JC Watts during his first term in congress with former leader of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell.
JC Watts, no matter how you feel about him, did something very remarkable that few black politicians can do – get elected to Congress from a majority white district. Watts went against local party leaders, running where the establishment did not want him to run and succeeding. I don’t always agree with Watts, but that is something to be celebrated.
His story isn’t celebrated because Watts is a heretic in the world of black politics. His aspirations are tainted by many blacks’ opposition to his views, often seen as insensitive and rooted in the need to kowtow to white authority.
Watts, and his back story, would argue differently.
He was born in Oklahoma, his father was a Baptist minister and as a youth, Watts and one other black student were the first to integrate his elementary school. Later he was the first black quarterback on his high school football team and was talented enough to play professional football in Canada. When he ran for office in Oklahoma he was a “favorite son” of his district. A high profile star.
Watts, like many black centrists who leaned conservative, became disillusioned with the Democratic Party after 1989. The race in ’88 was the last time he voted Democratic. He was against a paternalistic relationship developing between blacks and whites that he viewed as being rooted in guilt and governmental over-reliance. As a Republican, he was elected to the House in 1994 after an intense campaign and became rising star in the party.
Unfortunately for Watts, not everyone was keen on his ascension.
A New York Times profile from 2000 Watts touched on his sometimes adversarial relationship with House Majority Whip Tom Delay. Delay had either a dislike or a disinterest in Watts, later dooming his re-election bid. Delay, counter to his political ideology, backed a more moderate Republican to run for Watts’ seat.
In the last year, Mr. Watts has battled other top House Republicans, notably Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the majority whip, for control of the party’s message. He insists those feuds are over.
“Our styles are different,” Mr. Watts said of himself and Mr. DeLay. “Tom is smack in the face, 100 miles an hour. I’m a lot more laid back, wanting to build coalitions and bring in new people. He uses a hammer. I use a carrot.”
The infighting often took a toll on Watts and he did not serve a second term. He retired from political office. His critics, from other Republicans to members of the Black Congressional Congress to black political commentators who, at best, deemed him as clueless and at worst, a sell-out.
In a letter by Marcus Williams on BlackPressUSA.com, Williams lays out the typical charges that Watts was being played as a stooge by his own party despite them putting him in positions of influence.
J.C Watts was fourth in the GOP leadership but was never consulted in matters concerning the party. He was in the Republican hierarchy but found out the Crusader (the next generation 155mm self propelled howitzer) weapons program was being discontinued the same time and way I found out, on the evening news. Ironically the weapon system was being built in his home state of Oklahoma. Would large federal programs of been cut in the congressional districts of Dennis Hastert or Tom Delay by a Republican administration without them knowing about it? Probably not. I have no idea what Mr. Watts political acumen is, but by virtue of his position in the party you would think he would be solicited for ideas, yet his mission statement was simple, seen but not heard, a poster child for this compassionate conservatism. J.C Watts’ position in the Republican Party personifies the GOP’s view on blacks, seen but not heard.
There is a grass roots campaign to get Watts on the short list to be John McCain’s running mate, but I don’t see this being anymore likely than a McCain-Rice ticket or a McCain-Powell ticket. There is a better chance of McCain co-opting former Democrat Joe Lieberman, who’s already been a VP candidate once, than select Watts. Despite his popularity among Republicans, Watts has consistently been dismissed by party leaders. Someone people praise with words, but don’t back up with actions.
Watts, naturally, has had adversarial relationships with black Democrats. He famously called members of the Congressional Black Congress “race hustling poverty pimps” in reaction of being called a “sellout.” Needless to say, he did not join the organization and saw it as counterproductive to black progress.
Today Watts still largely advocates a Republican agenda to facilitate black progress, a model based on personal responsibility, self-reliance and small government. He remains very critical of large government programs created to augment the disparities in wealth and education for African Americans. He can also be a bit wearing with his toothy grin and “chippiness,” but if you’re an iconoclast spouting what many blacks hear as hostile polemic you’re going to piss people off.
Watts, like other black Republicans, has been steadfast in his assertion that the Republican Party needs to make a serious play for the black vote rather than ceding it to the Democrats. He restated that view last year on CNN when all of the top tier Republicans running for president dismissed a debate being held by Tavis Smiley in front of a largely black audience.
