Published on January 19th, 20130
Soul Train & Republicans
The other night, I was forced by my family to watch The Soul Train Music Awards. I wanted to watch The Walking Dead and Boardwalk Empire, but I was convinced to watch the award show with them.
After all, I grew up watching Soul Train, “the hippest trip in America,” as it was known. I figured it would be quite entertaining. I was wrong.
The show was dated, anachronistic, and had the feel of an old school Summer Jam—something for the Generation X crowd at latest and the Boomers who were teens and twenty-somethings during the 60’s and 70’s at the earliest.
As I watched the show, however, I was struck by an epiphany: everything that was wrong with the Soul Train Music Awards is everything that is wrong with the current incarnation of the Republican Party—it was from older time, led by older people, with almost nothing that appealed to a younger and more in-touch-with-the-times audience; therefore, the younger generation is uninterested at best and contemptuous at worst. We in the GOP are doing Soul Train politics, and our played-out political views are why we are losing members and relevance.
The show had a great start. Cedric the Entertainer hosted. He opened in a dance sequence with some younger folks, and held his own—even while being predictably winded after the scene was over. Throughout the evening, he told jokes that attempted to appeal to the younger audiences—even making references to amusing Tweets that he allegedly received during the show. It was actually rather funny—easily the funniest and most hip thing about the broadcast.
However, Cedric is primarily an older folks comedian after all—someone who appeals to perhaps (if I had one) the era of my older brothers, someone listening to Luther, Maze, and Zapp; someone who grew up more on the Mod Squad and Blacula than on The Cosby Show and 48 Hours; someone for whom Soul Train would have been relevant in an era that still greatly disdained Black music. There was a time when American Bandstand was on, and Black music didn’t get play unless it was very pop-ish. Soul Train fit that niche at that time, at Cedric’s time.
It’s why Cedric makes a nice living playing older sorts (dated, played out, dusty, anachronistic, insert-definition-here) of characters from another era, like Eddie from Barbershop or Rev. Hooker in Kingdom Come. It looks funny on the screen, of course, because they are so dated with their jheri curls and polyester suits. Soul Train is a lot like Cedric. Today, with Black music dominating the Hot 100 charts, Soul Train feels as relevant as the Negro Leagues or the Harlem Globetrotters.
The GOP has the same problem as Soul Train or Rev. Hooker. The party pays lip service to the youth and to minorities—making Twitter and Facebook pages for some of its elected officials, showing speeches on YouTube, running more Latinos and Black candidates.
That’s a good start. But the Tweets are dull and infrequent, with none of the hipness and insider information that the youth on Twitter are looking for. The Facebook pages and YouTube accounts are just as dull and lifeless, with no real insight to the candidates as people with ideas and passions, showing dull videos of wack speeches. It’s like looking at your mom wearing Apple Bottoms.
It’s awkward for them because they wouldn’t ordinarily use them. They look the way it looks when someone from the Motown era announces they’re gonna do a new album—with E-40 rapping on it. You cringe from the horror. I feel the same way with them using the technology. Even in the modern era, they still don’t look relevant.
Even the Latino and Black candidates are over our head; older crusty dudes from an era before us, unhip, uncool, bygone products of an anachronistic period. They all look the way it feels when Cedric is acting like Eddie the Barber. It’s like watching one of the old school players clean up his act and decide to run for Congress. You don’t even really believe him—even if he’s sincere. There is no hip-hop in Herman Cain.
There is no street cred given to Allen West. Nobody was feeling Michael Steele or Ken Blackwell. Herman Cain has been compared over and over again to Uncle Rucker from The Boondocks—which is not a good thing—and his comments during the campaign about Black people seemed to give the same ole, “mind your business around the White folks” jargon that you would have expected from a back-in-the-day cat. All of these guys looked dated. They looked like my older brother’s candidate—or even my Dad’s candidate—not mine. They did not feel relevant to me—just like Soul Train doesn’t in an era where Jay-Z and Usher dominate the charts.
The show gave tributes to Gladys Knight and Earth Wind & Fire, as well as a memorial sequence dedicated to recently passed rapper Heavy D. The show also had performances from several artists, including a very new group of middle school-aged gentlemen named Mindless Behavior. As I watched the performances, it had a very mellow and old-school kind of feel, even when artists performed new songs.
Gladys Knight for a lengthy amount of time on her pride in her achievement award, pride coming from the fact that it came from her own people, pride coming from the fact that Soul Train was there for Blacks in that time. The tribute to Heavy D featured several rappers that many modern fans of hip-hop would not recognize, such as Kurtis Blow, Doug E. Fresh (despite the dance craze in his name, few know who the heck Doug is), Big Daddy Kane, and Naughty By Nature.
