Saturday, September 13, 2008

What Has Happened To The Black Republicans?

by Harry C. Alford

The times are quite different now. Gone are the days when the Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) would make deliberate outreach efforts within the Black community. Former chairs Jim Gilmore and Ken Mehlman would aggressively attend events, make speeches and order their staff to recruit aggressively. It was RNC co-Chairwoman Pat Harrison who came to the 2000 National Black Chamber of Commerce annual convention and asked our participants to give the Republican Party a try. Former Chairman Ken Mehlman came to our annual event in 2005 along with Lt. Governor Michael Steele (Maryland) and Secretary of HUD Alphonso Jackson and demonstrated sincerity and inclusiveness. We were impressed and it made our political outlook “balanced”. Some of us were Democrats and some were Republicans. Most were actually undecided until election time. Now those who are Republican are keeping it quiet. It is not just because we have a dynamic African-American on the Democratic ticket but there appears to be a definite indifference shown by the RNC. You get the feeling that we aren’t wanted anymore. As I write this I cannot recall the name of the RNC Chairman as opposed to Gov. Howard Dean for the DNC. That says a lot.

In 2004, the RNC seated a record number of delegates at its Presidential Convention. This year they had the lowest Black representation in 40 years (according to Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies). In 2004, the convention had Black delegates that comprised 6.7 percent (167 delegates) of the total. This year, that number was a dismal 1.5 percent (36 delegates) which equates to a 78.4 percent decline. By contrast, the Democratic National Convention had over 24 percent Black participation. There was a majority female population among the delegates and Hispanics reached the 14 percent level. Gays and Lesbians held a higher percentage of delegates at the DNC event than Blacks at the RNC event. The DNC was undoubtedly and proudly inclusive and the RNC appeared to be very old school.

Yvonne R. Davis has this to say about the trend, “Since the 2000 and 2004 Republican conventions, a lot has changed for African-American Republicans. I was a vice chairwoman for Bush in Connecticut, a national co-chairwoman for African-Americans for Bush, a surrogate spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee and worked on Latino outreach efforts nationwide…. There were rainbow coalitions of interns and delegates. Featured speakers such as Colin Powell, J.C. Watts Jr., Condolezza Rice, black actors and ministers and gospel singers played a role on prime-time television….I’ve gone from having VIP seats sitting in the Bush family box to having a premier seat on my living room couch…. Real or perceived there was an effort to engage us.”

Things have certainly changed now.A close friend of mine, who I won’t expose right now, is a former “Eagle” in the Republican Party. That’s a person who contributes at least $50,000 per year to the party. This time around, he is quite active in the “Veterans for Obama Committee”. He has done a complete turnaround and is actively recruiting Black Republican veterans.Raynard Jackson, a long standing Black Republican advocate, has now started the “Black Republicans for Obama” movement. He is populating the Internet with his message and throwing it right up into the RNC’s face. As though he is saying “You dis us; you will miss us”.Senator Obama’s charisma and Senator Biden’s statesmanship contrasted to that “pesky” Senator McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin who appears to be an “outback nut case” replete with “Red Neck legacy” makes things rather noncompetitive in the Black community everywhere.

The movement amongst Blacks all over the world is overwhelming. Prosper Adabla, an entrepreneur in Ghana, wrote me, “Hope you are well. My family and I cried uncontrollably for most of the speech period (Obama’s acceptance speech). The only other time I cried so, was when S. Africa held its first election. We saw people, sick and able, grandmothers and parents, sinners and the saved, the oppressors and the enslaved standing in long procession, waiting to cast their votes, with the national black anthem echoing in the background.” This equates to the same moods I detect in France, England, Brazil, Spain, and throughout the rest of the world. The RNC is being viewed as the “oppressor” and the DNC as the “liberator”. How could the Republican Party let this happen and to what success do they think it will lead?

I have polled close relatives of mine who are Republicans. The majority of them have recently officially changed their registration to Democrat or Independent. I haven’t seen such a “sea change” in my lifetime. It reminds me of the historical change that was led by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.Maybe next time, the RNC will return to inclusiveness and open up that “big tent” once again. Right now, I am finding more and more disappointment and hurt. Isn’t this 2008?

~Harry Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO, of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc.


Anonymous said...

Blacks are voting for Obama solely because he is black, and they think that they will get something out of it. When Obama proves his liberal-ness, do not be surprised at the look of buyer's remorse on their faces

Anonymous said...

"Blacks are voting for Obama solely because he is black, and they think that they will get something out of it. When Obama proves his liberal-ness, do not be surprised at the look of buyer's remorse on their faces."

Whether or not I agree or disagree with this point... it's effectively irrelevant. It has nothing to do with the author's point.

The author's point is twofold:

1. black people are turning away from the GOP (a la 1936 and 1964)

2. the interviewed participants are blaming this on the GOP's lack of effort and/or inclusion (RNC 1.5% delegates vs. DNC 24% delegates). There's been no real effort (notice I said real) to include black Republicans at the table in the 2008 election.

