The Real Story About Black Conservatives

I hope everyone has read the latest Ta-Nehisi Coates NYT item, this one about Benjamin Carson and other Obama-era black conservatives. It’s as good as you would expect it to be.

It sparked a series of tweets from Jamelle Bouie about a distinction between the people Coates is talking about, “black conservatives,” and what Jamelle calls “conservative blacks.”

Conservative blacks are simply black people with conservative views. They’re folks like my parents: Church-going military veterans.

They care deeply about black people, and hold views that are recognizably conservative. In a less racist world, they’d be Republicans.

I disagree with this.

Basically, I think we should fight the assumption that there’s something more real or proper politically about ideology than about other forms of primary political identity, and that the correct way for people to sort themselves into parties is by ideology.

Oh, it happens, and can happen. But I don’t believe that it has to, and I definitely don’t see why it should.

There’s simply no reason that all people who have “recognizably conservative” views should sort to one party, with all the liberals going to the other one.

Nor is there any reason for us to believe that one’s primary political identity should be ideology. There’s nothing at all wrong with primary (and secondary, and etc.) political identity being oriented to ethnic group, profession/occupation, class, or anything else. My general feeling is that there’s no “should” here, and that there is reason to believe that a party system that delegitimizes political identity other than ideology is going to  work poorly and produce less democracy, for a variety of reasons.

That’s also going to be a large part, I think, of my reaction to Rick Hasen’s new and interesting paper on political dysfunction. But I’m still putting that together, so I won’t go into it now other than to tell you to read the paper).

At any rate…so I guess I’m saying in the first instance that there’s no reason to think that it’s more natural or proper for Jamelle’s parents to be Republicans because of ideology than it is to think that they “should” be Democrats because (most) African Americans (and presumably virtually all black people whose primary political identity is based on ethnicity) are Democrats.

Basically, I think that pushing people to be ideological and pushing the idea that politics should primarily be about ideology gets it completely and totally wrong. And I think that unfortunately the ideology people have won, and that’s one of the Big Things Wrong with US politics right now. Not the biggest thing (that’s the broken GOP, which is related but not really the same thing). But one of the big things.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.