Conservatives to Black People: "Remember Abe Lincoln!"

I’m not sure that this is the most hilarious advertisement of the 2012 election cycle, but it surely comes close: A conservative super PAC called the Empower Citizens Network asks African American voters to abandon President Obama—who, obviously, has failed them—and choose Mitt Romney. Why? Because Romney belongs to the same party as the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln. Here’s the ad:

All of these things are true, but they’re also irrelevant to the question of who African Americans should support in 2012. Given Republican hostility to social insurance programs, aid for lower-income Americans, and a general willingness to tolerate anti-black prejudice (see: the continued popularity of figures like Rush Limbaugh), there’s every reason for blacks to continue their support for the Democratic Party and, in particular, President Obama.

This ad doesn’t deserve a serious treatment, but—with that said—it is reflective of an attitude that seems common among conservatives, or at least those interested in explaining the durability of black support for Democrats. Often, conservatives treat African American political perferences as either an artifact of history or a manifestation of false consciousness. It's why this group feels the need to emphasize the long-ago civil rights accomplishments of the GOP, and why politicians like Florida Republican Allen West—who is African American—routinely say that blacks are stuck on the Democratic “plantation.” If only African Americans would see where their interests really lay, they’d vote for Republicans.

But the fact of the matter is that blacks are well aware of their political and economic interests, and on the balance, they feel that vDemocrats are the ones who best benefit them. If that were to change—if, tomorrow, the Democratic Party were to return to its segregationist past—African Americans would act accordingly.

If you want evidence of this, look no further than the actual history of African American voting. Blacks were reliable Republicans up until it became clear that Democrats were more interested in winning their votes, supporting their leaders, and offering concrete policies to serve their interests. This courtship has lasted decades, and it’s responsible for the huge margins Democrats win among African Americans.

To go back to the ad, if conservatives genuinely want African Americans to support them, they have to do more than give history lessons—they have to turn conservatism into something that’s responsive to the concerns of a historically marginalized group. If they can’t do that, then they should at least save their money and avoid any more embarassing spectacles.