After months of soul searching, the Republican Party is right back to its familiar role—opposition-in-chief. It didn't seem like this was going to be the case shortly after Election Day, when the GOP acknowledged they heard the American people loud and clear and pledged cooperation and compromise with Democrats. That message was quickly abandoned, as Republicans united to trounce any notion of nominating Susan Rice as Secretary of State. Then came the fiscal cliff negotiations: it was clear the GOP dalliance with a new message and attitude was clearly left at the altar. Now it's clear that any talk of better communication with women and minorities was just that – talk. Now, we could sit here and celebrate that the GOP learned nothing from Obama's victory—but instead we offer this tutorial designed to enlighten all the misguided souls who align themselves with the party. Follow these ten nuggets of wisdom and the GOP will not only become more attractive to the voters they couldn't get to the polls in November, but in the process may even build a strong, more diverse and reasonable political party that will pay dividends for elections to come. And who in the Republican Party doesn’t like dividends?
1. Ctrl-Alt-Del – Between the claim that President Obama won by giving “gifts” to African-Americans and Latinos, and his dismissal of 47 percent of voters, Mitt Romney alienated people of color. With his ultra conservative views on choice, Paul Ryan alienated women. And with a plethora of policy proposals designed for Mars, it’s safe to say Newt Gingrich alienated Earth. The first step toward GOP rehabilitation is a total system-wide reboot on the messengers they put forth. The GOP can no longer trot out fossils like John Sununu, Pat Robertson, Haley Barbour and others whose views are firmly couched in the 1950s and expect people of color to take them seriously as a party of forward-thinkers. The climate deniers, creationists and birthers all need to be relegated to the bench—the future relevance of the GOP on the national stage depends on getting fresh legs into the game.
2. Be Like Mike—The reaction in some Republican quarters to the colossal beat down Democrats gave them on Election Day was to moderate their views and put forth such a kindler, gentler Republican Party. Now even Sean Hannity is making sense on immigration reform. Look, losing an election doesn’t mean abandoning the key principles of which your party is built on. Republicans calling for moderation on immigration, choice, and climate change cannot win over black voters who strongly support those issues just by putting fresh ink on policy papers. But Republicans who stick to the party's core message might get some positive attention from others in the black community. Take former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who has never wavered in his beliefs and always speaks his mind—even telling the GOP post-election that they did a “pathetic” job reaching out to black voters. He should know something about appealing to black voters: Despite passing the smell test of the religious right—and, at one point, the Club for Growth—Huckabee garnered 48 percent of the black vote in Arkansas when running for re-election as governor. And how did Huckabee accomplish this goal? By talking directly to voters about where he stands.
3. Ask Aretha If It’s Working –The GOP should take a page out of Aretha Franklin’s songbook and show a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T to the black community. The sooner the GOP shows proper deference to African-American voters who are working long, hard hours for low pay, the better for them. A party that showed more compassion toward millionaires than they did toward Trayvon Martin cannot stand. And Romney’s recent comments on “gifts” only continue the GOP’s colossal diss to black voters. The GOP needs to respect black America, and stop calling people lazy just because they don’t have overseas bank accounts.
4. School Daze – Changes in manners and messengers will not be nearly enough to get black America to look in the direction of the GOP. The party needs a policy overhaul and the best place to start are the public schools—while we still have some left. In the 90s, Republican support for charters and vouchers complicated black voters’ relationship with the GOP. While we laud pathways that create better schools, it’s hard to forget Republican budget cuts to early childhood education, modernization projects and arts and sports programs. Black America understands that fundamental changes to public education are needed: President Obama, Newark Mayor Corey Booker and Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone, all support charter schools, merit pay and high-stakes testing. But the GOP cannot continue to destroy the institutions our forefathers and mothers died for the right to attend with short-sighted budget cuts and a redistribution of tax dollars from the public schools to private institutions and expect to that to sit well with black voters.
5. If It Walks Like A Duck – It’s not hard to see how black America perceived the sudden rash of voter ID laws as nothing more than a Republican effort to deny seniors who marched for their right to vote their right to vote. With the exception of Rhode Island, Republicans have been the culprits behind myriad voter ID bills introduced in the states in recent year, with funding and support from the ultra-conservative group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). With no evidence of widespread voter fraud to justify such urgency, the voter ID laws turned out to be just another shameful attempt by Republicans to disenfranchise Democrats and the minorities and low-income people who love them. In the end, all these proposals did was increase voter registration in the black community to record levels. Those voter turnout numbers should be all the GOP needs to finally understand that proposals that seem more at home during the Jim Crow era will not broaden their appeal to the black community.