3. To argue that black people are voting for Obama just because he's black says what? I'm curious... ? So does that mean women voted for Hillary just because she was a woman? Or that now women will vote for Sarah Palin... just because she's a woman? Maybe black people are voting for Obama because they feel like the GOP doesn't want them? Or maybe they lack faith in a Republican candidate given 8 years of George W. Bush?

4. One wonders why black voters have consistently gone to the Democratic side since 1964 (Republican nominee Goldwater received <6% of the black vote). Time and time again. I'd love to hear a logical, rational argument on here that doesn't involve the word "brainwashed," "ignorant," "blind," etc. Seriously, provide a breakdown; I think historically it's apparent why African Americans have voted Republican (pre 1964 and pre 1936)... but why have they consistently gone Democratic 1964-2008?

5. The party needs to wake up and show a demonstrated interest in black voters. A genuine concerned interest. George H.W. Bush did it to a certain extent... so did Nixon with his black capitalism initiative... so did Ford with a lot of his economic programs and voter registration drives directly targeted at black voters. I even saw it with the George W. Bush campaign with his promotion of talented African Americans in strong federal and state positions and on the campaign trail. So really... what happened? Did the party decide to go "hunting where the ducks are" this year? Or is it something bigger and more indicative of a larger organizational problem that we refuse to address?

6. I can't emphasize this enough... don't place the blame Obama - look beyond that and look to "our" party. One of the greatest things we can do as African Americans is to critique our own party in an effort to make it better, stronger, and more inclusive.

Just something to think about.

Anonymous said...

The author ends by saying the GOP needs to re-open the tent. I'm not sure they closed it.

As far as I can tell, the GOP, while admittedly not doing anything to attract black conservatives, did nothing to repel them either. With the nomination of McCain and Palin, they simply offered the opportunity to vote for a strong conservative ticket. What more could they do? It's up to black conservatives (indeed, all conservatives) to vote their principles.

I still don't understand what kind of "outreach" is expected of GOP towards blacks -- conservatism just doesn't mesh with identity politics. I can't imagine what the GOP could do differently with blacks than what it does with non-blacks. Winning the war in Iraq benefits all Americans, not just blacks or whites. Tax cuts help everyone, non-blacks and black alike. Increasing domestic production of oil helps blacks and non-blacks alike. And the GOP can offer to blacks what Democrats never can -- positions of leadership without the taint of affirmative action.

If there is anything special about the circumstances of blacks which require showing how conservative policies and principles help them, it needs to be spoken about by black conservatives or those familiar with the black situation, whatever that is. Black conservatives can accomplish this by running for office. I can't imagine any Republican party organization anywhere refusing the candidacy of a black person. Look, the GOP has an open door but you have to walk through it.

Anonymous said...

The GOP is pathetic. . the way the Party goes about bringing new people into the fold is pathetic. . .

The young voters are flocking to the Democrats. . . The future doesn't look bright for the Republicans at all...and I am a white Republican

Libertas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Staff said...

Outreach has less to do with the skin color and more to do with making sure the content of our party's platform is relevant to urban people. The party was founded to get rid of slavery. not tax cuts the truth be told race has always been with this party in shaping it. In principle race should not be a factor but the reality is that race matters. The left tries to make race the issue Republicans need to look at the urban landscape and come in with great ideas to empower indivisual not a racial group. If the party can reach out to Latinos based on race and evangelicals based on faith then surely it can reach out to the black community.


Anonymous said...

"making sure the content of our party's platform is relevant to urban people"

Can you provide specific examples of content which would be relevant to urban people?

Staff said...

Yes..One example would be just like School Choice is popular why not Housing Choice..basicaly the housing project insudtrial complex has forced poor folks to live in these buidings for years, how about a voucher that allows them to leave. If you really want to know more check out reseracher at the Ron Utt’s papers on housing policy.

Staff said...

By the way I actualy met at the Convention there blog staff..

Anonymous said...

School choice I can definitely see as something both current conservatives and urban residents could go for. This is a great point -- so instead of waiting for some stuffy GOP committee to put it on a party platform document nobody reads, why don't you take the initiative and speak out about this issue? Let's face it, blacks are more credible as purveyors of this message to other blacks than whites are. The fact of their race removes race as an issue (i.e. "but you're white -- you wouldn't understand our situation") and focuses on the issue. Talk to people, organize, run for office.

Housing choice - I'm not so sure conservatives can go for this - government subsidy of a favored group of consumers will raise rent prices. It sidesteps the fundamental problem of dependence on government, and just converts it into a different form -- instead of getting a living unit, a family gets a check. Still a handout. It would be much better to improve education and provide urban youth the means to break out of their cycle of poverty.

But point is well-taken -- we must illustrate with concrete examples how conservative philosophy is better for blacks. I think, though, we should proceed with caution and not water down conservatism -- as a "housing choice" program would do -- when trying to engage new constituencies. If you allow me to be frank, I also think black conservatives are so much better equipped to do this kind of outreach than the people in the GOP right now.