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Since the moment the 2012 election was called for President Obama, media pundits and political observers have been talking about America’s shifting demographics and their impact on future national elections. With exit polls showing that Obama was reelected largely on the turnout strength from blacks and Hispanics, it has become increasingly clear that minorities are an indispensable part of the electorate. This trend is a microcosm of the issues facing our larger society as well, especially in the media.

On Tuesday, I read with great interest this story on The Fix, The Washington Post’s political blog, that examines “How the Republican party can rebuild — in 4 not-so-easy steps.”

The story examines the soul-searching that is going on in Republican circles: “Most GOP strategists and politicians acknowledge that the 2012 election amounted to a moment of reckoning for the party — a time when Republicans finally came face to face with the demographic realities and base problems that badly jeopardize its future as a national majority party," Post writer Chris Cillizza states. “Less clear is what the party needs to do in order to reverse a slide — particularly at the presidential level — that has been in progress since the 2006 midterm elections. We put the question of how the party begins to rebuild to a handful of smart GOP operatives and aggregated their four best thoughts below.”

While the points embedded in the story all made sense, I couldn’t help but notice that none of the major African American or Hispanic Republican strategists were quoted. And that got me thinking that this is part of the problem: Very often minority strategists and pundits are left out of the conversation when talking publicly about the issues facing the GOP.  And it’s not because we don’t exist. It seems like to me that any story or analysis on television, online and in our newspapers about rebranding and rebuilding the Republican Party should include the top black or Hispanic political operatives. To do a story about shifting demographics and not talk to any minorities is akin to doing a story about women’s issues and interviewing all males.

And it wasn’t just this one story. Most of the post-election media coverage about the changing demographics of this country has focused on whites talking about what the Republican Party needs to do for minorities.

I talked with former Republication National Committee chairman Michael Steele about this Tuesday and he just laughed. I asked him what the Republican Party needed to do. He laughed and said “doing what is necessary to expand the base of the Republican Party is the easy part. Getting people to commit to doing it is where the difficulty will be.”

Aaron Manaigo, former John McCain 2008 presidential campaign national director of coalitions, chimed in: “Winning in politics is about addition, not subtraction, and it is apparent from the last three presidential campaigns the Republican Party is going in the wrong direction — losing vote percentages across all minority groups.”

As George W. Bush showed, it is possible to do relatively well with blacks and Hispanics, so there is a precedent. Based on my conversations with my fellow minority operatives in the party, the consensus of what the party needs to do is:

  • Stop the incendiary language coming from the party (Obama is lazy, legitimate rape, color-blind party, take our country back, reverse discrimination, etc.). The language is so incendiary that we can’t hear anything they are saying.
  • Meet with minority businessmen to get their views on the economy. Typically, the Republicans never reach out to the successful businessmen in our community. They reach out to talk with blacks only if there is a perceived “black” issue involved — welfare reform, low-income housing, crime, etc.
  • Define what “conservatism” means — to many blacks, it still means Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms (meanings are in people, not in words).
  • Diversity must be visible at every level of the party (congressional staffs, RNC, National Republican Congressional Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee, etc.).
  • Party leaders must spend time with grass-roots leaders from the minority community to listen, not talk.

These are simple things that can be done immediately if the party is committed to becoming a majority party.

Learning how to deal with this issue of changing demographics is not just a political issue, but also a societal issue. This shift will necessitate a new way of thinking about politics, media and life in general.

The status quo is no longer a viable option. The survival of the Republican Party and the media will depend on how each adjusts to the changing makeup of American society.


President & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a D.C. public relations/government affairs firm, Jackson can been seen regularly on TV shows, both nationally and internationally, giving his analysis on subjects from politics, culture, foreign policy, and economics. Jackson has contributed to CNN, MSNBC, BET, FOX News, and C-SPAN.
  • cordeg

    Mr. Jackson’s “consensus” both hits and misses. It is clear that “language” is part of the problem, but the notion of “incendiary language” is itself incendiary. No one wants to use “incendiary” language, of course, but the comment about President Obama’s “laziness” was directed toward his tendency to not put political capital at risk if there was an easy way to demagogue the issue instead — NOT to dredge up the stereotype of the “lazy, shiftless negro” made popular by Democrats in the bad old days when they were arguing that blacks wouldn’t work “without the lash”. In fact, other than “take our country back”, which implies a way too adversarial relationship with our fellow Americans, the remainder of the examples — nor the many others often thrown up by the opposition — are not “incendiary” at all, but simply too easily misrepresented by those wishing to play politics. The problem, as I have taken to describing it over the years, is that “all the good words have been polluted”. For example, the GOP pushes the idea of “school choice”, which in practice helps the children of poor black families stuck in deteriorating inner-city schools the most — but this policy idea is easily demagogued by Democrats to their African American audience because it sounds suspiciously like “pupil choice”, the erstwhile Southern Democratic attempt to escape integrating schools. Similarly, the recent attempts to pass legislation defining “even non-binding voter responsibilities” (e.g., “know who the candidates are”) was demagogued as “tantamount to literacy tests” by Democrats. Likewise, the requirement for photo ID becomes “tantamount to a poll tax” (Demacratic demagogues love the word “tantamount”) because you have to pay for a photo ID (this argument was made despite the fact that at least two jurisdictions stated that the photo IDs would be paid for by the government for anyone who couldn’t afford one, and the legislation was still attacked as racist). The end result is that reasonable policies put forth by Republicans can be demagogued by equating them with some prior overtly racist Democratic policy that was — or could be — described with similar-sounding language. Thus, “all the good words have been polluted.” The result is that there is actually very little the Republicans could offer that would not simply be twisted into something “tantamount” to old-time Democratic racism, with the possible exception of “whatever the Democrats promise you, we’ll double it!”

