That no trace of Sipuel’s struggle marred Watts’s stay at OU was, inarguably, a sign of progress. But to Watts’s uncle Wade, it is also a sign of a problem. The 77-year-old had helped fight the battle for Sipuel and then went on to head the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for 16 years. To him, the ease with which J.C. Watts has made his way in the world also made it easy to turn his back on the party that helped smooth his passage. “If we hadn’t gotten [Sipuel] in,” Wade Watts says angrily, “he never would have had a chance to show how good he was at football…. He couldn’t have stuck his head in the door.” The elder Watts, a lifelong Democrat, is winding down his days as a pastor at Jerusalem Baptist Church in McAlester; the younger Watts, the freshman congressman from Oklahoma’s Fourth District, is currently the most prominent elected black Republican m the country. His uncle says he is proud of J.C, but disappointed that he has lent his name, his vote, and his face to a party and philosophy that contravenes the interests of “poor people, working people, common people.” The younger Watts argues that the fact that he could choose to be a Republican is a step forward, that for too long blacks have felt bound by history to a Democratic Party that hasn’t rewarded their loyalty or earned their support. Somewhere in between lies an answer to the question of how much success the Republicans will have – and how much they deserve – in their quest for the black vote.

Jack Kemp once called African Americans that stray, lonely, lost lamb who has been left out of our coalition.” His selection as Republican nominee for vice president signaled that the party was serious about bringing the lamb back to the fold; the “party of Lincoln” convention in San Diego confirmed it. Network cameras obligingly zeroed in on black faces in the crowd. Colin Powell gave a prime time speech. Elizabeth Dole stopped to embrace a black Capitol Hill guard as she emoted her way around the convention floor. Kay Cole James, a black Virginia delegate, was given the very visible task of tallying up the votes for Bob Dole. And there was Watts, whose simple, stirring speech won raves. “Character is doing what’s right when no one’s looking,” he lectured the nation’s children, and then defended the GOP as the party of true compassion: “We don’t define compassion by how many people are on welfare, or AFDC, or living in public housing” – but how few. Marrying the athletic charisma of Jack Kemp and the eloquence of a Baptist minister (which he is), the burly Watts was a potent messenger.

The wooing continued after the convention. Bob Dole, who had spurned the NAACP as a group he couldn’t “relate to,” made a conciliatory appearance before the National Association of Black Journalists to announce that he would solicit African American votes. He also offered a mea culpa: Since the time of Frederick Douglass’s Republicanism, Dole said, Republicans were sometimes on the sidelines of struggles when they should have been at the center.” And in early September, Jack Kemp went to Harlem.

The GOP faces a steep uphill battle. Only 8.7 percent of African Americans identify themselves as Republicans, as do fewer than 80 out of 8,800 elected black officials nationwide, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington, D.C. think tank that studies the black polity. Since the early 1960s, when the Democrats became the party of civil rights and the Republicans the party of “states’ rights,” blacks haven’t given a Republican presidential candidate more than 15 percent of their vote. The real split in the black community is between those who vote Democratic and those who don’t vote at all. That seems unlikely to change this year: Polls indicate Dole won’t get any more of the black vote than his recent pre-decessors have; tarred with the extremism of the Gingrich Congress, he may get even less.

Still, there is an opening. Growing numbers of African Americans identify themselves as independent, and some recent Republican gubernatorial candidates have managed to snag substantial numbers of black votes. Ohio Governor George Voinovich, for example, got 40 percent in his 1994 race. And the GOP has its eye on the long term as much as on November: To secure their majority, Republicans point out, they would need just 25 percent of the black vote in 23 states where black voters are concentrated.

Especially heartening to Republicans is what the Joint Center calls the “partisanship-ideology gap.” Polls show that even though they vote Democratic, approximately a third of African Americans identify themselves as conservative. Black voters have made their political home in a party with which they may have common cause on racial issues, but not necessarily common values. Thus, the new effort to ensure that Watts, only the second black Republican elected to Congress since Reconstruction, and the first from South of the Mason-Dixon line, is not an aberration, but a pioneer. “We are under performing among black voters,” says Haley Barbour, the Republican National Committee chairman. Its no accident that the barely seasoned Watts is a co-chair of Doles campaign.

