Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Opinion: RE: Mark Kirk as a Racial Reconcilliator

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    NEWSLETTERS

    It’s always nice when an argument breaks your way, even when it takes more than two years to do so. 

    In November 2010, I commemorated Mark Kirk’s Senate inauguration with a blog post noting that, as a result of his replacing Roland Burris (who himself replaced Barack Obama), the Senate now had no black members. I expressed the hope that Kirk would be “conscious of the historic nature of his Senate seat” by avoiding cultural issues, and focusing on economics. Which is exactly what he’s done.
    James Taranto, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, seized on this to write a column entitled “Stuff White People Like,” in which he criticized me for assuming that blacks shared my white liberal politics. It was an attempt to discredit my concern for the Senate’s diversity by making me look “clueless” about race, to use Taranto’s word.
    Wrote Taranto:
    There are "social policies" on which blacks tend to be more liberal than whites--crime, welfare, racial preferences--but these are not the ones that divide moderate and conservative Republicans. Plainly Kirk is referring chiefly to abortion and also, perhaps, to same-sex marriage and other matters involving homosexuality. On these questions blacks tend to be, if anything, somewhat more conservative than whites. (Editor's emphasis.)
    Kirk, a five-term House member, is no social conservative. In 2008 he had just a 17% rating from the Family Research Council. His views were well-suited to his suburban district, where a social conservative probably would have been unelectable. But his district is less than 5% black. McClelland, who by the way is white, shows his own prejudices when he imagines Kirk to be some sort of racial conciliator because the new senator holds views that are congenial to social liberals who are mostly white.
    On February 14, 2013 the Illinois Senate voted 34-21 to approve gay marriage. All 21 no votes were cast by whites. Two black senators -- Patricia Van Pelt and Napoleon Harris -- voted “present,” while James Clayborne didn’t vote. But no member of the Black Caucus voted nay. This would suggest that, in fact, whites are more conservative than blacks on matters involving homosexuality. It’s also worth remembering that Roland Burris felt so strongly about overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that he wanted to return to the Senate to vote against it.
    Taranto doesn’t follow Illinois politics as closely as I do, so I pointed this fact out to him on Twitter. Here are some of his responses.  

    1. @jamestaranto called me prejudiced for assuming blacks support gay marriage. No black sens voted against it in IL: illinoisreview.typepad.com/...
       
       
    2. .@TedMcClelland Glad I struck a nerve, but that's not an accurate representation of what I wrote. online.wsj.com/article/SB10...
       
       
    3. @jamestaranto You wrote blacks are more conservative than whites on gay marriage. 21 white senators voted nay, 0 black senators did.
       
       
    4. @jamestaranto You were trying to turn it around to make me look prejudiced, but used an inaccurate racial stereotype to do so.
       
       
    5. .@TedMcClelland I wrote that in 2010. The vote was in 2013. It's possible black public opinion shifted markedly in the interim.
       
       
    6. .@TedMcClelland However, the fact that black Illinois senators unanimously voted with their party does not establish that.
       
       
    7. .@TedMcClelland Nor does it contradict my central point, that same-sex marriage was driven by (mostly white) social liberals, not blacks.
       
       
    8. @jamestaranto Even in 2010, only one black senator voted no on civil unions.
       
       
    9. .@TedMcClelland Again, party discipline could explain that.
       
       
    10. @jamestaranto Also, the first president to endorse gay marriage was black. And he got 94% of the black vote after doing so.
       
       
    11. .@TedMcClelland You're suggesting Obama speaks on behalf of black people? That sounds prejudiced to me.
       
       
    12. @jamestaranto You suggesting that black legislators vote how their white leaders tell them sounds prejudiced to ME.
       
       
    13. @jamestaranto I'm saying that his support of gay marriage didn't cost him any black support.
       
       
    14. @TedMcClelland Because you are seeing a nonracial observation--lawmakers often vote with their parties--through your own racial prism.
       
       
    15. @jamestaranto I'm saying it proves there's not a racial divide in support of gay marriage -- at least not the one you argued,
       
       
    16. .@TedMcClelland The real test of your 2010 argument will be Sen. Kirk's performance among blacks in 2016. I doubt this issue will help him.
       
       
    17. @jamestaranto Won't BE an issue. Dem will be pro-gay, too. Kirk trying to stop GOP from firing party chair over gay marriage support.
       
       
    18. .@TedMcClelland Your claim which I disputed in 2010 was that Kirk's liberal social leanings made him a racial reconciliator.