There's a benefit to having blogged longer than almost any other academic (and definitely any other blackademic) alive.
With the shellacking they received, there've been questions about what the GOP should do now their Southern Strategy is dead in the water. Here's a letter I wrote more than ten years ago to Jim Talent, at the time a Missouri Senator, that I put in Vision Circle. Looking over it I'd change the emphasis on African Americans and extend it to include youth, white women, and Latinos. If the Republican Party would've followed this advice years ago–and I know even though I never sent this letter SOMEONE had to have told them–we'd be talking about a Romney presidency now.
Rep. Talent I met you briefly during a lecture you gave for a graduate Congress class taught by my colleague. One of the areas you talked about was race and politics, specifically the relationship African American communities have towards both the Republican and Democratic Parties. You argued that to a certain extent the problem that the Republican Parties have with reaching African American communities is a problem of ignorance, to a certain extent a problem of outreach, and to a certain extent a problem of liberal black leadership.
I listened to your comments with interest, and I too am interested in ending the stranglehold that the Democratic Party seemingly has on black male and female voters. In line with this, and because of the fact that I study this subject (among others dealing with race and politics) for a living, I thought I would send to you a primer so to speak on what the Republican Party would have to do to attract black voters.
As I see it there are a few platform items that would have to be vigorously fought for and touted:
- Aggressive enforcement of existing Civil Rights Law
As it stands, though the Republican Party has by deed and word fought Affirmative Action for the last two decades, they have (seemingly) done little to fight for increases in the enforcement of existing Civil Rights Law. Given that the Republican Party at least since the late sixties has been known as the party of law and order, it would seem that calling for vigorous enforcement of these laws would be very much in line with the party's philosophy. Though some would argue that this would increase government regulation, a strong argument can be made that the enforcement of the law is not something that can be given short shrift. If the government is supposed to at least protect individuals from having their rights infringed upon, then this would could easily be explained as part of the natural Republican inclination to make sure that government enforces the law and punishes those found guilty of violating it.
- Aggressive stances against police brutality and profiling
The African American community is strongly anti-crime, to the point that they are even against police perceived to have committed crimes. Though the Republican Party has spoken often about vigorous anti-crime policies, they have not focused on either police brutality, or on racial profiling. To a certain extent this is understandable, however given the strong feelings those in the African American community have against police brutality in particular, attacking crime without attacking police brutality is viewed by many as hypocritical at best. Again, if couched in the language of law and order, this does not have to be viewed as an attempt to create "big government."
- Creation of policies designed to build black wealth
Several scholars have noted that the wealth gap between whites and blacks is enormous, even when education levels are taken into account. Whites with a high school education on average possess more wealth than blacks with college degrees. Though in some isolated cases this may be due to individual behavior, for the most part this is due to the fact that throughout most of American history, African Americans were forcibly discouraged from accumulating wealth. As the Republican Party is associated with businesses and with wealth accumulation, and as many members of the African American community believe that political empowerment only comes with economic empowerment, there is a natural link that is waiting to be exploited. Along with policies that help people get off of welfare by finding work, policies that allow people on welfare to save money. I believe that members of the Republican Party have already touted such a program, but this policy is not common knowledge.
The relationship between the American Dream and owning a home was firmly established in America only after WWII and the GI Bill, which was designed to give (primarily white) veterans a chance to buy affordable housing. A similar program designed to spur homeownership in the cities would be powerful. Note that in these two cases are not focused on race, though undoubtedly a number of black citizens (as well as Latino citizens) would be assisted by them.
- Ending coded racial language
One of the points you made was that black liberal leadership were somewhat irresponsible in caricaturing Republican leadership as "racist" and their fear based tactics were keeping African Americans away from the Republican Party. I would like to posit a different hypothesis. I argue that the racially coded language of law and order, of welfare cheats, of quota queens, does more to keep African Americans from the Republican Party than any dozen statements from Rev. Jesse Jackson. Stop this, and forcefully criticize fellow Republicans when they engage in this tactic, and you will go a long way towards building respect and political support. Given the ties that many in the Republican Party (particularly individuals such as Trent Lott) have with organizations such as the Council of Conservative Citizens, this will undoubtedly be the hardest to accomplish.
I noted in our conversation that "racists vote too" and that the majority of individuals with long standing ties to groups such as the CCC or the KKK tend to vote Republican. So among both rank and file members, and party leadership are individuals who to be clear are not interested in the needs of black people.
However, I did not say that this would be easy.
The easy route would be to argue that because of individuals like Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Republican Party cannot make progress in regards to black communities. The easy route would be to continue to pander to the lowest common denominator amongst your constituents rather than to build a new vision of American that can compete for the hearts of black citizens.
Taking the road less traveled by in this case will lead to short term losses, both politically, and socially.
But the long-term gains are enormous-because the bottom line is that the "racists" have no other party to turn to. They will either vote Republican or they will stay home. And as their numbers are dwindling as we speak? it is a good idea to stop basing campaigns on their ideas and beliefs.
I will leave with this.
When strategies designed to attract black voters have been undertaken the strategy has focused on upper-income black voters.
This strategy is wrong for a number of reasons but most important is this-black voters vote their racial interests using their group interests as a proxy for their individual interest. When I vote, my decision is based on which candidate is the best for black people working on the assumption that what works for black people will work for me individually. What I have given you is a brief example of how the Republican Party can attract black voters of various economic backgrounds by not diverging one iota from the platform as created by the founders of the party. If the problem your party faces is truly that of ignorance, I hope that what I have said will help to eradicate that particular problem. The rest is up to you and other interested individuals.