This is part of LEO’s expanded commentary before the Nov. 5 election. For more, click here.
Daniel Cameron, Kentucky’s Republican nominee for attorney general, is a curious fellow. To be sure, he is a rising star in the Republican Party. He is a favorite of right-wingers and he reaffirms his conservative bona fides at every turn. He has been personally groomed by the GOP’s Night King, Mitch McConnell, who Cameron regards as a “father figure.” He has even caught the eye of President Donald Trump who endorsed him this summer.
Quite the resume for a man his age.
Cameron is an oddity in this story largely because he is black. Of course, it’s no crime to be a black Republican. It’s just unusual. The Republican Party was founded in 1854 by free-soilers and abolitionists who fought feverishly against the expansion of slavery. Black voters were loyal to it for almost a century after gaining the franchise in 1870. But, and this is a very serious but, the GOP has strayed so far from its roots that the current members of the party would probably call their progenitors unpatriotic traitors.
Today’s Republicans push a nasty brand of nativism and mean-spiritedness and do not hesitate to use racial dog whistles and even bullhorns when it suits their purposes. From Trump to McConnell to Kentucky Gov. Matthew Bevin to their confederates across the country, Republicans are offering a product that plays to an overwhelmingly white, xenophobic audience. The current incarnation of the GOP is a far cry from the “party that freed the slaves.”
Even Kentucky’s junior senator, Rand Paul, opined the party has been trending toward becoming “the old white man’s party” for some time. It’s not hard to see why most African Americans avoid the GOP like the plague. But, not Daniel Cameron. He wholeheartedly embraces it.
Readers familiar with me know Daniel Cameron and I are as different as night and day. He’s a staunch conservative, and I’m a radical democrat (not Democrat, as in party, mind you) who doesn’t like most politicians on either side of the aisle. I’m sickened by the Democrats’ perpetual cowardice and repulsed by the Republicans’ closed-minded callousness. There are a few exceptions, but, for the most part, both parties are distasteful.
I’m not supposed to like Daniel Cameron, either. I’m supposed to skewer him and cast him as a black man who has abandoned his people and chosen to sleep with the enemy. As political titans such as Elijah Cummings and John Conyers die in disturbingly quick succession, I’m supposed to blast Cameron for ignoring and bastardizing their legacies.
I’m supposed to scream that Cameron isn’t the veritable “spook who sat by the door” with a master, liberatory plan but just a spooky sellout with a plan that only considers his own success. I’m supposed to be outraged and call for you to be outraged too, because outrage sells after all. We love it! As the young folks say, I’m supposed to “cancel” Daniel Cameron!
Well, here’s another thing that makes the case of Daniel Cameron curious. He’s one of my former students. I’m not sure how much he listened to me, but he was actually one of my favorites. He was one of the smartest, most respectful undergraduates I’ve ever encountered, and I’m happy to see him do well.
Mr. Cameron was always on a conservative track, and I couldn’t (nor did I try to) change that. And, importantly, I cannot be a hypocrite. I have told students for decades that my job is to force them to think; not to force them to think like me. At the end of the day, Mr. Cameron doesn’t think like me, and that’s just fine.
I wish I could vote for Daniel Cameron on Nov. 5, but I can’t. We’re simply too far apart philosophically. But, I’m not canceling him either. Just like my more liberal students who have gone on to achieve notable things, he’s still one of my guys. I love him and hope he continues to grow.
Maybe we’d all be better if we stopped demonizing and “canceling” and started caring and conversing. So, let’s see how this scene in the curious case of Daniel Cameron ends. It should be interesting. And who knows, maybe my voice still creeps out of some tiny corner in his mind from time to time — chirping away with challenges. He might even listen to it periodically. •
Dr. Ricky L. Jones is chair of Pan-African Studies at UofL. Visit him at rickyljones.com. Follow him on Twitter @DrRickyLJones