Ol' Hobbs.jpg

It's hard to believe that 10 years have flown by since I made my final decision to leave the Republican Party. If you're surprised that I was ever a Republican, don't let your imagination run wild with images of a bad haircut having, grinning “Yessa Massa" Hobbs because that surely wasn't me; while I voted twice for President Barack Obama, I stayed in the GOP for local influence purposes until 2014 because as a stubborn Taurus, I believed that I could make a difference on the local and state level.

Well, I was wrong, as the column below that I wrote back then attests:

Title: Why Ol' Hobbs is leaving the Grand Old Party

While watching the annual CPAC conference this weekend and listening to the “rising stars” of the Republican Party, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and famed physician Dr. Ben Carson, I have come to a final conclusion that I am leaving the Republican Party as soon as I can make it to the Leon County Supervisor of Elections office this week.

My pending divorce from the Party of Lincoln has been a long time coming because with each passing year it becomes more apparent to me that I have grown tired of swimming against the tide of ignorance, innuendo, and ineptitude that marks a group whose brain drain is a direct result of the dumbing down of American politics due mostly to conservative talk radio—and Fox News.

My pending divorce from the Republican Party is no “break up to make up” like the Stylistics once sang, but like any divorce, there is a strong sense of frustration that I now feel in leaving a party that I was attached to long before I was even eligible to vote.

Through the years I have often been asked how one who loves history as much as I do, and one who is so conscious about race, racism, and the legal slights—both historical and at present—could I align with a party that for the past four decades, has replaced the old segregation supporting Democrats and Dixiecrats of yore?

While a simple question, the short answer is that for those of you who remember Michael J. Fox’s character Alex P. Keaton on NBC’s “Family Ties” in the 1980’s, and how Keaton was a staunch lover of all things Richard Nixon, well that, too, was a naive young Hobbs.

Michael J. Fox as Alex P. Keaton on the NBC hit comedy “Family Ties” circa 1984…

My early politics were decidedly similar to that of my father, a military officer who had supported Democratic presidential candidates up until 1980 when he, like many Americans, was disappointed with President Jimmy Carter’s handling of the Iran Hostage Crisis where Ayatollah Khomeni’s minions held 52 American hostages for 444 days from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981.

My seven-year-old self understood fully that if war broke out in the Middle East that my father, a Vietnam War vet and Lt. Colonel in the Army, very likely would be deployed—and that alternately frustrated and scared me beyond words.

That year, the hostage crisis served as my first political awakening as I sat transfixed each evening while watching Walter Cronkite and other CBS Evening News reporters chronicle the latest news from Iran. Later, the fact that the hostages were released on Inauguration Day 1981—Ronald Reagan’s Inauguration Day—made a huge impact on my young political psyche.

Now, there was so much about Reagan that I did not know at such a tender age but to me, the hostage crisis and his later challenges to the Soviet Union during the mid-1980’s showed a strength that endeared the man to young Hobbs.

While I was too inexperienced to understand it back then, information that I would eventually learn about Reagan and his ilk formed the bases for my pending divorce from the GOP.

For example, as a student at Morehouse College over a decade later, I would learn that in 1980, during the middle of the hostage crisis, that the very man that I admired, Ronald Reagan, had announced his presidential candidacy in Philadelphia, Mississippi—a small town that was ONLY famous for being the site where the bodies of slain civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman were found brutally lynched in 1964.

Similarly, I would later realize that Reagan’s “welfare queen” comments early in his first administration were precursors to the continuing stereotypes of Blacks being the main beneficiaries of government handouts, a position that to this very hour, fails to acknowledge that more whites per capita participate in government assistance programs than all other demographic groups.

Reagan’s dalliances with race baiting in the 1980’s were a direct result of a tone shift in the Republican Party that began during the height of the Civil Rights Movement; it must be noted that Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson remarked to then aide Bill Moyers that by signing the Civil Rights Act in 1964, that he had “just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come.” Indeed, statistics have proved LBJ prescient as the GOP has clearly dominated Southern politics since 1968.

