Thoughts on Republican outreach

By Kimberley Lindsay Wilson
web posted June 1999

Lately there has been much talk about GOP outreach efforts to minorities. Unfortunately ninety percent of these efforts have been wrongheaded and pitifully weak. There are few Black faces in positions of leadership within the party. With notable exceptions like J.C. Watts Congressman from Oklahoma, Joe Rogers the Lieutenant Governor of Colorado and Paul Harris Sr., a State Representative for the 5th District of Virginia- the same district that produced Thomas Jefferson- most Black republican candidates fail to win office. Does this show, as some have insisted that white republicans will not vote for a Black person or does it show that the GOP went after the wrong candidates in the first place?

Who is in charge of this outreach effort? What are they doing? Who are they talking to? Some GOP members have pointed at Justice Clarence Thomas, affirmative action activist Ward Connerly, the Honorable J.C. Watts, and columnist Armstrong Williams as proof of their desire to see more Black faces within the party. Therein lies some of the wrong-headedness. During his Senate hearings I came to admire Justice Thomas's stubborn courage. The man faced the full fury of his opponents and neither flinched nor crumbled. However, most Black Americans still perceive Justice Thomas in terms of his "questionable" political views and allegiances. As for Ward Connerly his anti-affirmative action crusade may have had some shade of validity in his home state of California but his taking it to the national stage has won him few fans in the Black community.

While I have always been somewhat ambivalent about affirmative action -- it's greatest beneficiaries have been well connected white women -- I am mindful of the fact that it helped to create a burgeoning Black middle class. These are the very people the GOP should be making overtures to. Instead, by looking approvingly on a man who is genuinely despised as a traitor by many Black folks the GOP simply repels them even more.

The lack of forceful response from the House GOP leadership on these issues has been apparent in recent months. The GOP has been rocked by the news that both Senator Trent Lott (R-MISS) and Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) maintained significant relationships with the Council of Conservative Citizens a southern based white supremacist group. House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts' (R-OK) hesitation to comment on this troubling episode has disappointed many considering he is the lone Black republican in Congress. On March 17th many weeks after the CCC story broke Watt's proposed a delicately worded House resolution condemning racism and bigotry in all forms, but failing to mention the CCC. Compared to the measure proposed by Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL), H.R. 35, which strongly and specifically denounced the CCC Watts' H. Res. 121 seemed to be as irascible Representative John Conyers (D-MI), said, an "embarrassing substitute" for the Wexler measure. Congress already condemns racism, not to mention the numerous civil rights law addressing racist acts. On March 23rd, H.Res. 121 was soundly defeated failing to win the 2/3 required for passage. What could have been a great chance for republicans to send a welcoming message to minorities was short circuited from the beginning.

As for columnist and author Armstrong Williams I can only point out that he is particularly unpopular in many Black circles. In fact one of my relatives, a sweet tempered and incredibly tolerant woman almost lunges for the remote control to turn the channel whenever Mr. Williams appears on a political commentary program.

There are those in the GOP who may mean well but their minority outreach efforts are doomed to failure until they seriously examine what it is they are trying to do. Black people are not, as one conservative columnist suggested blind to reality. We are not children and we are certainly not fools. We already know what is in our best interests. If the GOP wants to speak to us it must first show that it has something to offer. This something can not be pretty words and it can not be the sight of a few Black faces belonging to folks considered to be living far beyond mainstream Black America.

My father used to joke that while Democrats frequently gave Black America things it didn't want Republicans were happy to give us nothing. J.C. Watts' father's famous quip that "a Black man voting for the Republicans is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders" has been widely reported. The so-called minority outreach programs offered by the GOP have done nothing to change these perceptions.

The feeling that the GOP is either hostile or indifferent to Black America's needs and hopes for our families and this country is deeply ingrained. Frankly, I can't think of a single white republican other than Jack Kemp and the Bush brothers who even seem comfortable talking to Black folks much less working with us. The year 2000 elections are coming. Grand Old Party, if you are at all serious it's time to back up your outreach talk. Make your pitch and make it real one this time then maybe we'll have something to discuss.

Kimberley Wilson is a conservative writer. Her commentaries have appeared in newspapers around the country. She and her husband live in Virginia where she is currently working on a book.


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