President Bush spoke before the Urban League recently about how African-Americans have helped this country achieve the ideals of freedom and equality embodied in our Constitution: "The stolen sons and daughters of Africa helped to awake the conscience of America. The very people traded into slavery helped to set America free. The moral vision of African-Americans and of groups like the Urban League caused Americans to examine our hearts, to correct our Constitution, and to teach our children the dignity and equality of every person of every race," said the president to rousing applause.
Bush's remarks reflect recent efforts by the Republican Party to build bridges into an African-American community, which voted overwhelmingly Democratic during the 2000 election. Economic empowerment and equal opportunity are the twin themes of this outreach effort. Not surprisingly then, both terms studded the conversation of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay when we sat down in his Capitol Hill office to discuss the mysteries of skin color in this country and what it would take for America to huddle together as a more equitable society.
"The Democrats' policies for the last 30-40 years have failed African-Americans and have failed the rest of the country," DeLay said. He also admitted that the Republicans have done a poor job communicating their commitment to the civil rights movement. Despite getting only 9 percent of the black vote in the last presidential election, DeLay is optimistic that the Republican Party is uniquely poised to communicate its ideas about racial equality and that these ideas will be the engine of progress.
Throughout the conversation, one key phrase kept repeating - "equal opportunity." This is the embryo of the Republican outreach agenda. For DeLay, equal opportunity doesn't mean embracing racial quotas or other policies that link victim status with skin color. Nor does it mean supporting bottomless entitlement programs that dispense money to the underprivileged like some government-subsidized tranquilizer. Simply handing money out to the needy fails to create equal opportunity because it does not confront the problems that underlie poverty, like deteriorating family values and the absence of future expectations in poor neighborhoods.