Fifty years ago, the Republican Party had leaders who were serious about supporting the civil rights movement and about competing with Democrats for the support of African-American voters. And the most prominent of those leaders was George Romney, who in the turbulent 1960s would — as the governor of Michigan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and a contender for the Republican presidential nomination – reject the “backlash” politics of southern segregationists and northern reactionaries in both parties.
When others tried to convert the overtly racist language of Democratic segregationists into the coded apologias of the Republican right, Romney objected. His, he said, was the party of Abraham Lincoln. And in so doing George Romney staked a legitimate claim that Republicans were not bystanders but engaged participants in the struggle to create an America with justice for all.
Now, the Republican Party needs another George Romney.
Unfortunately, Mitt Romney has refused to fill the void.
The party is experiencing an ugly resurgence of what my colleague at The Nation, Gary Younge, correctly identifies as “blatant racism.”
On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum told a crowd of supporters, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”
Around the same time, Texas Congressman Ron Paul was scrambling to explain away old newsletters that went out under his name with sections suggesting that “95 percent of the black males in that city [Washington] are semi-criminal or entirely criminal” and describing the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday as “Hate Whitey Day.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who spent the fall talking about eliminating child-labor laws so that school janitors could be replaced with poor kids, and who regularly refers to Barack Obama as the “best food stamp president in American history,” arrived in the first-primary state of New Hampshire and announced: “I’m prepared if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”