Not Their President
Color me the last person on the planet to be surprised that the top four Republican presidential contenders bailed on this week's GOP candidate debate at Morgan State University. If there's one thing you can count on in 2008, it's that the person who lands the Republican nomination will care little about those voters with a skin color darker than, say, Carmen Electra's.
Rudolph Giuliani made a career as mayor of New York pitting the city's black people against his administration or the law, and now that he has national ambitions, he's far too busy sucking up to the good ol' boys in the National Rifle Association to give a hoot about what minorities think. He's probably the only person in all of politics who would likely answer a question about rebuilding New Orleans after Katrina with a recitation of facts about what happened in New York on Sept. 11. Hell, Giuliani's recipe for chocolate brownies probably includes a mention of Sept. 11.
Fred Thompson, in the meantime, is already polishing up the corn pone in his voice to appeal to all the "NASCAR dads" who make up the hard-core base of the GOP--and for that crowd, talking to Tavis Smiley might as well be the equivalent of holding hands with Al Sharpton.
John McCain is trying to out-Bush George W. himself, and as we all recall, Kanye West said everything we need to know about the president's minority outreach plan on TV after the hurricane hit Louisiana. And someday, I'd like a national political reporter to ask Mitt Romney to list 10 black people and 10 Hispanic people he knows who are not employees of his.
Sometime I'd like to hear an honest assessment of why the Republican Party seems hellbent on self-immolation in the coming years. If you look at the numbers, more and more of America is looking less like the big pasty white guy who is the demographic of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, and more like, well, Tiger Woods--an amorphous mix of color and creed. The prescient political researcher and UMBC professor Thomas Schaller has pointed out a study by Alan Abramowitz of Emory University that shows that by next year, white men might comprise only a third of the electorate. Back in 1952, they were half; that's a mighty large fall from grace with quite the hard stop.
Bush has always made a big show of pretending to care about the black and Hispanic vote, while at the same time, the GOP election apparatus has quietly tried to disenfranchise those same voters. For every picture carefully created for TV cameras to include as many black people (preferably children) standing near Bush during the 2004 GOP convention, there was an attorney in his Justice Department either trying to keep minority voters off the rolls or misleading them at the ballot box.
Last week, when questioned at a news conference about the events in Jena, La., and the apparent snub of the minority forum at Morgan State, the president said the GOP candidates should make the effort. "My advice to whomever will be our nominee is to reach out to the African-American community, as well as other communities. . . . I believe that we've got a very strong record when it comes to empowerment, when it comes to education or homeownership or small-business formation."
Former Republican congressman and vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp, always the outlier within his party when it comes to race relations, said, "What are we going to do--meet in a country club in the suburbs one day? If we're going to be competitive with people of color, we've got to ask them for their vote."
Usually this point is where Republicans say, "Why should the GOP candidates go to a black debate aired on PBS if the Democrats won't go debate on Fox News?" Aside from the fact that Fox News is on the record as skewing both questions and scenarios to place Democrats in a bad light and acting as a message machine for the Republican Party, one could respond that on a U.S. Census form there are categories for "African-American" and "Hispanic" but not one for "Fox News Viewer."
Maybe at some point there will be a swath of Republican candidates who won't run on building a wall around the southern border of the country or leaving New Orleans to be swallowed up by swampland. Maybe someday they'll have a candidate who remembers that the majority of the country's people live in urban areas, and they don't like being characterized as unauthentic Americans.
But Republican candidates like that are a long way away, because their base doesn't want that. And that's why there'll be a lot of empty podiums at Morgan State.
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