There are all sorts of reasons for more than GOP partisans to hope Watts heralds a detente between Republicans and African Americans. The 1994 elections were painful evidence of the risk blacks take by consistently voting with one party: Redistricting brought more black Democrats than ever to Congress (indeed, no black Democrat incumbent lost). But since the elections also ushered in a lily-white GOP majority, black Democrats were effectively marginalized – their committee chairmanships stripped; their caucus defunded.

The Republicans, of course, have won the presidency for 20 of 28 years without the black vote, and thus have felt comfortable writing it off – turning a deaf ear to African American, concerns or capitalizing on white racial anxiety. If Republicans truly were to see blacks as a potential constituency, it would mean more sensitivity to black concerns. And a greater black voice in the party could give the GOP something of an internal conscience on race, a role Jack Kemp has tried to play with only limited success.

Breaking the Democratic monopoly on African American votes would diversify black leadership, too. Forged in the civil rights era, many black leaders never moved beyond treating their constituents as victims of their oppression. They needed to talk about personal responsibility – and potential – in addition to government solutions, particularly as a debilitating welfare culture took hold and the backlash against race-based policies and social spending grew. But that is a message Republicans have been more willing to deliver than Democrats.

So the possibilities from the racial Integration of the Republican Party and the political integration of the black community are vast. The question is whether the Republican Party means what it says about inclusion, and whether it has black leaders who can deliver on the promise of integration. Is J.C. Watts that leader? That all depends on whether he’s a general in Jack Kemp’s revolution – or a foot soldier in Newt Gingrich’s.

Four different people to whom I spoke about Watts brought up his visit to a faith-based drug rehabilitation program In San Antonio, where he knelt to pray with a recovering addict. It is, among conservatives who share a commitment to helping the down and out, the archetypal Watts Image. He didn’t come to Washington to be something,” says Robert Woodson, a prominent black conservative, close ally of Jack Kemp, and president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. “He already was something. He came here to do something.”

What Watts wanted to do was take up the Kemp mantle, to craft policies to revive imperiled urban areas. So upon arriving in Washington, he Immediately sought tutelage from Woodson about his favorite approaches for restoring low-income neighborhoods. Woodson took Watts on a tour of community-based programs across the country, including the one in San Antonio. Out of that came the American Community Renewal Act, a mammoth piece of legislation sponsored by Watts and Representative Jim Talent of Missouri. At its core are die enterprise zones long advocated by Kemp and Woodson, as well as other measures to strengthen civil society in low-income areas. Watts was adamant, Talent says, that if the Republicans were going to dismantle welfare, they had to put something constructive in its place. “He told the leadership that as we reform welfare, we need to get involved in increasing opportunity, and moral renewal and enterprise in the areas that have been welfare-dominated,” Talent recalls.

Watts has more than once shown a willingness to take on Issues that aren’t exactly Republican perennials. He signed onto a letter from TransAfrica protesting human rights violations in Nigeria. He helped generate bipartisan support for efforts to rebuild burned churches in the South. And, through his words alone, he has provided a surprisingly mediating influence on the affirmative action debate.

There may be no other issue that so divides Americans – not so much against each other as against themselves – as affirmative action. Many Americans ostensibly oppose quotas, preferences, or anything else predetermines who wins and who loses in a contest for a job, contract, or college admission. That’s why Republicans have made “reverse discrimination” a rallying cry. But American’s also recognize that the starting line still isn’t equal – that 20 years of affirmative action can’t make up for 200 years of oppression, that discrimination against blacks probably still holds as many people back as affirmative action pushes ahead.

J.C. Watts shares this ambivalence. He is opposed to affirmative action in principle,” he explains in an interview, his cowboy boots propped on his desk. “I don’t believe we should pick winners and losers based on skin color or gender.” And he says that treating people as victims is no substitute for individual sweat and responsibility: “The group cannot get educated for you, the group cannot make responsible choices for you, the group cannot be a self-starter for you: We can lock horns as a group to fight racism and discrimination, but success has to come from the individual “This, he says, is a message Democrats have too rarely delivered.

Yet he also is unwilling to concede that its a level playing field out there.” And he was uncomfortable with Republican attempts to politicize the debate. “I’d tell Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey, lets review the system, not turn it into a political football,” he told The Washingtonian. America, he says bluntly, is in denial about its race problem. “We need to have an open and honest debate on the race Issue,” he says, not inflammatory rhetoric.

