Last week the Democratic Party held its national convention in Denver, Colorado, and nominated Senator Barack Obama, who hopes to become the United States’ first black president. A record number of African-American delegates – more than 1,000 – were at the event. By contrast, only about 40 black delegates attended this week’s Republican convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Nevertheless, the Republicans continue to say a significant number of African-Americans support their presidential nominee, John McCain. VOA’s Darren Taylor has spoken with one black Republican, who talks about making a choice between his conservative values and a chance to help make history.
“I have worked on Republican governors’ campaigns, and those of senators, congressmen, and four presidential campaigns. I have relationships in the (President George W. Bush) administration, and relationships with top Republicans dating back to the (President Richard Nixon) administration,” says Raynard Jackson, the CEO of a government relations and political consulting firm in Washington, D.C.
Jackson helps American politicians with strategies to reach minority communities and works with presidents from various African countries to improve their relations with U.S. government branches and the business community. His website describes him as “one of the most sought after conservative speakers in America.” He’s appeared regularly on U.S. radio and television shows, such as CNN’s Larry King Live, and has written opinion pieces for newspapers, including The Washington Times and The Washington Post.
“Our family in St. Louis, Missouri, supported the Republicans,” he says. He explains that the Jacksons were attracted to the Republican Party because of its emphasis on Christian principles, individual responsibility, education and discipline.
“We went to church; if we misbehaved as children, we were punished. We were taught to respect authority. This is just the way I grew up.”
In comparison, says Jackson, the “more secular” Democrats seemed “soft; lax; too liberal.” In addition, the Jacksons, like most Republicans, were vociferously pro-life and didn’t agree with the Democratic position that women in certain instances should be permitted to have abortions.
Jackson says he was always “put off” by the Democrat’s insistence on a “larger government role in all spheres of life, creating a welfare state by providing too many benefits and services to people. I believed that people must work to get ahead, not get government hand-outs,” he says.
According to Jackson, his support for the Republican Party was based on citizens having the opportunity to make money, with “little interference” from the state. “Government shouldn’t be permitted to regulate me in a way that forces me to provide certain employee benefits; I must be able to decide these for myself,” he says.
Jackson expresses support for the Republican mantra of “less government spending" and emphasis on the "individual rather than the collective, and lower taxes."
He comments, “(As the owner of a large business) I don’t like paying taxes. I pay what I’m obligated to, but I don’t want the government to constantly take more and more money out of my pocket.”
But Jackson says he’s disappointed that the party he’s supported for two decades seems to have abandoned what he terms “one of the true tenets of American conservatism.”
“Under (Republican president) George (W.) Bush, federal spending has increased more than under (Democratic former president) Bill Clinton…. So the Republican Party, really, under Bush is not a (true) conservative party.”
He’s also not happy with the Republican claim that increasing numbers of African-Americans are backing the party. Jackson says black support for the Republicans is actually waning, despite the fact that Mr. Bush assembled the “most racially diverse administration in history” – with such black officials as (former) Secretary of State Colin Powell – and that many African-Americans, such as himself, support traditional Republican values.
“Blacks have consistently proved to be the most conservative group of people in the United States of America…. Poll after poll has shown that the black community is the biggest group in the country that’s, for example, pro-life (anti-abortion) and anti-homosexuality,” Jackson says.
The Bush administration says it’s dedicated to improving the lives of Americans of all ethnic groups. It points out that it’s giving federal aid to black churches to provide health care to the poor, for example, and to counsel against gang violence, drug abuse, divorce and teen pregnancy. However, Jackson maintains his party has done little in recent years to suggest that it’s committed to improving the lives of poor African-Americans.
He acknowledges that his party is haunted by events in New Orleans in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina killed about 1,800 people, mainly blacks. The Bush administration was accused of doing little to help them, a charge it denies. The government also points to the precautions it took following the Katrina tragedy as the reasons why Hurricane Gustav, which struck the U.S. Gulf Coast this week, didn’t wreak as much death and destruction as expected.
Jackson’s also expressed disappointment in McCain’s choice of Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate. He says there are far better candidates within the Republican Party.
“Their argument is that (Palin) has more executive experience than (Democratic vice-presidential nominee) Joe Biden and Barack Obama because she’s been a mayor and a governor. Well, if you’re going to make that argument, then she has more executive experience than John McCain as well.”
Jackson is aware that some black Republicans have suggested that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, an African-American, would have been a better pick that Palin. But he’s not one of them. “I can’t think of any one person who could really help this ticket. The Republican brand is (that) damaged.”
Republicans, though, insist there’s nothing wrong with their party and say it offers the best policies for all Americans, including blacks. But Jackson is adamant: “For the record, despite being Republican, I voted for Obama during the primary and, unless he gives me a reason not to, will vote for him during the general election.”
This is despite the fact that Jackson says he disagrees with “up to 70 per cent” of Obama’s policies. How does he explain what many would see as his political betrayal, given his continued support for many Republican policies?
He says, “Every so often in life, there’s an opportunity for you to do something that’s going to transform your community, your society and possibly the world…. The opportunity for a black to become president of the United States far supersedes ideology…. I will not be on the wrong side of history, nor will I stand in the way of the doors of history opening because of my party affiliation.”
He’s quick to add that he has “a lot of black friends” in the Republican Party who are not only supporting McCain, but are “viciously attacking” Obama. Jackson wants to make it clear, though, that he’ll cast his vote in November with the aim of “helping to change history, not necessarily for Obama the politician.”
But he acknowledges it would be “great to have a black face” at significant international gatherings in the future, like the G8 group of powerful countries.
“If Obama is sitting at the table, at least you get a more diverse viewpoint on a lot of foreign policy issues…. He will bring a different perspective just because he’s black and he comes from a different experience. He becomes our Nelson Mandela, [who] can possibly alter the political landscape of the world just by virtue of his presence.”
Jackson is, however, concerned that an Obama administration will “erode” some of the conservative principles that he’s always believed in, but he’s convinced that “at this point in time the benefits of his election” will counteract the negatives.
“I’m willing to hold my tongue and to hold my nose on some of the policy positions he might undertake…. If I have to trade off some policy differences for that type of change, then I’m willing to do that.”
Jackson denies that his switch from Republican to the Obama camp is designed to curry favor from the Democrats and thus with members of a possible Obama administration. His company does, after all, receive a significant portion of its income from government work....
“What happens if the election goes the other way?” he asks. “Where will my views leave me if John McCain wins?”
For this particular election, Jackson maintains, he’s a black person first and a conservative second. And he’s not bothered at all by critics who say most African-Americans will support Obama simply because of the Democratic nominee’s race.
“These same people who make that argument don’t make the same argument that a lot of white folks will vote for John McCain (just) because he’s white,” he notes.
Jackson’s convinced that the Republicans don’t have many reasons to be optimistic at the moment. But the latest polls show Obama and McCain running neck and neck in terms of popularity. Some pollsters indicate that, in the end, McCain may not need black support in order to become the next American president.