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Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Published: 23 March 2006

Toward the end of Claude Allen's abortive Senate judicial confirmation hearing in 2003, Utah Sen. Orin Hatch tossed a puffball question at him.

Hatch asked what Allen's grandfather — who was the first in his family born out of slavery — would say to him about his pending judgeship. Allen, visibly moved by the question, said his grandfather would tell him to give back to those who had helped him.

Conservative Blacks' names quickly disappear from the scandal sheets. They are simply too valuable to be tossed to the wolves.

Allen's answer told much about the Republican Party's two-decade-long courtship of Black conservatives — something that hasn't changed even when some of them embarrass the party with verbal gaffes or fall from grace in a swirl of corruption and scandal. Allen has fit the bill on both counts.

In 1982, he embarrassed the GOP with his slurs against gays and feminists, and two decades later, during his confirmation hearing, he didn't back away from them. And now there's the allegation that he is a two-bit thief — Allen is charged with fraudulently returning items to retail stores.

But Allen is only the latest in a string of Black conservative poster boys that have been dogged by scandal. In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan's HUD Secretary Samuel Pierce was accused of corruption and influence peddling. Clarence Pendleton, Reagan's appointee to head the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, was hit with allegations of illicit business dealings. Then there's the sexual scandal that embroiled George Bush Sr.'s Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas, in 1991.

Last year, Black Republican pitchman Armstrong Williams was reviled for grabbing nearly a quarter of a million dollars from the White House to pump George Bush Jr.'s education policies, all the while masquerading as a neutral media commentator.

In each case, the Republican administration's disgraced Black appointees and boosters did not tumble as far from grace as might be expected. Pierce and Pendleton served no jail time and resumed their business careers. Thomas now sits on the high court. Though Williams was bounced from his spot as a commentator on a few media outlets, he is still a frequent guest on talk shows, defending conservative policies.

Conservative Blacks' names quickly disappear from the scandal sheets. They are simply too valuable to be tossed to the wolves.

Conservatives desperately need Blacks such as Allen to maintain the public illusion that Black conservatives have real clout and a popular following in Black communities.

In the last presidential election Republican National Committee head Ken Mehlman and Bush strategist Karl Rove spent millions on outreach efforts to attract African American voters. Mehlman has since barnstormed the country, conservative Blacks in tow, to pimp the GOP's message to Black organizations.

Black conservative political activists such as Allen spin and defend administration policies on affirmative action, welfare, free-market capitalism and anti-government regulations with the best of White conservatives. But none of their efforts have helped much. Bush still got only a marginal bump in the Black vote in 2004, and with his Hurricane Katrina bumble his poll ratings are stuck even deeper in the tank with Blacks.

Still, Republicans have done everything possible to ease the way up the political ladder for their bevy of Black conservatives. Allen's career is a textbook example of that. He was barely out of the University of North Carolina when he became the spokesperson for Sen. Jesse Helms' re-election campaign in 1982.

He moved from there to work for Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He then bagged a prize clerkship on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Next, he was appointed counsel for Virginia's attorney general, then became Virginia's deputy attorney general and later secretary of health and human services. When his judicial nomination didn't pan out, Bush made him his top domestic policy adviser.

In years past, scandal-plagued Black Republican boosters and appointees pretty much skated away with little more than bad publicity and a hand slap. Allen may not be as lucky.

But as long as Republicans find men like him useful in their drive to make the party appear to be an authentic voice in Black America, they'll do whatever they can to keep them as far out of harm's way as possible.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a columnist for BlackNews.com.

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