I watched the Republican debate from Baltimore on PBS last week, or at least as much of it as I could take. It was supposed to be a debate in which Black Americans asked questions. Indeed they did. The only trouble was that neither Former Senator Fred D. Thompson (R-TN), Former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA), Former Mayor Rudolph "Rudy" Giuliani nor Senator John S. McCain, III (R-AZ) was there. They offered excuses. It was clear that the top four Republican candidates didn't want to be there. So we had an evening of second-tier candidates, plus Alan Keyes, entertaining us. I don't recall how many times Alan Keyes has run for President but I nearly have memorized his speeches. The man is brilliant and this time the Republicans had a Black man replying to Black questioners.
Former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) correctly stated that Blacks want what all Americans want. I wish the Republicans would learn that lesson. In 1960, when I joined the staff of WLIP in Kenosha, Wisconsin, I worked with a Black DJ named Hal Mason. I have not heard from Hal for many, many years so I believe that he has passed to his eternal reward inasmuch as he was considerably older than I. But what Old Hal said stuck in my mind these many years. I asked Mason why Republicans were defeated repeatedly in Black precincts. He replied, "We never see them." I asked what he meant. He said, "Democrats show up repeatedly all year long at events in the Black community. If you see a Republican you see him on the day before an election." When I asked him what kind of events, he said, "Anything in the community: events at fire stations, church picnics, celebrations of anniversaries, you name it. The Democrats are always there. You wouldn't find a Republican there unless he had a heart attack driving through town. But come to think of it, Republicans don't drive through this part of town." What he said has stuck with me, but I never have been able to convince the Republicans that Mason was correct.
This recent Republican debate is another example of what Hal said. Few Republican candidates can be found among the Black community in Baltimore. At least it was better than the Hispanic event, which had to be cancelled because no one showed up. What is true of the Black community is also true of Hispanics. I want assimilation. When people learn to speak English and consider themselves Americans they don't lose their cultural identity. Consequently, when people organize events in their communities they want folks from both political parties to show up. But Republicans don't. In many cases they perceive themselves to be too good for such an assignment.
Republicans wonder why they take such a beating in these precincts on election day. The only place where President George W. Bush did well on election night in the Black community in 2004 was in Ohio. Why? Ohio had a constitutional amendment on the ballot saying that "Marriage is between one man and one woman." It received a half million more votes in the Black community than President Bush did. But among Blacks he did better there than anywhere else. Why? He supported the Marriage Amendment. Blacks and Hispanics care about this issue and Bush connected with them.
So why the no-shows at the debate? Few Blacks vote in Republican primaries so major Republicans skipped it. They figure the Presidential and Vice Presidential nominees will have six moths between their nomination and the political conventions to debate their Democratic counterparts. Nice calculation but it may not work. First, there may be no invitation. Second, the Democrats, believing that they have the Black vote locked up, may decline the invitation even if one is forthcoming. And folks in the Black community may recall this snub. I can't see why Democrats would agree to a debate after the people have chosen their respective candidates. It is too big a risk. In politics, as in sports, nothing is entirely predictable. Last-place teams have up-ended top-ranked teams.
Hispanics present a different problem. Democrats presently have a large lead among Hispanics, but neither party has the Hispanic vote absolutely secure. Following February 5, expect an invitation to be offered and accepted for a debate before the Hispanic community.
When one party or another neglects a certain segment of the American electorate it does so at its own peril. The Democrats wrote off the Values Voters in 2004. They lost. This election they have targeted the Values Voters and, while they probably won't win them outright, they may win enough to make the difference.
I wish both Parties would target all the American electorate. No one should be neglected. The Republicans may pay for what they have done during the primary season. The Republicans made their choice and they must live with it. It is always a mistake to campaign for the general election during the primary season. Janet Folger, one of the best of the younger activists, organized a Values Voter debate. Again, only second-tier Republican candidates showed up. No Democrat was present, although they were all invited. The big boys were too busy campaigning for the general election. There may be a cost for this neglect. Yes, I'd like to see top Republicans pursue the Black vote. And I'd like to see Democratic front-runners genuinely seeking the Values Voters. One can only imagine.