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Larry Elder and the Rise of Black Conservatives

Polls reveal that Elder has grabbed a quick lead among some 46 candidates seeking to replace Gov. Newsom.
[additional-authors]
August 6, 2021
Larry Elder. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

With a dramatic entrance into the upcoming September 14 statewide recall election of Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA), Republican radio talk show host, author and lawyer Larry Elder offers ideas about education, crime and the economy that challenge longstanding progressive public policy and that are increasingly advocated by Black GOP candidates nationwide.

A late arrival to the race, Elder first had to secure a judicial ruling overturning the California Secretary of State’s controversial decision denying him a place on the ballot.

With that victory in hand, polls reveal that Elder has grabbed a quick lead among some 46 candidates seeking to replace Gov. Newsom, running ahead of a GOP field that includes former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, 2018 gubernatorial candidate and Rancho Santa Fe businessman John Cox, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin), and Caitlyn Jenner, the retired Olympian and media personality.

Gov. Newsom faces a serious challenge to remain in office after some 2 million recall petition signatures were gathered from an energized electorate unhappy with his performance.

Elder has been campaigning throughout the state and in media appearances with his trademark detailed recitation of facts and ideas. These are aimed at convincing registered Independents that Democratic Party legislative dominance has let down minority parents and children who want school choice; average citizens alarmed at the rise of urban crime and homelessness; and “forgotten” workers still struggling under the effects of the strict COVID-19 lockdowns and mandates.

Elder invites voters to consider that even if a “magic wand” could eliminate any vestige of racial discrimination in our nation, Black citizens would still have to overcome progressive policies. Among other things, these policies divert funds from city police budgets, impose punishing regulations, taxes and fees on small businesses, and restrict residential housing availability due to complex environmental regulations that strangle the low- and middle-income real estate markets.

Elder invites voters to consider that even if a “magic wand” could eliminate any vestige of racial discrimination in our nation, Black citizens would still have to overcome progressive policies.

Elder also confronts the breakdown of the Black family (72% of Black children are born without a father in the home); high homicide rates (overwhelmingly Black crime victims suffer at the hands of Black perpetrators); and the unrestrained power of teachers unions. He argues that dealing directly with these issues is more relevant to struggling communities than the rhetoric of Black Lives Matter, critical race theorists and anti-racism activists who blame all social conditions and economic woes on “systemic racism.”

Many activists on the left promote re-segregation of university dorms and graduations, endorse race-based quotas and affirmative action policies, and oppose voter ID laws (which are widely supported by Black voters). However, a variety of right-of-center voices within the Black community has been steadily building economic, social and cultural arguments into an increasingly constructive and appealing alternative to the progressive agenda often featured in the mainstream media.

Elder’s rise is just the latest and most visible example of the emergence of Black conservatives. George S. Schuyler, author of “Black and Conservative,” was an important columnist for the Pittsburgh Courier for decades. Zora Neale Hurston was an essayist for Reader’s Digest and a prominent feminist writer who popularized conservative and libertarian views in the African-American community. And many religious figures in Black churches have long preached social conservatism.

Elder’s rise is just the latest and most visible example of the emergence of Black conservatives.

With the 1975 publication of Thomas Sowell’s “Race and Economics,” a powerful era of Black economic scholarship was launched to challenge liberal orthodoxy on poverty, inner-city crime, family dynamics, and American race relations.

Sowell, featured in the documentary “Thomas Sowell: Common Sense in a Senseless World” (hosted by the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley), is widely considered among the foremost public intellectuals in the United States. He rejects the paternalistic and regressive racial approach of the political left, arguing that “racism does not have a good track record. It’s been tried out for a long time and you’d think by now we’d want to put an end to it instead of putting it under new management.”

The impressive list of “founders” of modern Black conservative thought might also include Walter E. Williams, former professor at George Mason University; Robert L. Woodson, Sr., the “godfather” of the neighborhood empowerment movement; Jay Parker of the Lincoln institute for Research and Education and mentor of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; and Ward Connerly, chairman of California’s famous Proposition 209 (1996) in which voters rejected race and gender-based employment and contracting.

A diversity of independent thinking is found in the heterodox views of distinguished Black scholars and thinkers like Glenn Loury, Shelby Steele, Wilfred Reilly, John McWhorter, Coleman Hughes, Carol Swain, Armstrong Williams, Colman McCarthy, Amy Holmes, Deneen Borelli, Deroy Murdock, Star Parker, Angela McGlowan and Rev. Jesse Peterson, among many others.

A common thread in the discourse of these social commentators is opposition to Black “victimhood,” and the demand for personal responsibility. Black competitiveness and pathways to success are a function of an improved Black culture, and some truth-telling, for example, about the “oppression” of Blacks in America.

recent study from the Skeptic Research Center reported 31% of those identified as “very liberal” believe that the average number of unarmed Black Americans killed annually by police is “about 1,000.” Fourteen percent believe that this number is “about 10,000,” while almost 8% believe it is more than that. The total number of unarmed Black men shot by police in 2020 was 18.

Conservative Black scholars have been gaining traction by stressing criminal justice reform and the theme of renewed Black family culture, noting the rise of out-of-wedlock birth rates after the establishment of the Great Society welfare state in the 1960s. Many also promote charter schools and stricter enforcement of child support and child neglect laws. Citing the economic success of many minorities in the United States, such as Nigerian immigrants and Indian-Americans, conservative Black urban leaders often promote enterprise zones and tax incentives for small business growth.

Conservative Black scholars have been gaining traction by stressing criminal justice reform and the theme of renewed Black family culture.

While in recent years much attention has been paid to prominent Black voices on the political left such as President Barack Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Al Sharpton and Stacey Abrams, a growing coalition of conservative Black political leadership has arrived in parallel, including Herman Cain, Ben Carson, Allen West, Ken Blackwell, Ron Christie, Niger Innis and Alan Keyes.

Today’s Black political voices on the right feature the widely admired U.S. Senator Tim Scott, Representatives Burgess Owens and Byron Donalds, and state office holders such as Kenneth Paschal (Alabama), Vernon Jones (formerly of Georgia) and former Chief of Police James Craig (Detroit, Michigan).

Rising cultural voices in the Black conservative movement include human rights scholar Ayaan Hirsi Ali, political activist Candace Owens, sports commentators Jason Whitlock and Charles Barkley, and internet sensations Diamond and Silk and The Hodgetwins.

The GOP, founded in 1854 as the successor to the Liberty Party, makes the case that it is the original party of Black liberation and emancipation under President Abraham Lincoln. The Republican Party promoted civil rights legislation and opposed slavery, the KKK, discriminatory Jim Crow laws, and racial segregation enforced by Southern Democrats.

Today, in the face of voices among the left that are increasingly hostile to the Jewish state, Black conservatives remain firm advocates of the U.S.-Israel relationship and willing to confront rising antisemitism.

Elder, who has been a staunch supporter of Israel, is reaching out to more and more Jewish groups as he builds momentum in his run for California Governor and continues his leadership of the growing Black conservative movement.


Larry Greenfield is a Fellow of The Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship & Political Philosophy.

 

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