In fact, one of the biggest historical falsehoods propagated by modern Republicans is that as heirs to the Party of Lincoln, that the Republican Party—not the Democratic Party— was primarily responsible for the gains of the Civil Rights Movement. The falsity to this notion is that it was President Lyndon Johnson, a Texas Democrat, who wielded his great influence from years of service in Congress to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, passed. Historians note that in 1964, Arizona Senator and Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater’s vote against the Civil Rights Act not only led to Johnson’s landslide presidential victory, but also led to Goldwater becoming the first Republican presidential candidate to carry the once solidly Democratic states of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

LBJ shaking hands with Dr. Martin Luther King after signing the Voting Rights Act in August of 1965…

Knowing these facts, I admit that it was very difficult to justify being a Republican for over 20 years even though deep in my heart, my honorable intentions within the Florida Republican Party was to advocate on behalf of Black people in the backrooms and the very gubernatorial office where policies were being made with little input from Black people.

But yes, it has been difficult for me to justify being a Republican as a historian who now knows that Alex Keaton's beloved President Richard Nixon’s promise to establish “law and order” in the wake of the protest movements and riots following Dr. Martin Luther King’s death in 1968 was a form of race baiting.

Yes, it has been difficult for me to justify being a Republican when knowing that race baiting was being used to spook white voters. In 1988, Republican strategist Lee Atwater took a cue from Tennessee Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore concerning then Democratic front-runner Michael Dukakis who, while serving as Governor of Massachusetts, initiated a controversial furlough program. One Black inmate, Willie Horton, upon release, traveled to my old hometown of Oxon Hill, Maryland and subsequently raped a young woman. While Senator Gore raised the Horton issue to no avail in the Democratic primary, Atwater made the issue the centerpiece of a highly successful attack ad that on the surface sent a message that Dukakis was soft on crime, but to Black folks, it was code that Blacks were to be feared.

For further perspective on my gradual disillusionment with the GOP, when I was a student at Morehouse in the 1990’s, my political column in the Maroon Tiger newspaper was center-right. By the time I graduated from the University of Florida College of Law later that decade, my columns in the Independent Florida Alligator newspaper were center-left.

My politics shifted greatly in the 90’s due to the outstanding educations that I received at Morehouse, FAMU Grad School, and UF Law…

By the time I opened my law practice in 2001, I knew that race mattered far too much in every facet of the criminal justice system from arrest, to prosecution, to sentencing—especially the death penalty. More crucially, by this time, I no longer believed that homosexuality was a sin that the government had a right to rectify; I no longer believed that government was “always” the problem, a popular mantra that is often the password to conservative acceptance; I no longer believed that the government had a right to regulate abortion, but I still remained in the GOP to explain “why” I felt that way to those whose hearts and minds were increasingly closing to the devastation of the culture wars.

Looking back, my soon to be finalized divorce from the Republican Party probably began in earnest in August of 2008, when I was granted a press pass to cover the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota as a correspondent for Black and Brown News Service and the Tallahassee Democrat. Upon arrival, I was struck by the lack of Black and other ethnic minority delegates in the convention hall, but what made the white wash all the more baffling was the fact that the pervasive themes of that year's convention—God, country, and the belief that hard work leads to success—are concepts that Blacks and other minorities live and breathe. Why, then, were so few people of color involved in a party that touts itself as the purveyor of such ideals?

The simple reason is the race baiting that is all too common among the upper reaches of the Republican elite.

Republican presidential nominee John McCain debating Democratic nominee Barack Obama in September of 2008…

Now, while I note that there was a paucity of Blacks at the 2008 convention, I do not mean that there were no Blacks. I distinctly recall Dr. David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies reporting that there were 36 Black delegates in attendance out of a total of 2,380 delegates at the Minneapolis convention; that number was down from the 167 Blacks that attended the Republican Convention in 2004. Before the convention ended, CNN analyst Jeff Toobin described it as the GOP being a “Party of Old White Guys” with no apparent “diversity.”

