Thomas Sowell

The idea of a slave memorial on the Washington Mall is so appalling that it is hard to understand how it has as much support as it does. Among politicians, it is much easier to understand why Democrats support the idea than why so many Republicans go along.

Except for some national disaster, at home or abroad, the Democrats' only chance in the 2004 elections is to turn one group of Americans against other groups of Americans. They must make blacks resentful of whites or women resentful of men or else try to scare the elderly into thinking that someone is going to take away their Social Security or Medicare -- which no one in his right mind would do.

Divisiveness is where it's at for the Democrats and few things will be more divisive than a slave memorial on the Washington Mall. But what's in it for the Republicans?

The Republicans' big problem is that the Democrats get 90 percent of the black vote in election after election. Supporting a slave memorial may seem like a tempting way to try to get some of those black votes. But such futile gambits as this only underline the fact that Republicans have no idea how to get black votes -- at least, no idea that works.

Republicans cannot expect any huge immediate increase in the number of blacks who vote for them, no matter what they do. Nor is it necessary for them to get a huge increase. If the black vote in 2004 splits 80-20 in favor of the Democrats, instead of the usual 90-10, the Democrats are in big trouble on election day because they have already lost large segments of the rest of the population.

The way to begin to attract some black voters away from the Democrats is for the Republicans to offer things that are consistent with their words and deeds elsewhere -- something believable, rather than something shortsightedly opportunistic, like a memorial to slaves.

Republicans also need to understand that black voters are not just one big blob. Despite an overwhelming vote for Democrats -- mostly liberal-left Democrats at that -- there are differences of opinion among blacks.

It is futile for the Republicans to think that they can either con or convince those who are committed to a grievance-centered, quota-seeking, welfare state vision of the world. Republicans will only squander their credibility with blacks and whites alike by trying.

One issue on which the Republicans hold all the high cards, both morally and politically, is school choice. The Democratic Party is far too beholden to the teachers' unions to permit black parents to take their children out of disastrous public schools.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate