why conservative blacks who disagreed with everything Barack Obama stood for would look you in the eye and say, “Of course I am going to vote for him.” In other words, Barack Obama was probably going to win the election regardless of who the Republicans ran against him. The historical and cultural significance of his candidacy coupled with the fact that John McCain has the public appeal of day-old oatmeal practically ensured an election failure for Republicans in 2007.
Barack Obama’s first election victory was the result of appealing promises of hope and change, the historical significance of his candidacy, and his charismatic personality, coupled with John McCain’s ineptitude and lack of public appeal. But his re-election victory was an aberration. In essence, Barack Obama won re-election—in spite of his dismal record–because of the historical significance of being America’s first black president; that and the ineptitude and lack of public appeal of Mitt Romney.
Republicans are well advised to avoid making any major policy shifts on the basis of Barack Obama’s re-election. The truth is his candidacy for America’s highest office had socio-cultural and historical ramifications that transcended politics. Barack Obama might have won his first election in 2007 even without the help of historical significance, but with his record of failure, Obama would have lost his re-election bid. Barack Obama was re-elected for two reasons. The first was that black Americans voted for him—even if they disagreed with his policies, which many did—because Obama represented their long-awaited and historical arrival in America. In a sense, all of the civil right victories of the past 60 years were just the build up to this ultimate symbol of full participation in American society. In the final analysis, Barack Obama’s record of failed policies did not matter because for black Americans his presence in the White House transcended all other considerations. The second reason represented something even more important to black Americans: true equality. It is one thing to claim, at least theoretically, that any American can grow up to become president. It is quite another to believe this maxim when no black person has ever held the office.
To many black Americans—liberal and conservative—Barack Obama’s arrival in the White House signaled their long-awaited arrival as full-fledged Americans. Consequently, voting behavior in 2007 and 2011 were an aberration, not a trend. Barack Obama is the first black American to become president. There will be others, but there will never be another first. This is why Republicans should be cautious of diluting their conservative principles and watering down their beliefs on the basis of two losses to Barack Obama. In fact, because of Obama’s failed record as president, the next black American to be elected to our nation’s highest office will probably be a conservative. He might even be a Republican, provided that Republicans don’t go wobbly on conservative principles.