Watts’s empathy for both sides of the debate translated into an attempt to tone down not just his party’s rhetoric, but ultimately its legislative agenda. In the summer of 1995, Bob Dole and Representative Charles Canady introduced the Equal Opportunity Act of 1995, which would have outlawed all preferences, set-asides, or quotas in federal employment, contracting, or “any other federally conducted program or activity” (except for historically black colleges, which black conservatives had insisted be protected). It would have stripped the government of affirmative action, but put nothing in its place – which is why Watts ultimately refused to support it.

This summer, Dole quietly let the Equal Opportunity Act drop, and Gingrich didn’t push it in the House. Certainly Doles electoral calculus prompted his decision: The GOP is frantically trying to moderate its image before the election. But having Watts – and Gary Franks, the only other black Republican in Congress – openly oppose using affirmative action’s repeal to score political points would have made the effort even more self-destructive.

Political expediency certainly inspired some of Watts’s opposition to Dole – Canady. Even for black conservatives, affirmative action is something of a third rail: Oppose it, and your credibility in the black community dies. But Watts’s willingness to express publicly his doubts about both affirmative action and the Republicans’ attack on it did show political courage. Rare is the politician who will take on both a sacred cow and his party, even as he admits that he doesn’t have the answers either.

So its surprising that his family and friends treat his, claim to have put the brakes on the Dole-Canady juggernaut with skepticism. “J.C. claims he’s the one who saved affirmative action,” says his uncle. J.C. did tell me that affirmative action was fixing to get slam-dunked and he went and talked to Gingrich to get him to back off,” Kevin Cox, a friend and black Democratic state legislator in Oklahoma, says. But then he adds, “But it was important for him to say that to me.” What is it in Watts past and record that generates such cynicism about whose best interest he has at heart?

“I never thought the fifth of six children born to Helen and Buddy Watts – in a poor black neighborhood, in the poor rural community of Eufaula, Oklahoma – would someday be called congressman,” Watts said in his convention speech.

The road that brought Watts to Congress began in Eufaula, a tiny town that even today boasts only some 3,000 people. Watts father never made it through the seventh grade, and worked to support six children as a policeman, Baptist pastor, cattle owner – he was “a hustler in the best sense of the world,” says one family friend. Watts claims his conservative values came from his parents, who raised him to believe in hard work and self-reliance: “My papa always said that the only helping hand you can rely on is at the end of your sleeve,” he says in one of the smooth southern adages that color his speech.

J.C. Watts relied on his hands, his legs, and the instincts that made him a great football player to climb up and out of Eufaula. At age 14, his talent was discovered. He became the first black quarterback on his high school football team, a distinction some white team-mates honored by walking off in protest.

Heavily recruited for college football, he signed at Oklahoma University. That may have had something to do with the influence of the family’s lawyer and friend, state senator Gene Stipe, now the longest serving state legislator in the country. Stipe says he drove Watts up to OU to sign his letter of intent; he also says that “from time to time” when Watts was at OU, Stipe made Watts cash gifts “to help him through.” That was par for the course for many college athletes, but it also seems to have begun a pattern in which Watts was on the receiving end of financial or political patronage, most often from more powerful whites.

Watts led the Sooners to two consecutive Orange Bowls; he was named MVP in both. Barry Switzer, Watts’s coach at OU, and now the coach of the Dallas Cowboys, recalls running into Florida State coach Bobby Bowden just before the two teams were to face off in the Orange Bowl. Bowden had just heard Watts preach at a local Baptist church and was so impressed that he joked to Switzer, “If he plays football as well as he preaches, were in trouble.” Oklahoma went on to send a previously undefeated Florida State packing, thanks to two passes by Watts in the final seconds. That preaching skill, in turn, became one of Watts’s more formidable political assets.

Watts left OU and went to the Canadian Football League. When he returned to Oklahoma in the 1980s, he began getting into business – and, it appears, in over his head. He invested in oil just when the market turned sour, then made a series of bad land investments. Over the next several years, he would face a series of legal actions for unpaid debts. Even today, while Watts is a millionaire on paper, thanks mostly to real estate holdings, he seems to be so financially strapped that he has repeatedly failed to pay his taxes on time.

Watts clearly was not cut out for business. And outside of the limelight, he seemed to miss public acclaim. “He likes to be heard,” Switzer says. So Watts began to make a name for himself as a public speaker at various civic and Christian events@ he became a youth minister at a mostly white church. But he had grander ambitions – specifically, running for office. Statewide office. The question was who would help him do it.

