Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Outreach and Diversity

Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of my favorite liberal bloggers.  I think he often gets it wrong (but then again I would), but I also thinks he makes an honest effort to be fair, and that is all I can really ask of anybody.  We also seem to have alot of nerd interests in common.  Here is Coates writing about Michael Steele's election as RNC chairman.  It is worth a read.  I'll still be here when you come back.

One thing that strikes me is Coates writing that making Steele RNC chairman is the begining of something.  I disagree, and I still would even if Steele had turned out to be less gaffe-prone.  The GOP's problem with African-Americans (in its modern form) has never been that it has been too slow to promote African-Americans into its party elites or appoint African-Americans to high office.  It has been an inability to win over African-American voters beyond that 10% of African-Americans who seem to have bought into some version of the conservative narrative of the recent past.  Since the problem is not the lack of inclusion of African-Americans into highly visible party elites, it can't be the answer - or at least not the crucial first part of the answer.  In fact, to the extent that pursuing outreach primarily by expanding the role of African-American Republicans in visible positions might actually give the false impression of progress when none is really happening, one could just be wasting time.  The sad truth is that Republicans would not do much better among African-Americans if they nominated an all African-American presidential ticket.  This doesn't mean that Republicans should not try to recruit African-American candidates and office holders, it just means that hopes for political returns in the form of higher vote totals among African Americans should be kept modest.

So what to do?  The first thing is to figure out what you need in order to win over a constituency the majority of whom are deeply suspicious of your party.  It starts with an understanding of the dominant narrative of the past within the constituency. That means understanding how the dominant narrative of the role of the federal government, the history of freedom, and American exceptionalism (among other issues) might, if one is not careful, alienate conservatives even from those African-Americans who might share their policy preferences on taxes, abortion, cap and trade, health care or whatever.  This is a huge rhetorical problem because it means examining virtually every word from a perspective of the past that most conservative have not internalized.  The second is crafting a policy agenda that is compelling enough to win people over even when, by history and sentiment, they would be inclined to vote for the other party.  This is a huge problem too, and there are no easy answers.  My first tentative suggestion is that it is unwise to focus too much on any one issue.  The third is the commitment to investing the time and other resources needed to get your message out and convince people that you are serious about representing thier interests and principles and getting their votes.  Coates was right when he wrote, "your persistence is more important than your [expletive]."  If you don't get those three things right, it doesn't matter what else you do or don't have. 

One thing Coates wrote did rankle.  It was when he wrote about the modern Republican party "celebrating its own homogeneity".  I think the idea of the modern Republican party being homogenous (or having an identity as homogenous) is literally an optical illusion.  The Republican party that emerged from the 1970s had more religious, ethnic, and regional diversity than the its earlier incarnation.  Its just that we aren't used to thinking of adding white Southerners, evangelical Christians, Boston Irish-Catholics, and Wisconsin Polish-Americans to a group as adding diversity.  But it is.  This history of the Republican party both moving to the right and expanding its demographic base, should provide some hope that the Republican party (which is of course the country's more conservative party) will have a chance to prosper within the country's changing demographics - even if it will take alot more wisdom and skill than its leaders have shown lately.    


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