Leaving the Grand Old Party
(titled in The Sacramento Bee as "Viewpoints: Racist cartoon of Obama forces me to leave GOP" http://bit.ly/leavegop)
by Ken Barnes
Special to The Bee
Published Sunday, Jun. 12, 2011
I was one of those rare species: a black Republican, the guy willing to spit into the wind of conventional thought, who was often showcased on camera at party events to prove inclusiveness.
But as a proud black man, I can no longer be a member of the Republican Party.
Being a Republican has long been a part of my personal and professional identities, so leaving the party is a difficult and emotional decision.
In 1998, as a young man searching for what I believed were shared values, I cut ties with the Democratic Party and became a Republican. Democrats, in my view, had become unwelcoming to those holding center-right views not in lockstep with the party, and it was my belief that through hard work, the Republican Party could be utilized as a vehicle for improving our community.
During that time, I worked on behalf of Republican candidates at all levels, from presidential and gubernatorial campaigns, on down to local elections.
I have had the pleasure of serving as president of the Sacramento Republican Assembly, a term as a member of the California Republican Party executive committee, and most recently as treasurer of the Sacramento County Republican Party.
Last year alone, I donated more than 400 hours of my time to the Republican Party and made financial contributions to a number of Republican candidates.
As of late, however, when I look at myself in the mirror there is one question which perplexes me: Can I, in good conscience, remain affiliated with an organization whose message purveyors of racism and bigotry find attractive?
Generally speaking, Republicans are decent people, and naturally, many of my closest friends vote Republican. As with any large organization or group, there will always be people at the fringes who hold views that are not representative of the body.
An organization cannot control the behavior of each individual actor, but it can control its response to abhorrent conduct.
While the Orange County GOP chairman and a number of other committee members were quick to condemn the image and Davenport, what's disturbing is the incredible number of people who continue to defend Davenport's actions as well as the cartoon itself.
Had this been an isolated event, it could be set aside as a mere aberration. However, when placed in the context of similar offenses by the same self-identified tea party-conservative Republicans, there emerges a disturbing pattern of extreme intolerance.
What does any of this have to do with public policy or conservative values? Here is a man who excelled academically at the finest schools in the world, has a wonderful in-tact family, worked hard and rose to become president of the United States. Yet in spite of his accomplishments, the president is still labeled an illegitimate, socialist, African witch doctor and has his face superimposed on a chimpanzee.
If this can be done to a black man who is the leader of the free world, how long will it be before fellow Republicans insert my face on a chimpanzee?
These are not issues which pit moderate against conservative views, but rather consequential matters which transcend political positioning and speak to universal human values.
There are a number of Republicans (and Democrats) who will view my switch to "decline to state" as a net gain for the Democratic Party. However, I reject the theory of zero-sum politics which claim we live in a binary world of Democrats and Republicans, where a lack of support for one side works only to empower the other.
Having now been active in both major political parties, I've discovered the common prohibited activity is critical thinking.
President Ronald Reagan once famously said, "I did not leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me," and I can now say that I have been abandoned by both Democrats and Republicans.
In order to stay true to myself, my family and values, the only rational, responsible option is independence.
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Ken Barnes is a small-business owner in Sacramento and a member of the executive committee of the California State Conference of the NAACP.