No Requiem for a Black Conservative

In a tear jerk moment toward the end of Claude Allen’s abortive Senate confirmation hearing in 2003, Utah Senator Orin Hatch tossed a puffball question at him. He asked what his grandfather who was the first in his family born out slavery would say to him about his pending judgeship. Allen visibly moved by the question said that he would tell him to give back to those that he received from.

Allen’s answer told much about the GOP’s two decade long court and tout of black conservatives. And that hasn’t changed even when some of them embarrass the party with their shoot from the lip gaffes or fall from grace in a swirl of corruption and scandal. Allen has fit the bill on both counts. In 1982, he embarrassed the GOP with his slurs against gays and feminists, and two decades later during his confirmation hearing he didn’t back away from them. He oddly claimed that the dictionary defined them as “odd or unusual” and he saw no reason to retract his slur. And now there’s the allegation that he is a two-bit thief.

But Allen is only the latest in a string of black conservative poster boys that have been dogged by scandal. In the 1980s Reagan’s HUD Secretary Samuel Pierce was accused of corruption and influence peddling, and Clarence Pendleton Reagan’s appointee to head the U.S. Civil Rights Commission was hit with allegations of illicit business dealings. Then there’s the sexual scandal that embroiled Bush Sr.’s affirmative action Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas in 1991.

Last year, black Republican pitchman, Armstrong Williams was reviled for grabbing nearly a quarter of a million dollars from the White House to pump Bush’s education policies, all the while masquerading as a neutral media commentator. In each case, the disgraced black Republican administration appointees, and boosters did not tumble as far from grace as might be expected. Pierce and Pendleton served no jail time, and resumed their business careers.

Thomas is the much-prized conservative high court polemicist. Though Williams was bounced from his spot as a commentator on a few media outlets, he is still a frequent guest on talk shows, defending conservative policies. Their names quickly disappear from the scandal sheets. They are simply too valuable to be summarily tossed to the wolves.

Conservatives desperately need blacks such as Allen to maintain the public illusion that black conservatives have real clout and a popular following in black communities. Their great value is that they promote the myth that a big segment of blacks support political conservative principles. In the last presidential election, Bush, Republican National Committee head Ken Mehlman, and strategist Karl Rove spent millions on outreach efforts to attract African-American voters. Mehlman has since barnstormed the country in tow with conservative blacks to primp the GOP’s message to black groups. Allen and a handful of other blacks have relentlessly pumped Bush’s policies on TV and radio talk shows, in op-ed columns, and in debates with civil rights leaders and liberal Democrats.

The young black conservative political activists such as Allen spin, prime, and defend administration policies on affirmative action, welfare, laizzez faire capitalism, and anti-government regulations with the best of white conservatives. Bush’s controversial federal court appeals nominee, black California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown, once brashly claimed that she was “one of the few conservatives left in America.” Allen did not make the same bold, and brash claim as Brown, but he is every bit the conservative ideologue as Brown. None of their efforts touting GOP policies have helped much. Bush still got only a marginal bump up overall in the black vote in 2004, and with his Katrina bumble his poll ratings are stuck even deeper in the tank with blacks.

Still, Republicans have done everything possible to ease the way up the political ladder for their bevy of black conservatives. Allen’s career is a textbook example of that. He was barely out of the University of North Carolina when he became the spokesmen for Senator Jesse Helm’s reelection campaign in 1982.

He moved from there to work for Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He then bagged a prize clerkship on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Next, he was appointed counsel for Virginia’s Attorney General, and then he became Virginia’s deputy attorney general and later secretary of health and human services. When his nomination for appeals court judge didn’t pan out, Bush made him his top domestic policy advisor.

In years past, scandal plagued black Republican boosters and appointees pretty much skated away with little more than a spate of bad publicity and a hand slap. Allen may not be as lucky. He may eventually be prosecuted. But as long as Republicans find men like him useful in their drive to make the party appear to be an authentic voice in black America, they’ll do whatever they can to keep them as far out of legal harm’s way as possible.

EARL OFARI HUTCHINSON is a columnist for, an author and political analyst.