    As to reaching out to minority businessPEOPLE — alas, Mr. Jackson, now your Republican sexism is showing! — or in other areas not related to stereotypical “black issues”, I don’t quite know where you’ve been the last 30 years, but this is done all the time. It’s one of the ways the black middle-class expanded sharply during the 1980s through small business development. And it’s why pretty much the only African American Republicans the general public seems to know are businessmen and women, Army Generals, a Secretary of State, or politicians. Name one Black Republican that’s a “race hustler” in the vein of “community organizers” or those pushing revenge agendas against those “keeping blacks down”. Anyone? No, from the beginning, the GOP has connected with people from Frederick Douglass to Ida Wells to Samuel Fuller to Jackie Robinson to Charles Evers to Thomas Sowell to General Powell to Clarence Thomas to Ward Connerly to Joshua Smith to Lynn Swan to Condolezza Rice. Frankly, I’m not even sure the problem isn’t exactly 180 degrees opposite what you suggest — Republicans talk too much about success as a goal and not enough about how Republican policies help those blacks who are struggling and see success as a cruel tease to achieve that success where Democratic policies keep them dependent (and voting Democratic).

    I suspect you are spot on regarding the failure to define “Conservatism” and how it’s policies can make the lives of individual African Americans and Hispanics better. I’m guessing that most of the Hispanics who voted for President Obama in 2012 would be shocked to learn that the WORST annual record for Hispanic poverty is held by Democratic President Bill Clinton — who was re-elected with Hispanic majorities despite also holding the 2nd AND 3rd WORST records for that statistic (in fact, his tenure marked the only time in history that Hispanic poverty broke the astonishing level of 30% — and for 3 straight years), and I’m guessing they would be equally shocked to learn that the rate of Hispanic poverty under the president they helped re-elect has been WORSE than any time since Clinton’s earlier record. How is it that Republicans can never take advantage of the facts just begging to be publicized? I mean, other than the fact that they suck at politics. The other elephant in the room is the fact that both African Americans and Hispanics are culturally predisposed to Conservatism — polling broadly positively on conservative social issues, and mainly positively on conservative fiscal issues as well (so long as you don’t phrase the questions in a way that pits one group against another — e.g., the serious question: “should government spend only what it makes?” vs. the imaginary: “should we cut food stamps to give rich people a tax break?”). The sales job on Conservatism should be easy because of this, but it’s not — mostly because Democrats gave “conservative” a bad connotation (the common understanding today is that all the segregationists in the past were the “conservatives”, while the “liberals” were the civil rights leaders, but this is demonstrably untrue. It was certainly untrue regarding conservative v. liberal Republicans at the time, but it was also mostly untrue about conservative v. liberal Democrats as well, but a couple of the most “celebrated” Democratic segregationists WERE “conservative” Democrats — e.g., Russell, Eastland, Thurmond. But other Democratic segregationists — e.g., Sparkman, Walters, Smaters, Ellender, Talmadge, Stennis — were as “liberal” (by the definition of the term at the time) as Russell, Eastland, and Thurmond were “conservative”. And Democratic segregationists who joined them in voting against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 even though much more “liberal” than those men were “conservative” included, among others, Byrd, Hill, and Fulbright. There was a time when “liberal” and “conservative” weren’t racial comparatives at all, but rather referenced notions like “New Dealism”, anti-communism, labor unionism, and other non-racial aspects of politics. In particular, the Southern Democrats — whether “conservative” OR “liberal” as the word meant then — were segregationists. But, when Thurmond left the Democratic Party to join the GOP, it gave the Democratic Party the chance to turn his “conservationism” into the definition of the reason why he was a segregationist and then turned the growing “Conservative” movement in the GOP into the “language” connection to suggest that this somehow caused a “transfusion” by which racism bled out of the Democratic Party and into the Republican Party (despite the fact that it was Thurmond who changed to become more “Republican” rather than the GOP changing to become more like his erstwhile “conservative” Democratic colleagues — Thurmond repudiated segregation and became the first Southern Senator to hire blacks in non-menial staff positions and to vote for the appointment of black judges in Southern districts, among other things very UN-like “conservative” AND “liberal” Democrats). As with “school choice”, “Conservative” remains a difficult sell more for the form than the substance. Once again, “all the good words have been polluted” by the Democrats — but it is the Republicans who are paying for it.

 

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