Black Republicans may have to reassess

October 27, 2007|By Jonathan R. Burrs

The last week of September 2007 will prove to be a pivotal moment for the Republican party, from having four viable contenders in the race for the presidency - in spite of public outrage with the overall performance of the Bush administration - to a party with the four frontrunners completely out of touch with social trends relative to politics and minority affairs.

"I'm puzzled by their decision. I can't speak for them. I think it's a mistake," said Newt Gingrich. He spoke in reference to Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson, all of whom declined to participate in a PBS debate on minority issues held at Morgan State University and moderated by Tavis Smiley. Former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele also criticized those who skipped the debate.

Gingrich said he did all he could to convince the GOP frontrunners that participating was the right thing to do, but admitted Republicans were in a cycle where they don't talk to minority groups. Gingrich said the GOP could not afford to ignore black voters during the primaries, because it will need their support in the general election.


In case you had not heard, Tavis Smiley is the first American ever to simultaneously host signature talk shows, "Tavis Smiley" on PBS and "The Tavis Smiley Show" on PRI, on both public television and public radio. Smiley's numerous honors and recognitions include Texas Southern University's decision to open The Tavis Smiley School of Communications and The Tavis Smiley Center for Professional Media Studies, making him the youngest African-American ever to have a professional school and center named after him on a college or university campus. Reinforcing his commitment to TSU, Smiley donated $1 million to the center.

Smiley said he found it troubling the candidates cited scheduling conflicts as the reason for not attending. He noted the date for the forum was arranged in consultation with GOP officials and announced in February.

"No person, black, white or brown, Democrat or Republican, male or female, no person should be elected president in 2008 without speaking to communities of color," Smiley said.

Still, the GOP frontrunners appear to be disconnected with a broad national perception that the Republican Party in general is culturally exclusive to whites, a viewpoint many GOP leaders such as former Gov. Robert Ehrlich, as well as President Bush, have fought vigorously to change. President Bush's percentage of the black vote in the state of Ohio increased from 9 percent in 2000 to 16 percent in 2004, a determining factor his winning a second term.

It is my opinion that Smiley is justified in saying that no person, regardless of race or political affiliation or gender, should be elected to the office of U.S. president without speaking to communities of color.

The actions or lack thereof by Giuliani, McCain, Romney and Thompson exhibit attitudes of politicians completely out of touch with people of color. Their actions show a disregard for a small but growing number of minority Republicans and have also stifled the effort to attract additional minorities to the GOP.

The scheduling excuse is disingenuous at best and only serves to bring more attention to the perception that minority issues are not important to these candidates. I agree with Smiley and, regardless of accomplishments, sacrifices and contributions to this country, to deny or close one's eyes to minority issues undermines the significance minorities have in U.S. politics, in addition to contributing to making the U.S. a great nation!

I am of the opinion that before things become better for the GOP, people such as myself must refocus our attention on Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, or even maybe the anticipated introduction of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as an independent in the bid for the 2008 presidency.

Although I've been a harsh critic of Clinton in the past and have blasted Obama's unrealistic views of military use, I also believe the Democratic candidates are receptive to minority issues and are more likely to help race relations in this country. Of course ,there should be much more to being president than addressing race-related social issues. However, it is impossible to seriously consider candidates who completely avoid these issues.

As the financial wealth, social influence and population of minorities increase, political parties must embrace the important need to be receptive to minority issues. The GOP in particular might wake up one day to find the tables have been turned and realize how cold and lonely it can be as disenfranchised minorities battling a system designed to limit their participation and often totally exclude them.

Jonathan R. Burrs is a Hagerstown resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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