Monday, March 16, 2009

The GOP, Minorities, & the Police

Shelby Steele has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled, "Why the GOP Can't Win With Minorities." It's short on specifics, and is basically a philosophical argument about why liberalism appeals to minorities. I found it unconvincing and question some of his premises. But the best critique I've seen is from Darren Lenard Hutchinson at Dissenting Justice. Hutchinson's response to Steele is called, "If Conservatives Listen to Shelby Steele, They Will Never Win Support From People of Color." The whole post is worth reading, but here's a key section:
While conservatives often espouse the virtues of limited government, they often embrace governmental intervention into some of the most personal areas of our lives, including pregnancy, abortion, sexual orientation, marriage, and consumption of "obscene" materials like pornography and even "sex toys." They also support very strict restraints on liberty by expanding the criminalization of conduct, promoting heavy sentencing, and condoning highly permissive policing methods that invade personal privacy and autonomy. The "free hand" is only selectively free, and quite often, the results of conservative-sponsored governmental intervention has a disparate impact on persons of color. These policies, not a grievance culture, explain the inability of the GOP to appeal to many persons of color.
I agree with Hutchinson, and I want to expand on one of those points that is a personal pet peeve of mine with regard to some fellow right-wingers.

As Hutchinson says, conservatives tend to support invasive policing methods. I have found that there is a reflexive deference, almost a reverence, toward the police among a significant number of conservatives. (That's true of attitudes toward the military also, but that's off-topic). Despite the general conservative dislike and distrust of government, particularly government bureaucracy, that distrust does not extend to the police -- quite the opposite. Many conservatives respond reflexively & defensively to any criticism of the police. There is a strong attitude that the police should be obeyed, and that anyone failing to show the correct degree of deference deserves whatever might happen to them. If you doubt this, visit any major conservative site and look for a post on a police brutality topic. A significant number of commentors, sometimes 50% or more, will defend the police, or at least minimize and try to explain away their offenses. Here's one example. Many conservatives also support the militarization of the police, the drug war, and inflexible sentencing. And minority complaints about police behavior tend to find little sympathy on the right.

It would be nice to see more conservatives take the attitude that the police are a necessary evil, an arm of state and local government, rather than heroic defenders of the public good. Police actions should be subject to a high degree of public scrutiny, and their abuses of authority should be severely punished.  I believe that such a shift in perspective by the GOP, particularly a resolve to hold police accountable to a higher standard of conduct, and to support severe punishment for abuses, would be a good step in reaching out to minorities.

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