Again, we return to the anachronistic nature of the show. This would have been a spectacular lineup in 1992. Nearly twenty years later, after many of these rappers have lost all relevance, it looks like Old Timers Day. My kids perked up when Mindless Behavior was on, but they calmed down considerably when certain performers showed up more than once, and were ready for the show to be over twenty minutes before it ended.
There was simply little or nothing there to appeal to them, there was no sort of connection to the history of Soul Train, and there was no sense of importance to the show—especially in the wake of the American Music Awards from a few weeks ago and the upcoming Grammy Awards; shoot, even the Victoria Secret show has Kanye West and Jay-Z performing. Sadly, nobody cares about Soul Train in this day and age.
All the kids know is the Soul Train line, and they don’t even know it’s called that. A memorial performance to a deceased and respected old-school rapper should have had tributes from the newer and younger performers. That’s how you tie the past to the present and preserve a legacy. The show didn’t do this. This is why Soul Train is irrelevant.
Again, I was reminded of the GOP. The party has an old feel to it that the media exploits and that they do nothing to fix. Since 1993, we have been in what I call the Multimedia Era of the Presidency, the successor to the Television Era that began with Eisenhower in 1953 and ended with the inauguration of Clinton in 1993. In this era, network television and newspapers have lost relevance; old school campaigning looks dated; and the cable networks, the internet, the social networks, and talk radio are the mediums by which the candidate must live by.
The party, however, is not taking full advantage of this medium. The Bush Administration did a piss-poor job of getting out its reasons for its actions, and paid a dear price for such in the area of public opinion. The party is not moving into the 21st Century. It feels old, dated, and relevant to people thirty years older than me, something that may have been dynamic and powerful in 1984, but appears old and dusty today.
There is nothing here that appeals highly to the youth. NONE of the GOP primary candidates—Herman Cain and Michelle Bachman included—had that crossover superstar quality that can be embraced by people other than die-hard Republican voters—just as nothing in the Soul Train Music Awards had anything that appealed to today’s kids. Nothing ties the history of the Republican Party to the relevance of that party to today’s era. Again, it’s Soul Train politics. I’m reminded Cedric, in The Kings Of Comedy, portraying an old cat from the neighborhood talking with one cigarette dangling off his lip, speaking in an almost unrecognizable speedy ‘hood vernacular. It’s funny because we all know an old cat like that. It’s not funny when the old cats are your candidates.
There have been three presidents in the Multimedia Era: Clinton, Bush, and Obama. What do we see? All of the candidates were relatively young, relatively tall, and relatively handsome. They were all popular in their states and charismatic in speaking. They used the multimedia sources to perfection—Clinton famously went on the Arsenio Hall Show and played the saxophone. What is their background? All of them went to elite schools, all of them are Baby Boomers, none were seasoned veterans of politics, and none of them served in war.
They were all married, all at least nominal Christians, all with daughters, all with popular First Ladies, and all ran as moderates with new ideas for their parties. If we were making a profile, this is the portrait of the candidate we want to run. This is what the voters want to see. This is why Kerry had no business running in 2004 and why McCain had no business running in 2008. People are tired of Soul Train politics, especially from Republicans.
They are tired of the helmet-haired, grumpy, foreign war veterans who hearken back to the days of yesteryear. They want young, dynamic go-getters with new ideas and new concepts—young guys who respect the past without constantly visiting it or wishing to return to it. The Democrats aren’t wasting their time looking for their next John F. Kennedy.
They went and got a first Bill Clinton, a first Barack Obama. Yet Republicans are still wasting their time looking for Ronald Reagan to return to us and usher in a Millennial Kingdom of Conservatism. We are still doing Soul Train Politics.
It’s time to upgrade, as Beyonce once sung. We cannot continue to go to the American people in general—and Black people in particular—with lower taxes, smaller government, and personal responsibility. We cannot go to the American people in general—and Black people in particular—with God, family, and country. None of that is enough. In down economic times, people are hurting.
They want to know how keeping their taxes low is going to keep them fed—and it’s hard to talk about giving you a thousand dollar break on your taxes when they believe that millionaires are living tax-free. We must be able to communicate what taxes mean, what they do, and what people really pay—without sounding like graduates of Cal Tech. Just claiming to want low taxes while we suffer the in the greatest recession since FDR just doesn’t work anymore. That’s Soul Train politics.
