The Washington Independent has a fantastic article today about the race for Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), specifically Michael Steele’s consistent assertion that the Republican Party does not take Blacks seriously enough.
For much of his career, Steele argued the opposite, that Democrats took Black voters for granted, promising ambitious policies to extend government programs further into urban neighborhoods, but delivering on very few of these promises. In essence, he argued, “Don’t give your vote over to the Al Sharptons and the Reverend Jacksons and all the other folks who are advocating on behalf of Kerry just because.”
Well, it’s not just because. It’s true that Democrats have a troubling tendency to ignore African American voters and inner-city programs simply because blacks vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. But the fact is that even if Democrats deliver 25% of what is promised, progressive policies (even those not directly aimed at minorities) are far superior for minority populations than the conservative agenda.
Healthcare reform is a prime example that will disproportionately benefit minorities. According to a 2004 study, although Hispanics comprise 14% of the population, 30% of the uninsured are Hispanic. Although African Americans make up 12% of the population, 15% of the uninsured are Black. Conversely, although 67% of the population is White, only 48% of the uninsured are White.
So with African American support firmly behind the Democrats, and the election of the first Black President on the Democratic ticket, Steele is correct to change his tone. The Republican Party cannot, as Tim Pawlenty warned, thrive as the party for rich white people.
But to do this, the GOP needs to embrace policies that help people who aren’t rich and white. It is not sufficient to elevate token minorities to prominent positions within the Republican bureaucracy.
The Republican Party will not bounce back with small, aesthetic changes. It needs to drastically change its agenda to try and become the party for rich and poor Americans, young and old Americans, and Americans of all colors.
But I won’t hold my breath.