Watts’s family has always been staunchly Democratic; and until 1989 Watts too was a registered Democrat – what Kevin Cox calls a “good Democrat,’ Now, it’s certainly true that the differences between Republicans and Democrats in Oklahoma often range from slim to none. Geographically, Oklahoma straddles the South and Midwest; politically and culturally, its more Southern, and even Democrats tend to be heavily conservative on social issues like abortion. In fact, Oklahoma Democrats are more likely to vote Republican than any state in the union. But one of the key differences between the parties is race. Democrats, while hardly universally enlightened, have tended to represent black and working class interests; Republicans, corporate and white interests.

Watts explains his 1989 party switch this way: in 1980s as a journalism major at OU, he covered a debate between two Senate candidates and came away agreeing with the Republican, Don Nickles. His subsequent experience as a small businessman convinced him of the beauty of free enterprise. And his faith had already laid the tracks for his social conservatism.

But, in truth, Watts’s conversion seems to have been more personal and practical than spiritual. Watts says the party let his family, particularly his uncle, down. “My uncle has probably delivered more black votes for the democratic Party than any black person in the state of Oklahoma,” he says, yet it was a Republican who gave him a state job. Its a ward heeler’s conception of politics: You deliver for the party; they take care of you. Wade Watts does indeed say that “the only decent job I ever had in my life I got under a Republican.” But whereas for him, that’s just a fact, for J.C. it became a parable for how Democrats have taken all blacks for granted.

Mostly, though, the issue seems to have been not how the Democrats treated blacks, but how they treated Watts and his ambitions. Family, friends, and colleagues all tell essentially the same story. When Watts sought help from the Democratic congressional delegation get a business project going, they gave him lip service Republican businessmen, In contrast, helped him get a real estate project going. When he expressed his ambition for statewide office to Democratic party leaders their enthusiasm was tepid. They told him, in essence, to get in line – that there was no room at the table,” says Kevin Cox. So as Cox puts it, “[He] said ‘There’s another table,’ said grace, and sat down,

Watts was more than welcome at the Republican table. “You would have to have been a blind man not to see the potential,” says Oklahoma Secretary of State Tom Cole, whom Watts went to see when he was considering switching. A good-looking black football star with statewide name recognition and a clean-cut image was a dream come true. (The word USA Today used to describe Watts after his convention speech was non@ confrontational.”) So the Republicans embraced him. “Mickey Edwards [an Oklahoma Republican congressman] wrapped his arms around him and showed he cared,” says Cox.

Watts clearly knew where his bread was buttered. Blacks weren’t a novelty in the Democratic Party; he wouldn’t be a star attraction. And countrywide, black Democrats have had difficulty winning both white majority districts (Ronald Dellums is the only black Democrat in Congress who represents a majority white district) and statewide office (Douglas Wilder and Carol Moseley-Braun are exceptions). Democrats weren’t going to invest heavily in Watts because they didn’t think he could win. Even his uncle says, “I don’t think he would have gotten off the ground as a Democrat,

In the GOP, in contrast, Watts’s rarity made him a valuable commodity. “By supporting him so fervently,” Tom Cole explains, “conservatives indicate we are inclusive…. He reaffirms to Republicans that they can be conservative and not racist.” Its the Clarence Thomas paradigm: As a Democrat, the justice wouldn’t be on the Court today, but in a GOP desperate for diversity, lack of experience or a mediocre track record is no hindrance to success. And so after Watts went Republican, “his political career took off like a rocket,” Cox says.

Just one year after his switch, Watts became the first black ever elected to statewide office in Oklahoma, winning one of three seats on the powerful state corporation commission, which regulates the telephone, gas, and oil industries, among others. He owed his victory to his name recognition, his speaking ability, the incumbent’s vulnerable record, and his well-financed campaign – a campaign financed largely by the businessmen who had first set him up in real estate and, more significantly, by the very industries he would oversee on the commission. Campaign contribution reports showed he had accepted nearly $ 100,000 from individuals whose businesses were regulated by the commission.

