Why Does the GOP Write Off Minorities?

I once met a Republican activist here in L.A. who wanted to take the GOP message of smaller government and social values to the congregations of the city's black churches, places where religion and politics have eagerly intersected.

But his plan was met with inaction by the GOP pooh-bahs that be, likely falling to the same excuses of no time, no money, no incentive to go to a place with few votes. In other words, accepting failure before even trying.

So the African-American man, believing strongly in the power of political rethinking to turn around some of L.A.'s poorest neighborhoods, hit the pavement, knocking on his neighbors' doors to try to spread the GOP message.

This is the profile of America's minority communities: not politically or ideologically homogenous, willing to consider new solutions, and willing to listen to new ideas and voices -- if those voices would bother to make the effort to show up.

However, this election season is shaping up to be yet another year when the Republican Party quickly kisses off the black vote, and halfheartedly reaches for at least a decent portion of the Latino vote. It's a mistake with the same script every time, like a political "Groundhog Day."

And it could particularly be a colossal failing to ignore minority communities this election season, when the flap over Barack Obama's questionable associations has seen the racial debate taken in a disturbing direction that strays from the colorblind, hand-in-hand path of brotherhood envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Former Congressman J.C. Watts, R-Okla., once the fourth-highest-ranking member in the House (and an excellent option for vice president -- nudge-nudge, Mac), wrote in an October column in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the GOP was exerting pathetically little effort at outreach. "Once in the general election, and safely out of the cloistered world of Republican primary politics, our nominee will want to trot out black faces -- usually black Republicans -- to try to win the black vote. This is insulting when you consider he likely didn't show up at events that were established to reach out to the black community. Trust me, these candidates will pay a price in the general election.

"Republican candidates avoiding the Urban League and the Morgan State debate is as nonsensical as saying 'I want a bath, but I don't want to get wet,'" Watts continued. "The excuse du jour -- 'I had a scheduling conflict' -- is the campaign equivalent of 'my dog ate my homework.' All of us, in campaigns and life, make time for things that are important to us. It's a matter of priorities. One can only conclude that growing the base of our party isn't a priority to the GOP establishment."

Personally, I want to drag our party leaders by the hand around Long Beach, Inglewood, Baldwin Hills, even Watts to get a true picture of the communities and their concerns. It may surprise party elites to see that many of their issues -- small-business growth, social values, emphasis on faith, education, fighting crime -- are ones where Republican core principles would likely resonate well.

And the common concerns don't stop there. How about the impact of illegal immigration on job opportunities, or, as some activists in the black community have also stressed, the impact on the education of black students from utilizing stretched resources to instruct non-English-speaking children at those same schools? Or what about the fact that nearly 1,500 black children a day, on average, are aborted, slicing by 35 percent the would-be growth of the African-American community since 1973?

It's also been widely taken for granted by the Democratic Party that efforts at immigration reform -- from workplace crackdowns to fence-building -- mean that Latino regions are firmly in their corner.

This insultingly assumes, of course, that Hispanics are one-issue voters.

I remember going to a 2006 Labor Day immigration rally in downtown Los Angeles, organized by labor and socialist-activism groups hoping to mirror the 500,000-strong showing by immigrant demonstrators that March. They fell about 499,000 short -- but those who did march were easily outnumbered by the Latino vendors who swarmed the sidewalks hawking soda, ice cream, and countless sizzling platters of hot dogs with peppers and onions.

When it comes to the Latino community, the small-business dreamers buoyed by a fierce entrepreneurial spirit would love to hear about lower taxes and business incentives -- especially when the left tells them that Republicans just care about white, fat-cat, big business.

True community outreach would also tap into the similarly shared concerns of safe neighborhoods as well as homeland security, good schools, strong families, etc.

But even at this rally, where I saw many residents just wander into the festivities to learn more -- and the American-flag wavers clearly turned off by the separatists -- there was no presence of pro-business, pro-entrepreneurship parties or organizations, just the medley of usual socialist suspects trying to lure in new members. I know because I took all of their red-hued propaganda -- er, literature -- and spoke with the far-left recruiters who were sure that James Sensenbrenner had driven all Latinos into the arms of the left, never to return and never to fully question the left's policies.

And alas, another GOP opportunity squandered. After all, half the battle is showing you care enough to show up -- as John McCain learned when he was the only Republican candidate to RSVP to the Univision debate.

Bridget Johnson is a columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News.