When it comes to blacks' traditional alliance with the Democratic Party, that's a shame. After 1865, after all, black voters devoutly supported Republicans. Teddy Roosevelt was the first president to invite a black?Booker T. Washington?to dine at the White House, and to considerable opprobrium. But after FDR and the New Deal, black support for Republicans withered away. Even Wendell Willkie's support for antilynching laws during the 1940 presidential race wasn't enough to sway blacks back from the Democrats.
What most people don't realize is that the GOP was responsible for most of the existing laws that protect the rights of minorities. A Republican passed the Emancipation Proclamation, and Republicans were instrumental in passing the constitutional amendments that granted blacks citizenship and the right to vote. The 1964 Civil Rights Act, supported by a majority of Republicans, was actually opposed by Southern Democrats like Sen. Al Gore Sr.
So why are minority voters so steadfast in their support of the Democrat Party? It's simple: Democrats ask for minority support and Republicans don't. And when Republicans do ask, they don't do so in a very effective manner?they tend to be cold and perfunctory about it. They also make the mistake of approaching black leaders like Jesse Jackson: Jackson's never going to be a GOP convert; cultivating him is a waste of time. If Republicans genuinely want their party to be inclusive, they've got to do a much better job at courting minorities.
The vexing question remains this: What are minorities getting from Democrats in the first place? Are urban blacks and Hispanics really getting a good return on their investment in the Democratic Party?
Not really. Take education. Democrats and Hispanics don't see eye to eye on bilingual education. Democrats support it, but Hispanics have been skeptical of it at best. A 1997 Los Angeles Times poll found 84 percent of California Hispanics against bilingual education. Meanwhile, a poll showed 80 percent of blacks favoring school choice, a policy Democrats won't even consider, beholden as they are to the teachers' unions, which contribute more money to Democrats than do blacks or Hispanics.
Minorities have more in common with Republicans than Democrats; they're interested in education reform, retirement security, community safety?quality of life and "pocketbook" issues, in other words. These are Republican issues.
The time's come, then, for blacks and Hispanics to take a look at what Republicans have to offer them. In fact, it's already happening. Hispanic voters, for example, no longer represent the monolithic voting block that Democrats used to be able to take for granted. In Texas, Gov. George W. Bush was reelected with 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. Why? Simply because he reached out to them. (And that he did so in Spanish certainly didn't hurt.) Moreover, the Republican National Hispanic Assembly?which was first formed in the mid-1970s?has seen its membership triple in the last few years, with chapters popping up in states like Arkansas, Nebraska and Mississippi, which haven't in the past been well known for the size of their Hispanic populations. Hispanics will increasingly become a force in Republican politics.
Will blacks? They can and should, especially given that the political status quo they've supported at the polls for decades is increasingly becoming ineffective and even self-defeating. The racial gerrymandering of election districts, which in the past has ensured that black candidates win, no longer works, now that such districts are being broken up by the courts. Plus, gerrymandering leaves blacks without any voice at all in the majority of elections around the country. The Democrats have effectively disempowered their own constituents, while stringing them along with empty promises.
The question is whether the GOP will have the energy to exploit this situation. Republicans seem to operate according to a dual logic. On the one hand, they'd sincerely love to welcome blacks and Hispanics into the party. On the other hand, they've been imbued with such a sense of the hopelessness of attracting minorities that they don't bother going out and doing the necessary footwork, choosing instead to stick to those markets in which they'll be sure to realize a return on their investments, even if it's not a spectacular one. That has to change. It makes sense for Republicans to court blacks. Conversely, blacks who desire the types of free-market reforms that would benefit their communities should seek out their local Republican organizations and become active within the party. They'll then no longer have to wait in vain for Democrats to throw them crumbs. A more fecund debate about black policy needs will develop, and it's even possible that the Democratic Party will become more responsive to black needs as it realizes that it can't take blacks for granted. Finally, a greater minority presence in Republican politics will force the GOP to reexamine and reform itself when it comes to some crucial issues.
Robert Alan Hornak is president of the New York Young Republican Club and a Republican consultant.