I wish I could be a Republican. Seriously. Given my radical tendencies, of course, there's little chance that if I joined a party, it would be the G.O.P. Even so, I wish the Republicans would seize the opportunity presented to them by the Trent Lott fiasco to kick their 40-year addiction to race-baiting politics, make good on George W. Bush's promise to reach out to minorities and compel black voters like me to consider the G.O.P. I'm convinced that the Democratic Party's virtual monopoly on the black vote is bad for African Americans. It's the foundation of a demeaning form of political serfdom, a Plantation Politics that we will never be free of as long as Democrats take our votes for granted.
We've been trying to find a way out of this bind since the 1960s, when militants proposed the creation of a black third party that could deliver our votes to the party that offered us most. Nothing ever came of the idea, because the "party of Lincoln" was transforming itself into the party of Lott, Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, leaving self-respecting blacks no choice but to run to the Democrats. Yet the movement's battle cry--"We have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only permanent interests"--is as valid today as it was then, even if the prospects for an independent black party are still unrealistic. If blacks are going to make political progress, it will be by balancing their votes between the two major parties--provided that Republicans get serious about all the post-Lott commitments they've made to racial equality.
It's too bad that the G.O.P. may still be so hooked on appealing to white resentment that it won't change course, because a lot of blacks are fed up with the Democrats. Black turnout was low in some states during the midterm elections because few Democrats offered bold alternatives to Bush's economic and international policies. We noticed that it was Republican conservatives like Charles Krauthammer--not leading Democrats like Senate leader Tom Daschle--who offered unprompted condemnation of Lott's praise for Thurmond's Dixiecrat presidential campaign. Daschle initially accepted Lott's half-hearted apology, adopting a tougher stance only after an outcry from black politicians. His delayed reaction "was an example of the collegiality fostered by the good-ole-boy network in the Senate overcoming the ordinary sensitivities that these people should be expected to have," says Wade Henderson, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a coalition of civil rights organizations.