With the recent theatrical release of “42,” a new generation of Americans will be introduced to the inspirational story of Jackie Robinson.
Robinson, a Negro Leagues star, was the first player to break baseball’s color line. He faced enormous adversity and racism while playing second base for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947 to 1956. To his credit, Robinson changed the hearts and minds of many Americans with his intellect, wit, steely reserve and incredible athletic skills.
There’s no question Robinson deserves our admiration for overcoming these difficult obstacles. In particular, liberals love to cite his example when discussing civil rights, the historic plight of black Americans, and how minorities can escape the shackles of hatred and intolerance.
There’s more to this story than meets the eye, though. There’s one little fact about Robinson that the political left hates to discuss. They often ignore it or simply try to spin the issue away. For many years, the great black player was a political independent and, much to their chagrin, a Republican, albeit on the liberal side.
OK, you can all pick up your jaws off the floor. Let’s investigate this point a bit further.
Robinson was actively interested and engaged in U.S. politics for a significant chunk of his adult life. He grew up under a Democratic Party in Georgia that was often angry, bigoted and intolerant toward his race. Like other blacks of that time, Robinson had no interest in supporting a political party with members who historically had cavorted with the Ku Klux Klan. As he wrote in his 1972 autobiography “I Never Had It Made,” “I never cared about acceptance as much as I cared about respect.” In those early days, many Southern Democrats didn’t respect him.
Robinson and his family, therefore, tended to lean Republican. Arnold Rampersad wrote in his 1997 book “Jackie Robinson: A Biography,” “In choosing his middle name, his family intended to honor Teddy Roosevelt. As president, the patrician Roosevelt had inspired many blacks because of his outspoken disdain for racism.” The future Brooklyn Dodgers great eventually took his own political positions that were fairly conservative, such as his support for the troops in the Vietnam War. He supported Richard M. Nixon in the 1960 presidential election, and was a national director for Nelson Rockefeller’s 1964 presidential campaign (and later a special assistant for community affairs after his 1966 gubernatorial re-election in New York).
In his autobiography, Robinson noted that he preferred to call himself an independent because “I’ve never identified myself with one party or another in politics.” Meanwhile, the 1964 Republican presidential nomination of Barry Goldwater ultimately drove him away from the party. Robinson wrote, “Every chance I got, while I was campaigning, I said plainly what I thought of the right-wing Republicans and the harm they were doing. I felt the GOP was a minority party in term of numbers of registered voters and could not win unless they updated their social philosophy and sponsored candidates and principles to attract the young, the black and the independent voter.”
Hence, when the Republican National Committee included Robinson as one of their 16 “heroes” in 2009, many liberals cried foul.
Sam Stein wrote in the Huffington Post, “[a]s pointed out by a Democratic source, the inclusion of baseball star Jackie Robinson on the list seems particularly egregious.” More recently, The Nation’s Dave Zirin ran with this point and stated Robinson was “a Republican like Frederick Douglass was a Republican: a member of a party that no longer exists.”
The political left seems to think that Robinson, if he were still alive, would be exactly like former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. To wit: a liberal Republican, and someone who voted twice for President Obama, a Democrat.
That’s not entirely clear, however.
Today’s GOP is inclusive and has welcomed minority groups into their ranks, which would have eased Robinson’s concerns. The party’s support of conservative and libertarian principles would have appealed to an unconventional political thinker such as Robinson. Moreover, Mr. Obama’s questionable positions on the military and government spending are things Robinson likely wouldn’t have agreed with.
Truth be told, we’ll never know where Robinson would have stood on the political landscape of today. Regardless, liberals are going to keep up the campaign of ignoring and denying Jackie Robinson’s Republican ties. That’s the story they want to pitch and they’re going to keep swinging for the fences until they finally strike out.
Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a contributor to The Washington Times.