I don’t have a problem with Watts. I typically don’t agree with him, but I feel his concern about black issues is real. I know his desire to see his views get as equal a billing as the Democrat views get in the black community is real. Unfortunately the antagonistic relationship between him and other black politicians is so unhealthy things typically melt down into name-calling and finger-pointing.
When it comes to Obama, like Condoleezza Rice, Amy Holmes and even Ward Connerly, Watts can’t help but to admit his excitement over an Obama candidacy. While their views on progress and struggle are vastly different, Wat
ts feels the same pride and sense of acknowledgment that irregardless of political posturing, this election is one for the books.
In a pair of columns Watts wrote about Obama that appeared in the Las Vegas Review Journal, Watts focuses on Obama’s success and the roots behind it.
Despite the fact that some think he is rallying crowds and new voters with platitudes and fluff, you have to admit this guy has a special sauce for which no one else — Republican or Democrat — has the recipe. He really does have the persona of a candidate who is very special.
In fact, when the primary season ends, he may have a tailwind behind him that Republicans won’t be able to cut through.
Watts defends Obama against critics who accuse him of lacking substance.
Obama’s opponents say he’s offering no specifics. Not true.
He’s offering health care for everyone who has none. As a result, the cost of health care for the rest of us will increase dramatically over the next two to four years. Offering no proposals to trim spending and cut out waste in the federal government, he will have no choice but to increase taxes on not just the rich, but on working class men and women as well.
I chuckle when I hear the talking heads say they can’t believe he is creating such a following. It shouldn’t be surprising.
People of all colors want to be inspired, and Sen. Obama is indeed inspiring, regardless of what one may think of his policies.
In the second column, Watts compares Obama’s successes to that of another phenom, Tiger Woods.
They have analyzed Sen. Obama just as the other golfers have analyzed Tiger, but Sen. Clinton has yet to conclude what I have concluded about Tiger Woods. He’s just a better golfer than the other guys. Well, Barack Obama has raised more money, he’s better organized, he’s a better communicator, and finally — notwithstanding the serious Rev. Jeremiah Wright-induced bump in the road — he’s just a better candidate.
Watts finds a lot of parallels between Woods and Obama. By focusing on their tasks with discipline and not being distracted by some overly attacks, Watts said they overcame adversity. He also uses this column to discuss how racism exists in both political parties, only Democrats get to use their greater inclusiveness as an immunity badge against the label racist. He also criticizes Republicans for not using the current racial rift in the Democratic Party to their advantage by offering blacks an alternative.
He ends his column declaring that because of Obama’s ability to withstand attacks, “the general election is up for grabs.”
Based on what Watts has said on CNN and in writing, he has not publicly taken much issue with Obama’s policies, were are more Liberal than his, and instead focuses on what they would have in common – being trailblazers. All of Watts’ words beam with an enthusiasm because Obama is tackling the race question the same way Watts had aspired to – by treating it as a non-issue. The excitement is undeniable. Watts is very energized by the campaign. So, how do I think Watts would answer the big two questions?
Chances of endorsing Obama: Normally I wouldn’t say this about a committed member of the Republican Party like Watts, but considering he isn’t holding any office and runs his own business there is an opportunity for Watts to show his support for Obama if he chooses to do so. But doing anything too openly could threaten his ability to maintain relationships with other Republicans. It’s sort of a toss up. On the other hand, I don’t see him becoming an attack dog for the Republicans. I think he genuinely likes both Obama and John McCain.
Chances of voting for Obama: He might do it. But like Shelby Steele, I’m pretty sure he’d like to hear some specifics about Obama’s views on inner-city blight, failed education systems and Affirmative Action before he makes a final decision. If Obama takes a more centrist view on these issues, Watts is likely to pull the lever for him come fall.
Check back to The Black Snob all this week and next, the series concluding on April 14th.
Sunday: Amy Holmes
Monday: Condoleezza Rice
Tuesday: Ward Connerly
Wednesday: Shelby Steele
Thursday: Alan Keyes
Friday: JC Watts
Saturday: Colin Powell
Sunday: Armstrong Williams
Monday: Michael Steele
Tuesday: John McWhorter
Wednesday: LaShawn Barber and Herman Cain
Thursday: Star Parker and Eric Wallace
Friday: Larry Elder and Thomas Sowell
Saturday: Juan Williams
Sunday: A final analysis, “Who Would Clarence Thomas Vote For?”