GOP: Breaking the race barrier

Posted: Dec 20, 2000 12:00 AM
In this year's inevitable election post-mortem, I think Republicans should seriously consider why they haven't been able to break the race barrier. Given their new president, they couldn't be better positioned to tackle this problem. First, let me clarify something. It bothers me and, I'm sure, most Republicans and conservatives to think in these terms. We prefer to approach politics from a purely colorblind perspective. We don't want to fashion policies geared to one particular race or gender group. What I'm referring to is a bit different. I think it's time that Republicans countered the negative stereotypes fostered by the Democratic Party concerning the Republicans' attitude toward blacks. Sure, Republicans will gain politically if they discredit these stereotypes, and I'm all for that, but society as a whole will benefit as well. Presidential exit polls show that 90 percent of black voters chose Gore, and only 9 percent voted for Bush. Those numbers are staggering and alarming, but they aren't that different from previous elections. What motivated me to write this column, however, was two back-to-back e-mails I received last weekend. One e-mailer wrote, "It's not diatribe that Republicans have contempt for the poor and blacks. Just listen in sometime to your brother preaching to his flock, for instance. I suppose you-all think now that Bush has or will appoint a couple of token African Americans to his cabinet, black folks should just get down and kiss his feet and forget all past indignities, discrimination and unfairness. I almost feel sorry for my conservative acquaintances who despise blacks. The first two appointments to the new cabinet (are) African Americans! This must be a bitter pill for them to swallow." Another one was similar, but contained too much profanity to be reproduced in this column. But you get the point. Just to be sure, let me explain: In my humblest of opinions, these are not just isolated, radical liberal or Democratic e-mailers. I've been discussing politics long enough to know that many Democrats either believe or want to create the impression for partisan purposes that Republicans truly are racists. Indeed, if the truth be known, many harbor the belief that ideological conservatism itself is just one big hate crime. How else do you explain the incredibly monolithic black vote? How else do you explain Jesse Jackson's continued prominence notwithstanding his irresponsible and destructive rhetoric? Why doesn't this preacher of the Gospel lose all credibility when he says that "voting while black" is the newest crime and that there will be blood in the streets? Why is Jesse not shamed off the stage for claiming that Republicans tried to disenfranchise blacks in Florida just because certain counties with large black populations have less modern voting equipment? Keep in mind that these counties are under Democratic control. I have to assume that Jesse would quit spewing this vitriol if it didn't work. But how can it possibly work? How can such falsehoods have any traction in the black community? I'm really not sure, but I think it's time we tried to find out. I think it's time that Republicans began to counter the propaganda. I think it's time that Republicans challenge Democrats to tone down the racially divisive rhetoric. That and its cousin -- class warfare demagoguery -- are greatly polarizing and damaging our society in ways that transcend mere party politics. Perhaps the Democratic leadership is afraid to debate the merits of the issues without using the club of racial politics. Maybe they're afraid that if they quit dividing people along racial, gender and socioeconomic lines they will relegate themselves to political obscurity. After all, they can barely win elections with 90 percent of the black vote. What if they garnered only half the black vote? It is ironic that a Republican president-elect has already named three minorities (one also a woman) to his inner circle -- and he has just begun. Yet I don't think their race had anything to do with Bush picking them. He doesn't think in those terms. As a society we'd all be better off if no one else did either. George W. Bush is just the type of leader to demonstrate that Republicans care about the plight of all people, irrespective of race, gender or socio-economic status. The public's acceptance of that message will be good for Republicans, but more importantly for the health of our nation.