The whiff of tokenism notwithstanding, I’m actually glad to see that there are credible black Republicans angling for high-level political office. I’ve long argued that it would be good for black people, and great for the country, if Republicans took the African-American community seriously. For starters, greater black representation within the GOP would probably force our political culture to actually acknowledge the huge amount of ideological diversity within the black community, and increase the likelihood that those views would find substantive representation in the halls of power. I know I’m not speaking alone here when I say that I am regularly annoyed/driven to a blind murderous rage by the fact that our political culture treats black people as this liberal, ideological monolith, which – despite our heavy support for the Democratic Party – is really not the case.
That said, there is a definite aura of tokenism surrounding these guys. After all, they aren’t just the lone black faces in a lily white party (indeed, a party that takes “lily white” to its Platonic heights) – they are the lone black faces in a party that routinely and casually exploits racial fear and paranoia for political gain, and whose most prominent representatives in the media are race-baiting demagogues. More importantly, and as Adam recently pointed out, the GOP has yet to really grapple with its ugly racial history, and in fact, hardly acknowledges it (Ken Mehlman’s brief words in 2005 don’t really count). By contrast, Democrats – from the Civil Rights Act onwards – have devoted a hell of a lot of political capital to atoning for their ugly racial history. Indeed, the 1960s are something of an inflection point in that regard: at the moment that Democrats committed themselves to racial liberalism, Republicans embraced the disaffected white southerners left behind in the march towards greater political equality.
Tokenism, as I see it, has less to do with numbers and everything to do with self-respect. Insofar that any of these guys are tokens, it’s in their willingness (and in the case of Michael Steele or Ken Blackwell, enthusiasm) to be used as props for a party desperate for cheap grace, and eager to absolve itself of its sins without doing the hard work of atoning for them. That said, and assuming they want to reform the GOP from the inside, I wish them the best of luck. They’re going to need it.