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Republicans court Black voters, but it never seems to work

Jonathan P Hicks | 12/12/2013, 5:25 p.m.
Jonathan P. Hicks

You know you’re in trouble when you travel to Detroit to court Black voters to the Republican Party and wind up with a nearly all-white audience in a city that is roughly 85 percent African-American. That’s the fascinating predicament Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul recently found himself in. At almost the same time, Paul’s fellow Republicans were holding seminars on how to do a better job of reaching out to women voters.

It’s outreach time for the Republican Party. The party’s chairman, Reince Priebus, has stated publicly that it is a priority for the GOP to attract more African-American and Latino voters. He and House Speaker John Boehner insist that it’s also critically important to teach Republican male candidates how to avoid making the kinds of foolish statements about women and reproductive issues that hurt their party so badly in 2012.

It is commendable, I suppose, to see Republicans like Paul delving into Motown, much as it was when he went to Howard University in Washington this past spring. It seems there is always something new for them to discover. In fact, at Howard, Paul seemed somewhat stunned to discover how intellectually engaged the students were in their political history. But at least he went.

Despite the efforts of Paul and others, the perennial problem for Republicans remains that they seem to believe that all they need to do is to show up at African-American venues and state their case and the Black folk will come running enthusiastically back to the party of Lincoln. They never seem to understand that Black Americans are the most loyal constituency of the Democratic Party only because of the policy positions that party takes.

Not long after Paul’s effort to court Black Detroit, he appeared on TV condemning the idea of extending unemployment benefits beyond 26 weeks.

“If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy.”

This comes from a man who had just left Detroit, a city where Black unemployment is estimated to be higher than 35 percent. His message: Don’t give these unemployed people additional weeks of vital economic assistance; they’re better off fending for themselves in a city where there are few, if any, positions awaiting them in the job market.

That speaks to the extraordinary disconnect between Republican officials and the voters who they claim to have an interest in courting. This is the party that led the way to a sequester and a shutdown of the government that caused 800,000 federal employees to be furloughed and another 1.3 million workers to report to work without known payment dates.

This is a party that has led the way in making cuts to the federal food stamp program, a vital lifeline for low-income Americans who are barely able to sustain themselves. This is the party whose leaders, in state after state, have worked overtime to enact restrictive voting rights laws aimed at making it more difficult for African-American and Latino voters to go to the polls and cast their ballots.

Their record on many issues relating to women’s rights is equally troubling. This is the party whose leaders in various states have championed legislation to require medically unnecessary and physically invasive sonograms before an abortion. This is the Republican Party that has worked unceasingly to prevent sex-based wage discrimination legislation. This is a party that has opposed increasing the minimum wage.

There is an unsightly detachment between the professed desire of Republicans to gain African-American support and the positions they take. If Republicans are really serious about wanting more support from the nation’s Black voters, they need only start revising the policies they support with an eye toward the real needs of Americans in the 21st century.