Oklahoma elects rather than appoints its utility regulators, but doesn’t bar them from accepting funds from the industries they regulate. The potential for unhealthy relationships – unhealthy for the state’s consumers – is obvious, and often realized. But Watts’s service tin the commission was particularly industry-friendly, according to commission observers. The most egregious example came when Watts and another commissioner cut a secret deal with Southwestern Bell on a rate reduction case, which would have saved the company – at consumers’ expenses – $ 374.8 million. The deal never went through because the state Supreme Court, rather than the commission, decided on the settlement. But the deal was quite typical of his service,” says Wanda Jo Peltier, a state legislator and commission watchdog.

An unimpressive track record did not deter Watts’s Republican admirers, who encouraged him to run for the Fourth District congressional seat. Among his most generous supporters, not surprisingly, were individuals and companies from the industries overseen by the corporation commission. And the Watts qualities that had so excited Tom Cole – his race and his star quality – brought Kemp, Gingrich, Dole, George Bush, William Bennett, and Moses himself, Charlton Heston, to Oklahoma to campaign for him.

Watts’s campaign became a peculiar inversion of traditional racial politics. His Democratic opponent ran ads with a 15-year-old high school photograph of Watts with voluminous Afro and beads; the seeming intent was to show a black candidate in a white district looking more Black Panther than GQ. But Watts won anyway, with some surprising support: “The most fanatically supportive element of J.C.’s coalition are moral white conservatives,” says Tom Cole. His talk of character and family values and his stances against abortion, gun control, and gay rights, and for school prayer and the death penalty, earned him high marks on the Christian Coalition’s voter guides. With the Coalition’s support, Watts won by a nine point margin.

J.C. Watts is the political equivalent of a Russian doll: a minority within,n a minority within a minority – not just black, not just a black Republican, but a black anti-government, pro-free enterprise, self-described member of the “radical Christian right.” Among African Americans, that places him in a very small camp indeed.

Like most Americans, blacks have middle class values: They want safe streets and good schools. Many tend to be quite conservative on social issues. And in large numbers they have opposed increasing welfare benefits. But they do not see free enterprise as the solution to all their problems – they love Kemp’s empathy, but not necessarily his ideas. And they are not anti-government: Polls show blacks are significantly more favorably disposed toward government than Americans at large. This makes sense: Government employment lifted many blacks into the middle class, and many government programs besides welfare – Head Start, Chapter One education funding, higher education grants and loans – have been crucial in what leveling of the playing field has taken place so far.

Which is why, in larger numbers than whites, blacks have opposed the Contract with America and the rest of Gingrich’s agenda. But Watts voted for 95 percent of the Contract, and he has supported the rest of the Republican party line as well – including a tax cut for the wealthy, and cuts in programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, Head Start, Medicaid, school lunches, and student loans and grants. Of the last, Representative Chaka Fattah, a black freshman Democrat from Philadelphia, says, “[Watts] went to college on a football scholarship; I went on a Pell grant. These grants are important: They allow people to get education regardless of their family’s income or race.”

Indeed, Watts’s willingness to toe the party line no matter how harsh has upset more than his fellow black congressmen. “He’s just doing what the Republicans want him to do,” says his uncle, who when riled up equates Gingrich’s efforts to prey on the weak to Hitler’s. When Watts switched parties, says Gene Stipe, “his family’s first reaction was ‘shucks, it’s all right to be a Republican.’ But I don’t think they expected him to be a rubber stamp for Newt.”

Yet even those who believe opportunism brought Watts to the GOP do not claim that anything but conviction brings him to his votes. He has adopted the party’s philosophy heart and soul. Indeed, he’s become one of the most articulate espousers of its philosophy. He’s a compelling, almost mesmerizing speaker, so much so that I walked out of an interview with Watts convinced (almost) that the Contract with America was the greatest thing since the invention of the Internet.

“He believes in what he’s doing,” Wade Watts says. “They have brainwashed him real good, The senior Watts believes the reason lies in historical memory – or lack of it – on his nephews part. All the hardest battles – for civil rights or the social safety net – were fought before the 38-year-old congressman was born. “J.C. ain’t never seen a hard day in his life,” Wade Watts says, and in that good fortune lie the roots of his Republicanism.

J.C. Watts, naturally, disagrees: He sees not the Democratic successes that made his rise possible, but the Democratic failures of the last 30 years-welfare, public housing, softness on crime – that he believes have prevented others from rising. Both are, to a degree, right – which is why in many ways black Americans are a people without a party.

