The year was 1977. Newly inaugurated President of the United States Jimmy Carter was charming the nation with his folksy ways. Star Wars was setting box office records. And the Republican Party was in shambles. In the previous year’s elections the party has been decimated, losing not only the White House but embarrassing itself in Congressional races all across the nation. Its members seemed to be at each other’s throats, with conservatives demanding more ideological purity and moderates desperately clinging on to what little power they still had.
It was in that environment that Bill Brock became chairman of the Republican National Committee. Brock, who had just lost a re-election bid in Tennessee, surveyed the political landscape and came up with a novel idea. He saw that Republicans had zero appeal among blacks and other minority groups, so he embarked on a relatively massive effort to win over them. He announced an initiative to send GOP staffers to inner-city communities, he hired about a dozen black consultants to discuss the reasons why blacks didn’t support the party and he even invited Rev. Jesse Jackson to address the RNC in 1978. And what was the result of those efforts? A whopping 11% of the black vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and a decade of what can only be described as hatred toward the party by blacks.
I bring all this up because today current RNC chairman Reince Preibus unveiled his “Growth and Opportunity Project” report. The report stands as one part indictment, one part roadmap to recovery and some parts are refreshingly candid. It admits that the party has an image problem and states that too many voters, particularly minorities, find the party “out of touch.” However too many of its solutions to the problem are warmed over retreads.
Chairman Preibus has committed to forming something called a “Growth and Opportunity Inclusion” council, which would be tasked with promoting our party in diverse communities. Preibus wants to also hire staffers to send out to minority communities and promote black candidates and staff AND reach out to groups like the NAACP and Urban League. It all sounds wonderful if the Preibus and the party are serious about this effort. And that’s a mighty big IF.
What Chairman Preibus, and earlier Chairman Brock, don’t seem to understand is that African-Americans, Hispanics, hell everyone, will only vote for someone if they know he or she cares about the issues most important to them. Politics is of the heart as well as of the mind. Many people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. That’s something I learned long ago and it’s the main reason why there aren’t many brown and black faces in Republican crowds. For so long the party has been absent from minority communities so when a Republican shows up he’s met with bewilderment and quickly dismissed (as Brock’s staffers were and as Preibus’ staffers will likely be).
But if we’re going to embark on such a plan, we need to bill it as a “listening tour.” Just go out into those neighborhoods and learn what people are saying about their government, don’t run off at the mouth about the ideals and principles of the party, just shut up and listen. Republicans would learn that people in big cities hate their governments but are never presented with an alternative to what they have, so those people simply don’t vote or continue voting for the same types of people in hopes that they will finally get their “fair share.” The party would find that most people of color want the same things as everyone, a steady job, a good education for their children, affordable healthcare, etc. Many also want to know why the party has been absent from their communities for so long, if its policies and position are so advantageous to all Americans. Then and only then can the party start to affectively speak to and reach out to blacks and other minorities. Learn what their concerns are and then you can offer your solutions.
My biggest fear is that the RNC and its chairman have no intention of doing any of that, that they really don’t care about the problems facing blacks and that this is just a stunt to win over moderate whites who are scared off by the party’s lack of diversity. Only time will tell. I wish Chairman Preibus and the RNC good luck in this endeavor and hope they’re sincere. If not than not only will the party suffer but minority communities will as well.