Alex Massie

Jeremiah Wright & Ken Mehlman

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Impolitic though it is to say, I'd suggest that the idea that a) the United States government created the AIDS virus and unleashed it upon the African-American community is no less plausible than the notion that b) a virgin once gave birth to a son in a Bethlehem stable. Still, some beliefs gain legitimacy from being 1) widespread and 2) having been around for a long time - something Mitt Romney learnt to his cost during his campaign. Others do not: so the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is a kook because he believes a) not because he also, I presume, believes b).

Still, amidst the rumpus over his "controversial" sermons, one small element of Wright's anger seems to have been somewhat overlooked. Talking about the idea that black Americans should somehow fall into line and cast their votes for Hillary Clinton, the Reverend had this to say:

“Hillary is married to Bill, and Bill has been good to us. No he ain’t! Bill did us, just like he did Monica Lewinsky. He was ridin’ dirty.”

This is fine, salty stuff indeed and not, perhaps, quite the imagery nice, respectable white folks from the suburbs are used to hearing on Sunday mornings. But in essence isn't this exactly the critique smart, progressive Republicans have been trying to make? Indeed, Ken Mehlman held a number of outreach roadshows - including one at Howard University - that stressed exactly this point: African-American voters aren't obliged to support Democrats and, indeed, it's not in the black community's interest for one party to monopolise its support. Now (with the large and striking exception of welfare reform which was itself passed with Republican votes), the substance of Wright's critique us exactly the same as Mehlman's even if, obviously, he's arguing that voters endorse Obama rather than the GOP. But the essence of the message is the same.

Still, if issues such as drugs or prisons or sentencing or family breakdown or any of half a dozen other issues that disproportionately concern African-Americans are ever likely to become and important part of the political discussion then they're only likely to do so once the black vote is divided and, consequently, becomes a prize that can be won and, consequently, campaigning for.

Until that happens it seems unlikely that many of the other horrors the Reverend Wright rails against are unlikely to be addressed. So, unwittingly perhaps, Wright has identified a problem, even if his solution wouldn't be quite the same as Mehlman's. Subservience to the Clintons in particular or, more generally, the Democratic party is not necessarily a Good Thing.

Equally, it's a Bad Thing for the GOP if it continues to write-off the black vote. Clearly there's not going to e much contest for the black vote this November, but as a matter of moral urgency, if not necessarily immediate political advantage, the Republican party ought to remember and revive Mehlman's message. If it's not to be squeezed in the same way that the Democratic party has been squeezed and shunted into its north-eastern redoubt these past two decades. The Democratic party suffered form being perceived as a ragbag collection of special interests; the GOP will also eventually falter if it's perceived as little more than a party of angry white men.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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