It's Time for the Republican Party to Embrace Identity Politics
Just about everyone acknowledges, inside the Republican Party and out, that the GOP needs to do a much better job of bringing minorities into the party. But how? There's a big problem with implementing this idea -- one that is seldom discussed.
The obstacles that prevent Republicans from bringing more minorities into the party are as cultural as they are political. Many blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, and even women instinctually vote Democrat, even when their views more closely align with the Republicans.
It would be ambitious to imagine the GOP could get 50% of every one of those groups. But is it really out of the question to get 35% of the black vote as opposed to the 10% the party usually gets, or 45% of the Hispanic vote as opposed to the roughly 30% pulled in normally? Not at all, and such an achievement could create a powerful political shift to the right in this country.
The problem with attempting to do this is that the Republican Party has ceded leadership in minority communities, almost by default, to the Democrats. You can see examples of this on a regular basis. Sarah Palin is hit with sexist attacks and even conservatives say, "NOW is supposed to represent all women; so what are they going to say about it?"
When black Republicans are treated unfairly, the mantra goes, "What does the NAACP have to say about this?" In other words, the Democrats have created groups who claim to speak for all blacks, all Hispanics, and all women -- and even conservatives accept this to a certain extent. In addition, why is supporting tough action to fight illegal immigration considered "racist"? Sure, it impacts Hispanic illegals -- but they're not Americans. On the other hand, illegal immigration disproportionately impacts American Hispanics. It puts them out of jobs and lowers their wages. It makes a mockery of the Hispanic Americans who love this country and spent thousands of dollars and years waiting to get their citizenship the legal way. And why? So a bunch of rich white liberals can import a Hispanic slave class to pick their strawberries and be their nannies? That sounds more than a little racist to me.
How about affirmative action? What makes opposing that "racist"? Sure, there are a few black Americans who benefit from it, but it also causes thousands of black college students to flunk out of schools they never should have been admitted to in the first place. It casts a shadow over the accomplishment of every black American because it leaves people wondering whether they got where they are via merit or affirmative action. So whom does it benefit? Primarily white liberals who care more about making themselves feel superior to black Americans by giving them counter-productive "help" than they do about making anyone's life better.
There is always a case that can be made for conservatism. In fact, it's often already made in minority communities. Bill Cosby is a good example. Even the Nation of Islam has been known to hit on some conservative themes.
There is a sad but true fact that we have to accept. Many people will support someone of their own race over someone of a different race, even if the person of a differing race better represents their views. For example, in the Democratic presidential primaries last year, black Democrats voted in a landslide for Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton, the wife of the "first black president," despite the fact that they had extremely similar views.
Hence, allowing Democrats to have complete control over every significant group that claims to represent a minority puts the GOP at an incredible disadvantage. Practically by default, a certain percentage of minority Americans will vote the way groups that are supposed to represent them tell them to vote. These groups are also, again almost by default, left alone to define the important issues to minority groups and decide what's considered racist and what's not.
Traditionally, conservatives have been reluctant to fight fire with fire. Why? Because we have internalized Martin Luther King's belief that people should be judged not "by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." That's why conservatives tend to find groups like the NAACP and La Raza abhorrent.
I think it's time to acknowledge that this approach hasn't helped conservatives win elections.
We should not forget that conservatives have done more than a little bit of dabbling with identity politics over the last few years. Haven't conservatives spoken with pride about Clarence Thomas being the only black Supreme Court justice or Bush having appointed the first black secretary of state? Let's be honest -- would Sarah Palin have been selected as VP in 2008 if she weren't female? Would Michael Steele be the RNC chairman today if he were a white man? Of course not. Yet Sarah Palin was the best thing to happen to John McCain's campaign, and Michael Steele has done a better job than most people acknowledge.
On top of that, there are already rightward leaning groups that are designed to appeal to minority groups of some sort or another. Among them are: the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, the Hispanic Alliance for Progress, the Latino Coalition, GOProud, Project 21, Bond, the National Black Republican Association, and the Independent Women's Forum.
True, these groups haven't managed to reach the prominence of their liberal counterparts like NOW, La Raza, CAIR, or the NAACP. Why? Because they don't get the funding or the support from conservatives who hold the purse strings. This cannot continue. These groups, and groups like them, need money, attention, and backing if they are to become our ambassadors in minority communities and in the public arena.
When a Hispanic radio show is debating immigration, someone representing a conservative version of La Raza should be on the air.
When Democrats say Sarah Palin can't be an effective leader because she has five children, we need the conservative version of NOW hammering them as sexists on TV.
When black ministers speak out against gay marriage, the National Association for the Advancement of Conservative Colored People needs to be alongside them, vocal and active in the heart of the fight.
The lesson that needs to be internalized is that it's not just the message; it's who's delivering it. When conservatives accept that, we may shock people with how fast our minority outreach begins to bear fruit.