Black Republicans make a good point: There should be a greater black presence in the GOP. But then they undermine it by leveling vicious attacks on black leaders for opposing President Reagan and a conservative agenda. Such attacks boomerang and virtually guarantee that blacks will not soon opt for a new partisan home.
Black Republicans are not alone in using self-defeating tactics in seeking to convert black voters. President-elect Reagan and adviser Ed Meese tried the same tactics shortly after the 1980 presidential election.
The president-elect first refused and later reluctantly agreed to meet with the Black Leadership Forum, a coalition of major national organizations, including the powerful black "alphabets": NAACP, NUL, OIC, APRI, SCLC and PUSH. Even in granting the meeting, Reagan refused to acknowledge the forum as an organization of black leaders. Instead, he sent individual invitations to each forum member. To add to this insult, he proclaimed that his own choice of black leaders -- Ralph Abernathy, Hosea Williams and Charles Evers -- also would attend the meeting.
The meeting at Blair House followed a predictable script. The black leaders stated their concerns, and Reagan finessed them with vagueness and jokes. A few days later, Ed Meese, who sat quietly through the Blair House meeting, proclaimed to a group of black GOP functionaries, conservative scholars and curiosity-seekers that he had just left a meeting with "so- called" black leaders. With gusto, Meese promptly designated his audience to be the new and real black leaders with whom his administration would consult.
So, there is ample precedent for EEOC Chairman Clarence Thomas' charge that black leaders "have essentially disenfranchised blacks" and for Civil Rights Commission Chairman Clarence Pendleton to allege that black leaders have led black Americans to a "political Jonestown."
Black Republicans charge that black leaders are taking black people down a blind alley in the Democratic Party. But black leaders are not the problem for the Republican Party; black people are. It is clear that black leaders are marching in step with their constituents.
In a Gallup Poll commissioned by the Joint Center for Political Studies last August, 88 percent of blacks supported Walter Mondale; 65 percent said Jesse Jackson's candidacy made them more likely to vote; and 61 percent said the most important reasons for blacks' being more influential today were Jesse Jackson (36 percent), black political leaders, including mayors (21 percent) and black religious leaders (4 percent). (Just for the record, here is what the remaining respondents said: Increased registration and turnout, 18 percent; growth of the black middle class, 9 percent; anti-Reagan sentiment, 9 percent; don't know, 4 percent.)
Like many white leaders, black leaders in fact seem to be following more than leading. The Jackson candidacy, for example, grew out of grass-roots political mobilization around mayoral campaigns in Chicago, Philadelphia and elsewhere long before there was talk about a black presidential candidate.
In attacking black leaders, then, the Republicans are by extension attacking the very people they would like to recruit. This is not an effective strategy. Rather than spending time denying the legitimacy of those leaders, they should be courting and converting them.
That will not be easy. The Gallup Poll showed that only 14 percent of blacks were satisfied with the way things are going in the country; some 82 percent of blacks disapproved of President Reagan's job performance, and 72 percent described the president as "prejudiced."
Republicans are looking for an easy way around this problem: They would like black leaders to do what they obviously have not succeeded in doing themselves -- namely, to sell the Reagan administration and the conservative agenda to their constituents. But the real black leaders, those legitimized by black people, not by Ed Meese, are not convinced the Republican product is worth selling, and they are not likely to be convinced so long as black Republicans are beating them over the head.