6. 99 Problems – Republicans interfering with our right to vote and calling it progress is the last thing we need, especially when there are pressing crises throughout the black community that need to be addressed. Take for example, the Schools-to-Prison Pipeline, which the ACLU has called “one of the most important civil rights challenges facing our nation today.” The Pipeline refers to the national trend of criminalizing, rather than educating, our nation’s children. Instead of championing Poll Tax 2.0, Republicans should join Democrats in revising the zero-tolerance polices, which the American Bar Association condemned because they “redefined students as criminals.” Zero-tolerance laws leave no room for common sense, paint good students with the same broad brush reserved for real troublemakers, and do little to improve school safety. When more than half of juveniles arrested are minority children, something needs to be done. If Republicans bring the same passion to ending the Schools-to-Prison Pipeline as they have to misguided voter ID laws, that would go a long ways toward ingratiating themselves to the black community.
7. Listen, Watch, & Read. OK, you’ve been working hard on your manners and policy proposals, and I bet there is a bad glass of Merlot being doled out at some oil industry reception you’re dying to get to. So, let’s take a study break – a productive break – like those people who use their BlackBerry on the treadmill. In order to relate to your audience, you need to begin to understand your audience and the real depth of the challenges facing your audience. All people of color aren’t the same and this study break is designed for you to fully understand the diversity of your audience. We’ve got three ways for you to do just that:
- Listen: ‘Nine Types of Light’ by TV on the Radio
- Watch: ‘Fresh’ Directed by Boaz Yakin, and starring Sean Nelson.
- Read: ‘King of the World’ by David Remnick
8. No More War—We’ll save weaning Republicans from their addiction to foreign wars for Extreme Makeover: Political Party Edition. The war I’m talking about is the war Republicans are waging against the uterus. Ending yet another senseless war Republicans started may get black women voters to look in their direction. With the single-mindedness of the pro-life zealot he is, GOP Vice Presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan co-sponsored a bill that would redefine rape without fully understanding the negative affect such legislation would have on black women nationwide. Black women are criminalized at a higher rate, and so, says Bianca Campbell, “it’s likely that a woman of color will have a harder time proving to the cops that she’s been raped. The war on the uterus doesn’t stop with misguided pro-life bills; it also means hands-off family planning grants and Planned Parenthood—and mandatory night classes so Republicans can brush up on their grammar school science.
9. World Leader Pretend—In the past decade, both parties seem to think US foreign policy ends and begins with the Middle East and China. When the Middle East and China are not on the menu, it’s the Republican obsession with building a fence around Mexico as the special of the day. Look, many black voters come from immigrant backgrounds, and therefore the anti-immigrant rhetoric spewed by the GOP, while offensive to our Latino brothers and sisters, also hits black voters personally. The Arizona immigration law and the hate that comes with immigration reform dialogue all need to be dialed back. If Republicans embrace the knowledge that there is a big, wide wonderful world out there, they can fill the leadership void by advocating for a comprehensive foreign policy that encompasses Africa and the Caribbean. Creating new trade agreements with Caribbean nations and ceasing to be obstructionist over health care and environmental programs aimed at Africa could get immigrants to give the GOP a second look.
10. No Code – Did Republicans really think they created some special language when talking about the President that black America couldn’t decipher? “Community organizer,” “in over his head,” “the welfare president”—there were episodes of “2 Broke Girls” that were harder to figure out. Throw in Clint Eastwood’s disrespectful routine at the RNC Convention, and you can see why black voters rightfully believe in a concerted effort by the GOP to alienate them. It’s one thing to try to win elections, but the GOP has yet to make up on the ground they loss over the Willie Horton ads of the 1988 and the famed Jesse Helms “white hands” ad of the 1990. This alienation not only loses the GOP votes, it’s happening in a nasty, dismissive manner that’s socially and almost irreversibly damaging to the American community at large.
Now, are we saying this medicine taken as directed will suddenly make the GOP the new black? Of course not. However, without new messengers and a new message people of color can relate to, the Mets may win the World Series before the GOP fields a credible candidate for national office again. Remember, all constituencies deserve to be courted during the campaign season: Democrats need to talk to rural and Southern voters, and Republicans need to fill the pews at African-American churches. And to further hammer home the need for an all-inclusive political process, I give you your Jon Stewart -style “Moment of Zen” in the form of Rachel Maddow:
“In this country, we have a two party system in government. And the idea is supposed to be that the two sides both come up with ways to confront and fix the real problems facing our country. They both propose possible solutions to our real problems. And we debate between those possible solutions. And by the process of debate, we pick the best idea. That competition between good ideas, from both sides about real problems in the real country should result in ort country having better choices, better options, than if only one side is really working on the hard stuff.”
Conceived by Walter Moseley and co-edited by Rae Gomes.
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The Democrats could also use a makeover. In the latest issue of The Nation, L.R. Runner leads a forum on bringing progressivism back to the blue party.