Following the campaign trail of E.W. Jackson, the evangelical minister who’s the Republican Party candidate for lieutenant governor of Virginia, is an exercise in astonishment. Does Jackson, who holds degrees from Harvard Law School and Harvard Divinity School, really believe, as he’s said, that while “slavery did not destroy the Black family, even though it certainly was an attack on the Black family,” it was with the passage of the federal Great Society that “the Black family began to deteriorate?”
Does Jackson really believe, as he’s said, that “Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to Black lives than the KKK ever was. And the Democrat (sic) Party and their Black civil rights allies are partners in this genocide?”
Does he really believe that homosexuals are “frankly very sick people, psychologically, mentally, and emotionally, and they see everything through the lens of homosexuality?”
Does he really believe, as he’s said, that people who say they are religious but aren’t adherents of Christianity are practicing “some sort of false religion?”
Those sentiments, along with his charismatic speaking skills, have gained Jackson the GOP nomination for Virginia’s second-highest office and made him the most prominent Black Republican running for office this year.
But they’ve also helped to turn the GOP’s once-bright prospects for retaining the two highest offices of that politically-important state into a tightly-contested race – one in which Jackson’s partner at the top of the ticket, Virginia’s current Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli II, has continually had to distance himself from Jackson’s more inflammatory remarks.
It’s gotten so bad that recently, after Jackson said he’d support eliminating the state’s corporate income tax, a spokeswoman for Cuccinelli declined to tell the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch whether he agreed with Jackson. “Ken speaks for Ken,” she said. “If E.W. is saying things, you’ll have to ask him about it.”
What makes that standoffishness the more ironic is that Cuccinelli is himself a Tea Party favorite who, during the campaign has tried to obscure his past positions in order to appeal to the state’s growing bloc of politically independent and moderate-conservative voters.
Jackson’s statements show the true sentiments behind the curtain of bland campaign pronouncements. All are among the key talking points of the radical conservatism that has become the tail wagging the dog of the Republican Party: bigotry against Black and Hispanic Americans; a denunciation of women’s reproductive rights that is anchored in crackpot conspiracy theories and weird science; homophobia, of course; and a deeply-rooted religious intolerance against anyone who doesn’t follow their brand of Christianity.
How, one might wonder, did the political party which in the late 1990s generated a Colin-Powell-for-President boomlet that captured the attention of a lot of Democrats, too, descend to an E.W. Jackson?
One part of the answer is that, in fact, Jackson, like Cuccinelli, benefited from the same Republican Party dynamic that in the past five years threw up Sarah ‘you betcha’ Palin, Missouri’s Todd ‘legitimate rape’ Akin, and a host of others with cookie-cutter extreme positions on a broad range of political issues.
Afraid of the multiracial and multicultural – and more tolerant – society America was rapidly becoming, a significant bloc of conservatives instead chose to pursue what one can call the politics of ideological purity. What it also meant was that the GOP was choosing to become even Whiter than it already was.
As Ryan Lizza’s recent article in The New Yorker, “Where the G.O.P.’s Suicide Caucus Lives, noted, “While the most salient demographic fact about America is that it is becoming more diverse,” many Republican members of Congress come from districts that “actually became less diverse (his emphasis) in 2012.”
Lizza, who mapped out the actual districts of House Republicans, continued that these GOP officeholders thus “represent an America where the population is getting whiter, where there are few major cities, where Obama lost the last election in a landslide, and where the Republican Party is becoming more dominant and more popular. Meanwhile, in national politics, each of these trends is actually reversed.”
In other words, via Congressional-district gerrymandering, the GOP has built a political “bizarro world” where the time-honored traditions of American politics are reversed: Accommodation to others is always bad. Intolerance of those who have different views on some issues, or practice a different religion is always good.
Black conservatism, which at the beginning of the presidency of Ronald Reagan seemed to hold such political promise (although even then that promise was illusory) has followed White conservatism down the same path to the political gutter. That’s where, if you can stand the stench, you’re left, astonished, asking Black and White conservatives: “Do you really believe that?”
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.