The National Black Republican Association, an organization started with a $20,000 donation from the Palm Beach Republican Party in 2005, has launched a new attack against Sen. Barack Obama, claiming he doesn't share the values of most black Americans, and that “he's no Martin Luther King.”
The attack is typical of the rhetoric of NBRA co-founder and president Frances Rice, who has ignited her 15 minutes of fame by claiming that King was a Republican, without a shred of documentary evidence, save for a right wing relative of the slain civil rights leader whose family doesn't even consider her credible. Rice's seemingly impossible goal: to demonize Obama to the point that 25 percent of black Americans vote for John McCain.
McCain is currently polling at an average 4 percent among black registered voters.
It would be easy to dismiss Ms. Rice as a fringe player whose organization may not even share the values of the Florida Republican Party, which has recently distanced itself from the NBRA. According to the Herald Tribune in an article earlier this month, most of its original board members quit after Rice insisted on producing mailers and billboards insinuating that all Democrats are Klan members, that Democrats “embrace child molesters” and that the Democratic Party is engaged in a “war against God.”
Fellow Republicans have called her “MLK was a Republican” billboards “asinine.” Rice also fails to share much connection with reality: She and her organization praised President Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina, which scattered more than 400,000 Americans across 28 states as virtual refugees and shattered New Orleans' African-American community. At the same time, Bush strummed his guitar and sang happy 69th birthday to John McCain at the multi-million dollar ranch owned by McCain's beer heiress wife in Arizona (it's her house; Cindy McCain's got a pre-nup.)
Rice's new television and radio ads, for which her group is soliciting online donations, attempt to portray Obama, the first African-American to secure a major party nomination; a man raised by a single mother, and who only recently paid off his student loans, as an “out of touch elitist” who is “not fit to be president.” Her group hopes to distance Obama from black Americans, whom Rice believes owe eternal loyalty to the Republican Party for “freeing us from slavery.”
Well, at the risk of taking Ms. Rice seriously, allow me to agree with her on one point: Barack Obama's values too often diverge from the reality faced by black Americans.
Obama has been married for 15 years to the mother of his children. His daughters are being raised in an intact family, something they share with just 38 percent of African-American children, according to the Census Bureau. (McCain dumped his first wife, and the mother of his four children, for a richer, younger model.)
For Michelle Obama, the fact that she is married at all contrasts with the reality that 45 percent of black women her age have never been married, and black women (and Asian men) are the least likely of any ethnic and gender group to ever tie the knot.
Obama attended college and graduate school. By contrast, just 35 percent of black men will complete college within six years, according to the American Council on Education. Forty-eight years after then-candidate John F. Kennedy decried the fact that only one in two black Americans graduated high school, the black high school graduation rate remains at just over 50 percent.
Obama, like most black Americans, thankfully, doesn't live in poverty. In fact, after writing two best-selling books, the Obamas are rich (though not nearly as wealthy as the McCains, who own nine homes compared to the Obamas’ lone dwelling,) Still, 33 percent of black American children (along with 27 percent of Latino, 40 percent of Native American and ten percent of white children) do live in poverty, according to the latest Census statistics.
Likewise, Obama has never been to jail, despite the fact that as a black man, he is seven times more likely to have done so than a white man. The Census Bureau estimated in 2006 that nearly 60 percent of black men who dropped out of high school had spent time in prison, 72 percent of those who had been incarcerated were unemployed, and even black men with no criminal record have a significantly tougher time finding a job than white men their age.
What Obama does share with black America, and what he represents, is its Christian faith, its aspirations, and the hope of turning these grim statistics around. The candidate hasn't claimed to be the panacea for all the ills of black communities. He has repeatedly stressed that it takes a combination of government, individual will, better parenting, a greater focus on education and a strong work ethic to make the dreams of Dr. King come true for Americans of every color. Obama – the fact that he is so close to the presidency at all – is a symbol of that dream's possibility.
Meanwhile, Rice's ads, and her inflated and inflammatory rhetoric, do nothing to address the ways in which black America's values and opportunities can be brought into line with those of the Obamas. Her attacks are simply meant to shock gullible blacks into voting for yet another rich, old, white male candidate, whose values turn out to be a perfect match for Rice's: So far, McCain's entire campaign theme is: Attack Barack.
Joy-Ann Reid is a writer and media/political strategist, and a former co-host of “Wake Up South Florida” on WTPS 1080 AM.
Photo: Joy-Ann Reid