WASHINGTON -- My recent column about the diminishing political leverage of black voters drew the heaviest response of anything I've written, and the e-mails and letters continue to come in from as far away as Dingle, Ireland. They reveal such an intriguing variety of opinions that I thought I'd share some of them here.
Readers who described themselves as white evangelicals tended to cast their views as one might expect: in the language of religion. "If you know anything of the teachings of Christ," one letter chided, "then you know that Christ cannot and will not be associated with evil. The Democratic Party has embraced every evil this nation has to offer to society."
Many correspondents who identified themselves as white seemed to take particular glee in excoriating Al Sharpton, Julian Bond and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume. At the same time, even blacks who voted for the Democratic ticket frequently expressed disappointment in liberal black leadership.
Similarly, an American living overseas found my mention of the civil rights leaders who planned the 1963 March on Washington a questionable "harking back to the good ol' days of segregation." "What you should be lamenting," he advised, "is the need for genuine black leaders who are not simply out to make a buck."
From a reader in Carmel, Ind.: "If the leaders of the NAACP would be more engaging with President Bush, they could convey their ideas (if they have any) to him and his administration. In doing this, they could further their own cause and help the entire African-American community."
Another reader asked why black voters don't change with the times. "It will do no good to sit back and whine about how good it was when liberal Democrats were in power and needed black voters in their coalition. Why don't black leaders and opinion leaders like yourself actively embrace the ideas of self-reliance, education as an upward mobility tool, entrepreneurship, etc. that are so appealing to the rest of the American populace of all stripes?"
I may very well be traveling in the wrong circles but I've encountered no resistance to such notions among African-Americans I know. That kind of criticism from whites often seems to be based on minimal contact with real-life black people (as opposed to those they see on television) and often reveals a disturbing undercurrent of disapproval of blacks who dare to think for themselves.
That said, quite knowledgeable comments came from whites who live and interact regularly with African-Americans. Some of them found fault with black Christians and accused them of "rolling over" on abortion.
One reader thought I failed to identify the real elephant in the room. In his view, it's racism: "How else can one explain that a president who lied to get us into a war in Iraq, who lies continuously that we are winning the war, and whose inattention contributed to the catastrophe of 9/11, who has presided over a loss of jobs and horrendous budget deficits, got (BEG ITAL)any(END ITAL) votes?"
His take differs dramatically from the black Republicans who wrote in. In calm, measured arguments, they questioned the astounding loyalty of blacks toward a Democratic Party that seems unwilling to take them seriously. One asked, "Isn't it time for our people to stop riding a losing horse and start looking for alternatives?" Among several other salient points, he observed that "giving 88 percent (of black votes) to a man who ignored blacks until the end of the campaign just doesn't make any sense."
A black Air Force veteran who voted for Bush expressed disenchantment with what he regards as the moral laxity of the Democratic Party, especially its tolerance of homosexuality, abortion and "Hollywood values."
Perhaps the most eloquent letter came from a 30-something, single African-American female. Like the Air Force veteran, she is a Christian who did not support the Democratic presidential ticket out of concern for the moral and social stability of the nation.
"There are more African-American Christians who support Bush than you may think," she wrote. "Many are closet supporters because of fear of ridicule and disapproval from their African-American peers." She added that she does not support everything the GOP stands for, but chose to support its candidate after weighing all of the factors. "When other blacks vote in this manner," she concluded, "many more in the black community will finally be empowered to vote according to what is right for themselves and the country as a whole."
I'm not so sure that other black voters aren't already making their decisions in the manner she describes. But I admire her optimism nonetheless.