But in the years since, I often have spoken with a similarly frustrated Republican Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Brother of mine, Jimmy Greene, about how the biggest impediment to Blacks finding the Republican Party palatable remains, well, Black Republicans! During my stay in Minneapolis in ‘08, I met several Black Republicans who seemed genuinely friendly and engaging.

To say that the 2008 Republican Convention lacked diversity is a gross understatement…

Oddly though, most of the Black delegates that I approached were somewhat hesitant to speak to me, but most eventually cooperated to varying extents. Among these, there seemed to be three general types; the first type was the rank opportunist, the individual who candidly stated that his or her business deals hinged upon their GOP contacts. The second was the overly jovial type; the one’s speaking and laughing loudly as they walked through the streets of Minneapolis-Saint Paul as if they hadn’t a care in the world. The third consisted of those wearing a perpetual scowl, those who saw the pen and pad in my hand and ran away as if I was some liberal demon sent to “out” them.

Those instances would have been amusing if not so disturbing; since I was there as a freelance journalist, not as a lawyer or fellow Republican party member, I did not reveal that I knew that their false bravado was an attempt to mask insecurities, particularly that feeling of swimming upstream that many Black Republicans experience when they realize that they are only a tangential portion of the greater narrative due to low Black numbers. And as of this week, the Black Republican numbers will be even lower, as I gracefully exit stage right—no pun intended.

There was a time in which men like Arizona Senator John McCain, former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, each a Republican nominee for president over the last two decades, made some sense to me as they broke ranks time and again with the petty, discursive, and yes, often racist banter of some of their fellow party members.

But with the proliferation of craziness in the GOP, one in which the likes of Michele Bachmann can foolishly opine that the Black family was stronger during slavery; one in which Rep. Joe Wilson can scream “You Lie” at President Obama during the State of the Union Address and be lauded for his “courageous” candor; one in which comments about “legitimate rape” or questioning the first Black president’s intellect and work ethic—long time smears that Black men during slavery and Jim Crow were “stupid” and “lazy;” not to forget the Birther Movement, the attacks on Blacks as “takers” who are seeking Obamacare and welfare as some form of laziness at best, or retribution or reparations from slavery at worse, these and many other examples of racist white ignorance have left me a stranger in a stranger and more virulently racist GOP Land.

Ol' Hobbs exchanging words with Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott during a sit-in that Attorney Mutaqee Akbar and I led in 2012 to demand a special prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case. Also pictured is famed Attorney Ben Crump, the civil rights leader who teamed with his law partner Daryl Parks to represent the Martin family…

And stranger still is that even those Black Republicans who I have always admired, like Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, are not nearly as embraced among white conservatives as Herman Cain, Allen West, Ben Carson, and Alan Keyes—Black quislings who pretend as if racism is dead and that race no longer matters in an effort to curry favor and votes from their white political masters.

In conclusion, the irreconcilable differences that I will cite in my final divorce decree from the GOP stem from the words of Republican strategist Lee Atwater, who said in 1981 following his successful aid in Ronald Reagan’s election: “You start out in 1954 by saying, “N*gger, n*gger, n*gger.” By 1968 you can’t say “n*gger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N*gger, n*gger.”

The late Republican strategist Lee Atwater (right) with the late James Brown (center) and Rev. Al Sharpton.

Abstract indeed, Mr. Atwater, and as one who some Republicans still see as a “n*gger" despite my career attainments and erudition, to paraphrase Richard Nixon, as of tomorrow, they won’t have Ol’ Hobbs to kick around anymore.

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Chuck Hobbs is a freelance journalist who won the 2010 Florida Bar Media Award and has been twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.

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