Start With Engagement, Not Policy

You may have noticed that in talking about the Republican relationship to minority communities I haven’t mentioned a word about policy.  That’s no accident.  If we engage in a sincere and successful effort to engage African-Americans and Hispanics and other traditional Democratic constituencies, there will likely be some shifts in our policy positions as a consequence.  But the first step along that road is adapting the Party to operate in a multi-cultural atmosphere.

Out of such an effort will likely come changes in the way we address issues like affirmative action, urban conditions, and some social policies.  But minorities are not rejecting the GOP as much because of policy as because of tone.  Change the environment inside the Party and minority participation will climb.  The Party will adapt its policies from there.

How can we go about this?

Engage Black and Hispanic church and social organizations.  Let there never be another serious Republican Presidential candidate who skips an address to the NAACP or a debate on Univision.  Local candidates should go to Black churches and listen to Black leaders.  Minority communities should not be no-go areas for Republicans.

Listen.  The biggest reason Republican candidates and workers fall into the ‘Macaca’ trap is gross ignorance, not malice.  The best way to remedy this problem is to engage minority communities and listen to what they have to say.

Read something that wasn’t written by Ann Coulter or Glenn Beck.  I enjoy a good novel as much as the next guy, but sometimes we need a little non-fiction.  Read something you don’t agree with.  Read something that makes you angry.  On race issues, The Autobiography of Malcolm X or The Faces at the Bottom of the Well, would be fine places to start.  Moving on from there to something by John McWhorter would be great.  Leave your Sean Hannity screed next to the toilet where it belongs.

If, like most Republican candidates or officials, you can’t enter a room full of black people without hyperventilating, let me offer some comfort.  The truth is that most white Democrats suffer the same anxiety.  They are just better prepared to conceal it and they get more practice.  Do it anyway and do your best.

Expect skepticism from minority audiences and be prepared to respond to it.  Their skepticism is justified.  But don’t be hesitant about communicating our core message of individual liberty and free enterprise.

Stop the gay-baiting.  Whatever reasons you think justify hostility to some sort of “gay agenda” please understand that the same language, tactics, and policies being harnessed by many on the right against homosexuals are indistinguishable from the ones used in living memory against blacks, Hispanics, and others.  One can have a principled opposition to gay marriage, for example, without painting homosexuals as deviants bent on our national destruction.  In general, we need to quit trying to drum up votes by stereotyping entire groups of people as dangerous or unacceptable.  Regardless of which group we’re targeting, it is a bad idea. If it looks like a racist, talks like a racist, legislates like a racist, well…

Put away the Confederate flags.  Look, I’m a Southerner.  I fully recognize that the Confederate flag stands for a way of life, a set of values that extend far beyond any issues of race.  But I also remember the Klan waving it rallies while promising to put blacks in their place.  I remember what it meant when someone in the neighborhood displayed it in their yard or on the back of their truck.  Let’s quit kidding ourselves.  Whatever subtle, honorable values the Stars and Bars once evoked have been washed away in a century-long flood of mindless terrorism.  It’s a damned shame, but it is what it is.  If we genuinely valued that flag for its higher symbolism we should have done more to protect it from being used as an emblem of terror.  Opportunity lost.  Let’s not let it poison the future.

The key to working the little-r racism out of the Party is engagement.  Along the way we will make mistakes, but that’s excusable.  Raising the participation and profile of black Americans, along with Americans of every other description, will be key to building a Party that can be a force for good.  Such inclusiveness is a natural fit with a message of individual liberty and economic freedom and we should be working to promote it.

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