Gay people are out of the closet, now. They can’t be shoved back into the closet, either. These kids have grown up with Tyra’s Show and with Will and Grace. They go to school with our kids, they play sports or cheerlead, they attend prom. These kids have been at school with them for their entire academic careers. They have attended college and have grown up in liberalism. And honestly, they spend far more time around and with gay people at their schools and on their jobs than many of us have.
Some of us, admittedly, still see gay people in a lesser-than-human-light. That’s old school. These kids don’t see that. While they may not favor gay marriage, they don’t favor ostracizing gay people, either. You must deal with these issues. You can’t just ignore gay people anymore. That’s Soul Train politics.
Millions of illegal people live here, with legal children, paying sales taxes and working jobs. Some of them have been here for more than a few decades. They have raised families. No, they didn’t come here legally. Yes, that is a crime. Yes, there need to be penalties for that. No, throwing them out is not an acceptable penalty. It is not even practical to discuss splitting up families and tossing them all back across the border.
You can’t talk about moats and attack dogs and armed guards along the border without conjuring up images of Soviets and East Germans killing citizens who want freedom. We must protect the border from potential enemies without oppressing potential friends. We can’t just pay lip-service to immigration reform anymore. That’s Soul Train politics.
We must come to some sort of understanding about what shall be done in this society with the needs of homosexual people—be that strengthening civil unions, loosening restrictions on adoptions, full recognition of service in the military, or whatever else needs to be tended to in a 21st Century manner. There need to be new discussions about what to do about abortions. Saying you only favor abortion in case of rape, incest, and threat to mother no longer works. That is an anachronistic view. We need comprehensive discussion about abortion and how to limit the numbers—especially in the Black community. That’s how you get rid of Soul Train politics.
Speaking of the Black community, get off of taxes and get onto jobs. Talk about Black entrepreneurship and Black businesses. Talk about funding for projects in Black neighborhoods that will increase jobs. Stop demonizing unions and deifying corporations; point on the necessity of both to bring balance to the workplace. Talk about credit card reform and insurance reform.
Talk about improving public schools, building up charter schools, subsidies for private schools that service lower-income areas, and helping on fee waivers and forgiven debt for colleges. Talk about affirmative action for those coming from economically disenfranchised homes and neighborhoods.
Talk about cutting into gang violence and drug dealing, and making drug laws equal across the board so that the Left can no longer use the arguments about crack versus powder cocaine. Speaking of cocaine, get out of bed with drug producing and drug shipping countries, such as Mexico, Colombia, and Afghanistan—unless they crack down on their countries’ drug problems.
Lower the stigma on marijuana; stop treating weed smokers like heroin users. No one ever sold their body or broke into someone’s home or robbed a liquor store to get more money for weed. That’s how you avoid Soul Train politics.
And for God’s sake, stop acting like if people aren’t Republicans they don’t love God. Stop acting like America was built only for the Christians, and to a lesser extent, the Jews. Stop acting like every Muslim left Osama Bin Laden Facebook messages on his status. Stop acting like we should check our Blackness at the front door to be admitted to the GOP lounge. Stop acting like family values means that we’ve never committed sins. Stop acting like we’re holier than thou—show that we have better ideas than thou. Be ready to discuss them at a moments notice, and make ‘em clear without talking in ebonics or being condescending.
Get us candidates that are young and hip and in touch with the community and the multimedia forums. Start drafting them at city councils, at school boards, at churches, at of DA’s offices, and at chambers of commerce. Spend the money to help them run. Build them up for Congress and governorships. Later, we can run them for Senators and presidential candidates—and they come up with us, knowing how we think, knowing how to relate to us. That’s how you avoid Soul Train politics.
If we can do those things, then we won’t be dealing in Soul Train politics anymore. It’ll be politics people understand and relate to. We’ll be the Grammies. We’ll be the American Music Awards. That increases memberships. That increases respectability. That makes discussions possible again without being accused of being the Antichrist. That makes you look like you belong in the room, instead of being in an old fedora with a shirt tucked into your slacks with no belt, with a vest and an afro and some Stacy Adams shoes, getting into a Deuce-and-a-Quarter, playing One Way on 8-Track.
That’s played out. It’s stuck in a time warp. Our politics cannot look that way anymore. My Dad might vote for you. No one else will. Soul Train is no longer the hippest trip in America—that phrase doesn’t even make sense anymore. If we don’t change the way we do GOP politics, neither will we.
About the Author: Tamon Pearson is a writer and self-proclaimed urban commentator from South Central Los Angeles. He was raised Libertarian and became a Republican in his early thirties. He is the former chair of the Los Angeles chapter of The California Black Republican Council, and the former Vice-President of the Southern California Republican Club. He is an evangelical Christian and an avid Laker fan. He is engaged, and he and his fiancee have six children between them.