Of course, Watts is not just an ideologue. He is also a politician. His views reflect his district, which is 93 percent white, suburban and rural, and fairly conservative. “If he felt as I do on many issues, he would not have been elected to Congress from Oklahoma,” says Rep. Fattah, who represents a majority-black urban district. And to his credit, Watts tried to make clear whose interests he had come to serve when he arrived In Washington. He announced that he would not join the Congressional Black Caucus, telling reporters, “My father raised me to be a man, not a black man” (and pointing out that his inevitable disagreements with the caucus on most issues would soon become an issue in itself). Watts drew a lot of flak from black Democrats, but Fattah, for one, praises his decision: “He tried to send the message … that he was representing the people who voted for him, and not African Americans.”

But since then “things have gotten fuzzier,” as Fattah puts it. For while Watts may have come to Washington determined not to be a black politician, the GOP seems to have had no intention of letting him be anything else. He never asked for the title great black hope,” says Phyllis Berry Myers of the Council for New Black Leadership, a black conservative organization. But that’s the tide he was given. For a freshman, Watts quickly became the subject of unusual attention from the leadership. Gingrich immediately tapped Watts to co-chair a Minority Issues & Outreach Task Force, and his face was prominently featured at Republican events. Watts’s presence at Gingrich’s shoulder seemed intended to legitimize the Republican agenda as serving more than wealthy white interests. “They’re showboating him,” Wade Watts says succinctly.

J.C. Watts didn’t long resist such showcasing. He became a vocal defender of the Contracts virtues for black Americans, and he set himself up as a spokesperson on the problems of the underclass – particularly rising illegitimacy, government dependency, and the resulting “cultural decay.” For the Christian right and the GOP, Watts became a symbol – a racially tinged one – of “family values” and “cultural renewal”: the devoted father who returns home to his district each weekend to be with his wife and five children.

But in fact, Watts has six children. At age 17, he fathered a child out-of-wedlock’ five days after birth, she was adopted by his uncle Wade. She is a success story – a high school valedictorian and college student – and Watts says she demonstrates his consistency: He is pro-life; she was not aborted. He opposes the notion of government raising illegitimate children; his daughter “never received one dime of government assistance,” because his family assumed responsibility.

But she also demonstrates that Watts is less perfect than he or the GOP would have us believe, and more fortunate than his stories of a hard luck childhood suggest: Because his family shouldered his burden, his ascent to footbafl stardom continued unimpeded. In the broad strokes of politics, however, such subtleties get painted over. And so, at the convention and elsewhere, Watts is presented as the “good black” lecturing his weaker brethren on character – a role model,” in Haley Barbour’s words.

The problem in the GOP, however, is the hairline between role model and token. Watts’s and other African Americans, convention prominence aside, only 54 of the party’s 1,990 delegates – a mere 3 percent – were black. Barbour replies that the party doesn’t believe in quotas – for itself or government. The solution for the inequities affirmative action was designed to redress, he says, is simply a growing economy in which people are allowed to keep more of what they earn,” That facile notion, coupled with his voluble attacks on reverse discrimination, helps explain why blacks still feel unwelcome in the GOP.

Dole and other party leaders at least advocate what they call “true” affirmative action: aggressive recruiting and opportunity, without quotas and preferences. They have yet to explain how such a recruiting system would work. But more than that, is there any evidence that the Republicans will expend the effort and money needed to ensure opportunity exists? Take a closer look at Watts’s cure-all “community renewal” bill for inner cities, and you see why his own family doubts his concern for the disadvantaged. Its a boon to various GOP constituencies, notably the Christian Coalition, which played an active role in its construction. It funds school vouchers and faith-based substance abuse programs, but has no money to fix public schools or create remedial education programs to make fair competition a reality. Nor does it have a chance of passing: Its own sponsors estimate its cost at $ 10 to $ 20 billion, far more than Republicans are likely to commit to urban areas.

As long as the party continues to be dominated by leaders like Gingrich and Barbour, in short, a Bibles worth of talk about empowerment won’t make a dime’s worth of difference. And as long as Watts willingly lends their policies credence, the GOP still will be awaiting a black leader who understands that in the long run, individuals will have to compete on their own merits – but that the opportunities to make that possible aren’t going to materialize out of thin air.

Amy Waldman

Amy Waldman is the author of the novels A Door in the Earth and The Submission, and a former reporter for the New York Times. She was an editor at the Washington Monthly from 1994 to 1996.