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The Upside-Down Candidate

An interesting phenomenon appears to be taking shape in American politics where in the state of Ohio, a Mr. Ken Blackwell is running on the Republican ticket for Governor of that State. Mr. Blackwell played a pivotal role in the 2004 Presidential Elections, where as Ohio’s Secretary of State, he shepherded the Republican Party through several attempts by the Democrats to try and get George W. Bush’s victory in pivotal Ohio overturned based on unproven voter fraud charges. That Mr. Blackwell has taken an early lead in the upcoming Governor’s race is heartening to Republicans since Ohio will probably remain close to ground zero in the next Presidential campaign in 2008. What makes this development additionally interesting is the fact that Mr. Blackwell is black and running apparently as a social conservative with no apologizes, pretensions or attempts to pander to the historical race-driven rhetoric of the minority base.

Mr. Blackwell’s candidacy in its current form raises some needed issues as it relates to religion in politics, race in politics and religion specifically in the African American church. Each of these three areas would appear to put Mr. Blackwell in a position of political weakness based on cultural American norms. However, as Steven Malanga’s article “Ronald Reagan’s Unlikely Heir” details, this candidate apparently sees no reason to apologize to anyone about his core convictions:

It hasn’t hurt Blackwell’s reputation with the rank and file that his deep religious convictions have drawn fire from noted liberal interest groups, winning him some extraordinary publicity. Several years ago, he opened a meeting with state employees by asking them to pause for a moment of prayer and reflection, prompting a complaint from the American Civil Liberties Union. What particularly irked the ACLU was that Blackwell actually seemed to be in earnest: he didn’t “want them to just go through the motions of praying,” the ACLU complained, “but wanted it to be a sincere and thoughtful prayer.” After the well-publicized episode, Blackwell asked state employees in his next meeting to sing “God Bless America” before getting down to business.

Imagine that, a politician who seemed to actually be praying “in earnest”. One who didn’t want to “just go through the motions of praying”. I don’t know much about Mr. Blackwell, but if this is an accurate depiction, I hope he never changes, or gives in to the predictably powerful forces around him who will inevitably attempt to pull him to a more “nuanced” and “pragmatic” approach to religion in politics. You know, the one that won’t alienate the masses…while alienating Jesus Christ in the process.

The other interesting sidebar in this developing story is the question of whether Mr. Blackwell can attract African American voters in substantial numbers. Why would this be an issue? Well, Mr. Blackwell is a Republican! Isn’t it automatic that blacks cannot vote Republican? It’s in the DNA isn’t it? Well, to be accurate it’s in the social DNA. God on the other hand is in the spiritual DNA; but with African American voters this seems to be the paradox. There is a sizeable African American percentage who regularly attend church and proudly claim the label of Christian, but who instinctively vote with politicians who are strongly embracing of anti-biblical platforms. I find that a glaring paradox. Is it that they hold race-based principles in higher priority than biblical ones? In this area Mr. Malanga goes on to state:

Blackwell is betting that many black Americans may be ready for a candidate, like him, who doesn’t preach victimology and doesn’t see the world almost entirely in racial terms. Blackwell is a post-racial, post-civil rights campaigner; race rarely enters into his speeches and is barely a part of his political platform. And even when Blackwell does address racial issues—the achievement gap between black and white students, for instance—it’s to tout free-market solutions like vouchers and charter schools. So far, this approach has resonated with black voters, attracting 40 to 50 percent of them in his statewide elections, even though he runs on the GOP line.

If this trend holds true or even grows, I for one hope it marks the beginning of a turning point for African Americans and generally for Christians in their motivation for supporting one political candidate or another (regardless of race). If you claim to worship God, then act like it in all aspects of life. Politics is no different. The political “sheep-herders” out there would have people remained spiritually and socially chained to their humanistic mindset of supporting politicians based on non-changing social norms. They care no more for the principles of God than the ACLU does. They simply care about their political fortunes. Demographic voting blocs are a means to their ends. To this Mr. Malanga writes:

Blackwell has become a growing target of left-wing blacks like Jesse Jackson, aghast that the first black governor of a major midwestern state might actually turn out to be a conservative who doesn’t trade on race…Jessie Jackson showed up in the state just before the 2004 vote and denounced “beneficiaries of our work engaging in election schemes to undermine the right to vote,” a reference to Blackwell’s role as the state’s chief election officer. Mindful that many people found it hard to swallow the notion that a black was disenfranchising other blacks, Blackwell shot back, “I am Jesse Jackson’s worst nightmare.”

As I said earlier I know relatively little about Ken Blackwell. However from what I read He has an opportunity to put convictions about God ahead of race and disingenuous political rhetoric. For an African American in particular, I say it’s about time. I pray he remains true to these convictions as his election race draws more likely fire from more coalitions of the ACLUs and Jessie Jacksons of the world. It will do well for him to remember this remark from Jesus in the scriptures: Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5 NIV) It appears that Mr. Blackwell has publicly affirmed his intention to wear his Christianity on his sleeve. I say more power to him. If he remains that way, I pray all Christians in the state of Ohio will vote for him…if for no other reason than to stand up for Godly principles in government.

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