Conservative commentator William F. Buckley debated the Republican party’s representation of African Americans at a taping of PBS’s “Firing Line” on campus Monday, but the discussion quickly turned to the issue of affirmative action.
The two-hour debate, which explored the representation of the African-American community by American government, was moderated by Michael Kinsley, who said the issue of affirmative action sparks heated discussion.
Leading the debaters against the idea of blacks in the Republican party was Bob Shrum, a political consultant who argued that Buckley and his group stand for the same ideals as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
“The very issues that black Americans say are their issues are the ones Republicans are against,” said Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, executive director of the Black Leadership Forum Inc. and an adjunct professor in the Graduate School of Political Management.
Scruggs-Leftwich and Shrum were joined by Christopher Edley Jr. of Harvard Law School, and Susan Estrich, a professor at the University of Southern California Law Center, in arguing that blacks are not well served by the Republican party.
“The party of William F. Buckley may be far right, but it is not the right party for black voters,” Shrum said.
“The decision of the Republican party to focus the race debate in the 1990s on affirmative action is striking proof to me that Republicans care more about polarizing points than dealing with the real issues,” Estrich said.
But Buckley, who was joined by Reps. Gary Franks (R-Conn.) and Charles Canady (R-Fla.) said the GOP would not stand in the way of African Americans who are leaving the grasp of the welfare system.
“The amazing paradox is between what the American black believes and how the men and women they send to Congress vote,” he said.
Ward Connelly, president of the California Civil Rights Initiative, received a warm response as he defended his view against affirmative action.
“The Democrats are beholden to the forces who want to maintain the status quo,” he said.
GW public affairs director Mike Freedman said the audience’s seemingly pro-Republican bent was unintentional. He said the University received the best response from Republicans when it issued invitations to the debate.
“We got a far greater response from the Republican side,” Freedman said. “We tried to spread the word throughout campus and the GW community.”
Freedman said the Democratic National Committee and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People did not show interest in sending panelists.
Despite support of the audience, Buckley said he is unsure if the Republican representatives’ message came across completely.
“It is a pity that we don’t leave with insight into the attraction of the Republican party,” Buckley said.