Republicans are being handed the kind of wedge issue that comes along once in a generation and they are utterly oblivious to the gift. The last great Democratic Party constituency, African-Americans, is pitted against the party’s last great organizational bulwark, public employee unions. The waves of protests over police brutality that ignited nationwide over the killing of Michael Brown have focused on race. Protestors so far have failed to appreciate why police, like so many other public employees, are consistently shielded from accountability to the people they serve.I've thought the same thing for years. Indeed, pandering by Democrats to police unions is the main reason significant criminal-justice reform didn't begin in Texas until Republicans took over the Legislature in 2003 for the first time since Reconstruction. While Dems were in charge, police unions had virtual veto power on criminal justice bills, whereas Republicans feel little need to pander to them.
No one seems to have thought to combine the protests over an unaccountable police force with the protests by some of the same people in some of the very same neighborhoods, over the failure to provide a decent public education to poor and minority communities. Both problems have the same root cause – unions that shield their members from accountability.
Media narratives have simplified these protests to fit stereotypical party alignments. Republicans are seen taking their usual law-and-order stance alongside the police while Democrats advocate for social justice and civil rights. That divide is not so clear on the ground.
All of the major officials involved in the Ferguson case, from the Governor down to the local DA are Democrats. The officials investigating the Tamir Rice case in Cleveland (keep an eye on that one) are Democrats. Only in the Staten Island case are there any Republicans in decision-making roles.
Debates over urban access to effective public safety or effective public education are exclusively intraparty fights among Democrats. Despite the black community’s importance as a Democratic voting bloc, African-Americans always lose that fight with the unions. Every. Single. Time.
When the Democratic Party is faced with a conflict between a public employee union and a black urban population desperate to gain access to the public services that union is supposed to deliver, the union wins. This is the civil rights logjam that has blocked black communities from access to the prosperity that they deserve. Republicans do not own this problem and they should not help perpetuate it.
Grits doubts Republican pols will seize the opportunity Ladd identifies, in part because the party contains too many elderly ex-Dixiecrats who flipped sides in the Reagan era and have little interest in civil rights or appealing to black constituents. But it's absolutely correct that the GOP has been presented with a "once in a generation" opportunity if its leaders possess the boldness and foresight to seize upon it.