By Purnell, Black Men In America.com Guest Columnist
MENDING FENCES ON THE HILL…
It opened with the “Pledge of Allegiance” followed by the singing of the “National Anthem” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” This was powerful patriotic material tastefully presented, well received and resulted in an electrifying effect upon the audience. There was even a sprinkling of “Amens” heard at the end of James Weldon Johnson’s famous song!
Formal luncheons are usually mundane affairs on the Capital Hill circuit, but a Commemorative Luncheon on August 26, 2013 dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the historic March On Washington in 1963 sponsored by the RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and hosted by Kristol Quarker, the African American Liaison Chairperson…proved to be an exception. It was a delightful, cordial affair attended by an over-flow audience of local as well as national Republican personalities. Present was a representative blend of age and racial groups connected by a belief in and a dedication to, the tenets of Republican philosophy. Some invitees were seemingly longtime local members of the party, others were well known national Republicans, while quite a few appeared to be recent political converts eager to hear the ideas of those steeped in a political philosophy they were now being invited to explore. The new folks were highly pleased by what they heard and favorably impressed by the sincerity of the speeches delivered by the honored guests. If not there to adopt a more conservative alternative political philosophy, the guests had at least expressed enough interest in the GOP for the Republican hierarchy to extend an invite. This event was special in several ways and for several reasons, but what made the affair unusually important was that a cohesive African American group was willingly and publicly edging closer toward Republicanism.
The irony in all of this is that it was white abolitionists who founded the Republican Party in 1854…to end slavery. By 1860 the first Republican President of the United States had been elected: Abraham Lincoln, “The Great Emancipator.” True to their credo, the first Republican president issued the “Emancipation Proclamation” to free all slaves on January 1, 1865. Radical Republicans of the 39th, 40th and 41st U.S. Congresses finished the job of making former slaves full citizens of these United States by passing the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments between 1865 and 1870. Later in the South, following the “Compromise of 1876,” southern black men were the mainstay of the Republican Party at great personal risk. They maintained their allegiance to the GOP well into the 20th century despite the murderous onslaught of white racist extremists in Dixie and the crippling effects of prejudice in the North. American politics is uniformly silent on this heroic legacy, to the detriment of African Americans and to the regret of White Republicans of goodwill.
Interestingly enough, in the course of the observance held at the Republican National Committee’s headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., a common theme seemed to reoccur. This repeated message found expression in various ways coming from dissimilar speakers recounting experiences from different time periods and within the context of a variety of professional situations. The crux of the matter is the seeming inability of the GOP to attract and retain a significant number of African Americans. It seemed to defy logic that an obvious political oversight had been ignored for so long that it has become a glaring embarrassment to the GOP and regrettably generates the grounds for accusations of racism from GOP detractors. A nagging embarrassment for Republicans, the problem is continually bewildering for many black Republicans and exerts an especially inhibitory circumstance for the growing number of African Americans who are reconsidering their blind allegiance to the Democrats. The difficulty as articulated repeatedly was this: “How can the GOP gain traction in African American communities in the United States following decades of neglect and what is the most promising approach to accomplishing that task?” Each time that the concern was elaborated upon, the audience responded with generous applause followed by thoughtful silence. That pattern between the speakers and the luncheon guests…agree that there is a problem and call for a prompt, rational solution…characterized attempts to address a sensitive, seemingly incongruent truism in contemporary Republican Party affairs.
However, it seems that the means to solve the GOP’s dilemma with regard to black voters in America is inherent in the general description of the problem itself: a dormant mutual political HISTORY of long standing. It is incumbent upon the Republicans to establish that within the shared history of blacks and “The Party of Lincoln” can be found common values, ideals and a conservative ethic. Despite all the appeals to reason and sentiment served up as rationales for reconnecting blacks with Republicans, the element of motivation is apparently lost. So how best can the African American community be convinced to re-embrace Republican political thought and initiatives? Perhaps the historical approach combined with a substantial dose of conservative philosophy would work. This idea seems to hold the most promise for a political reconciliation. But why use an historical approach?
Carved in stone above the entrance to the U.S. Archive, America’s repository for its national narrative, are the words, “What Is Past, Is Prologue,” meaning…what is past, is “first.” Not many Americans look up as they walk into the imposing entrance to this building, but the words are there. For the GOP, the words above the entrance to the Archive could be instructive. It’s a relatively simple proposition for the Republican Party…they have to tout the finest aspects of their past relationship with blacks with emphasis on areas of shared agreement and then proceed to point out areas of political and value-based commonality. Extend an invitation to blacks to join the GOP mid-term and 2016 efforts to regain the White House and the Senate. There will be vigorous opposition to that partnership by the Left and the secular liberals who dominate the media…that’s their job. Their wailing will have to simply be ignored.
Notice that as blacks became estranged from the GOP, America drifted into a wonderland existence where there is no right or wrong and where dissent is vilified. Take for instance education; it is well known that secondary and higher education has been dumbed-down to pathetic levels by the adoption of secularist’s educational philosophies. And further, how can it be that 2 or 3 dozen colleges and universities out of a total of some 4,100 in America are managing through research and development to maintain US technological superiority in the world. Even worse, among the 30 top industrialized nations in the world, the US educational attainment now ranks 25th or lower on virtually all measures. These circumstances highlight a pathetic national reality. Ironically though, there is an opening here for the GOP.
Republicans must respectfully elevate American political discourse with reliable, verifiable information, presented in novel ways, intended to capture the attention of African Americans long enough to loosen the grip of the other party and begin to neutralize the bandwagon-effect of using super liberal celebrities as instruments of political persuasion. A value system to live by has to be clearly articulated. A common-sense approach to the national problems of today and a move toward God, family and country needs to be formulated. An overpowering government needs restraint. Moreover, a clarification of the Republican ideology for the black community is long overdue. The list of essential actions obviously goes on, but the idea of active engagement has relative merit and the GOP must decide upon a course of action aimed at embracing its African American brethren.
Clearly, today’s GOP is not the “Party of Lincoln” as its detractors self-righteously take every opportunity to point out. Republicans have to counter that criticism by simply establishing that the GOP is a body of guiding principles which transcend individual personalities…and that those principles have remained viable and intact. Republicans have to proudly claim and advocate for the ideals and values that carried African Americans through their epic struggle for freedom from American chattel slavery. They have to rally around their philosophical body of thought and make it clear that they are as legitimate today as they were in 1854. Surely those cherished traditional ideals deserve to be revisited by old friends seeking common grounds.