Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Reply to Ebony Magazine

While one must acknowledge the inexcusable and insensitive remarks made by Messrs. Lott and Helms, Mr. Gilmore cherry-picks these instances to suit his own biases, while blithely ignoring other facts that are inconvenient to his claims.

Javier E. David

With the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president and the negative perception of Republicans as a backdrop, the irony of two African-American candidates are currently vying to become chairman of the Republican Party could hardly be more brutal. And should either Ken Blackwell, former Secretary of State of Ohio, or Michael Steele, former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland prevail, they will certainly have their work cut out for them: rebuilding a demoralized and divided party, improving a badly tarnished brand, and seeking to make inroads with an ethnic group that is likely to remain intensely loyal to the president-elect. For most observers, the words “poisoned chalice” spring most readily to mind.

Part of the (many) challenges either Mr. Blackwell or Mr. Steele will face, specifically among African-Americans, is a reflexive, perdurable hostility toward Republican policies - neatly encapsulated in an article that appeared in Ebony Magazine on December 15th.

Written by Washington, D.C.-based lawyer and writer Brian Gilmore, the piece ostensibly explores a laundry-list of options available to Messrs. Blackwell and Steele as they embark on a seemingly monumental task of improving the GOP’s image with blacks. The article simultaneously demonstrates why it is often so difficult for Republicans to penetrate the wall of anti-conservative propaganda that has cemented around the African-American and Latino communities.

After openly declaring that he “long ago gave up on any chance the Republicans would progress in a meaningful way”, Mr. Gilmore appears to at least hold open the possibility that either Messrs. Blackwell or Steele can reform the party’s image with minorities. But in doing so, the author indulges gross generalities about the causes and effects of black and Latino obduracy toward Republican policies, and often engages in flippant, simplistic intellectually slipshod reasoning in order to make his case - made worse by the fact that Mr. Gilmore is a lawyer who ought to have a better command of the facts.

The GOP’s alienation from the black community is widely known and due to a variety of factors. However, one of the many conclusions reached by Republicans in the aftermath of the 2008 elections is that the party badly needs to attract more people of color and improve its image with both African-Americans and Latinos. While the ascendance of the first African-American to a major party ticket this year was always going to make that proposition difficult for the GOP to achieve, the cumulative effect of missteps, misunderstandings and a lack of genuine interest in cultivating minority communities over the years ultimately expressed itself with devastating impact in 2008: the GOP presidential ticket attracted a scant 5 percent of the black vote, and only about a third of Latinos. Clearly a tableau of structural factors — a rapidly deteriorating economy, a highly unpopular incumbent President, the polarizing conflict in Iraq - took their toll, but it’s clear that Republicans have a massive challenge to confront in the years to come.

In his article for Ebony, Mr. Gilmore breezily glides over most of these built-in disadvantages, and immediately deploys the same specious charges and double-standards that often undermine Republican minority outreach efforts (however lacking they may be). Asserting that the modern-day GOP “is not the party of Abraham Lincoln,” and that it is “preposterous to keep invoking Lincoln when the party has racial division down to a science at this point”, Mr. Gilmore goes on to state that “the Republican Party of recent years is Trent Lott and Jesse Helms not to mention George ‘Macaca’ Allen of Virginia.”

While one must acknowledge the inexcusable and insensitive remarks made by Messrs. Lott and Helms, Mr. Gilmore cherry-picks these instances to suit his own biases, while blithely ignoring other facts that are inconvenient to his claims. During his two terms, President Bush made several high-profile appointments of African-Americans and Latinos to his government, including the first two African-American Secretaries of State (Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice), the first Hispanic Attorney General (Alberto Gonzales) and filled top posts at the Departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with blacks. And like other (liberal) commentators who appear all too eager to propound the meme of Republicans being rich, white and racist, Mr. Gilmore also ignores the long (and in some cases very recent) instances of Democrats demonstrating their own cultural insensitivity or outright racism (

Among the issues raised by Mr. Gilmore in his litany are the charges that the GOP sees the government as “the devil” and the party’s supposed affinity for tax cuts for the wealthy. These charges, too, are a distortion of the party’s positions on key policies.

Conservatives do not believe the government is “satanic” in its nature, but should be limited in its size, scope and function while addressing only America’s most pressing needs as prescribed by the Constitution. It is also meant to empower individuals to determine their own fate, while allowing states and localities to address their citizens needs better than an omnipotent and omnipresent federal government.

The idea of restricting the caprices of an arbitrary and bureaucratic federal government, while emphasizing that government is not the solution to every problem, is a fundamental precept of Federalism that is not at all meant to “demonize government” as Mr. Gilmore derisively claims. And cutting taxes for businesses and ALL citizens, and not just the wealthy, is a key ingredient for economic growth - as even members of President-elect Obama’s economic team have acknowledged during their professional careers. And yes, Mr. Gilmore — tax cuts actually do increase revenues to federal coffers; before the current downturn, the federal budget deficit had begun to contract as tax revenues surged under President Bush’s tax cutting agenda.

A 2002 survey by the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies found that despite the Republicans’ image problem, between one-third and one-half are sympathetic to Republican Party issue positions — suggesting that with hard work, the GOP could eventually broaden its appeal among younger African-Americans. While African-Americans and Latinos may continue to identify with the Democratic Party for the near future, minority public opinion is neither as liberal nor as monolithic as conventional wisdom would suggest. Both groups tend to be culturally conservative, and possess an entrepreneurial sensibility that expresses itself by way of small-business ownership.

Arguably, the sole basis of agreement with Mr. Gilmore’s article can be found in his analysis about Affirmative Action — though once again the author can’t seem to resist the temptation to indulge himself in more anti-Republican myths. It has never been conservatives’ intention to use affirmative action as a “racial wedge”, as Mr. Gilmore states. Conservative opposition to affirmative action tends to hinge on the societal impact and the constitutionality of race-based preferences, which ultimately harms the groups such programs are designed to help. With Mr. Obama’s election, perhaps we can all look forward to the day when the question of addressing past discrimination lay in the rear-view mirror, while still remaining vigilant about confronting racial discrimination and insensitivity wherever it may appear. In that vein, efforts to bring an end to affirmative action should be rendered moot, and can indeed “die a natural death”, as Mr. Gilmore so aptly describes.

Mr. Gilmore does his readers a disservice by not articulating a more balanced view of complex topics. To be clear, the GOP must do far better in its efforts to compete for black and Latino votes, and should avoid the divisive rhetoric and personalities of the past that has traditionally driven many minorities away from the Republican Party. That being said, observers such as Mr. Gilmore would do best to stop propagating tired myths, and could try to make a concerted effort to at least meet the GOP halfway.

Javier E. David
holds a Masters Degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). He is a successful New York City public relations specialist and advocate for the Republican Party.

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