The Republican Party did not lose control of Congress alone in the 2006 election. In Illinois, the GOP also lost ground in the General Assembly--where it was already in the minority--and was completely shut out of statewide offices for the first time in generations. Demographic math makes it clear that Republicans in the blue state of Illinois will not regain majority party status until the GOP attracts a sizable segment of minority voters. It isn't happening at the moment, so the party has to change. The question is how?
I propose bringing back the traditional Republican emphasis on pursuing justice and providing equal opportunity. Lincoln said the Republican cause is "to elevate the condition of men, to lift the artificial weights from all shoulders, to clear the path of laudable pursuits for all, to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life."
The GOP has a relatively proud lineage as the party that ended slavery, gave black men the vote, and passed the 14th Amendment to protect against state violations of civil rights. By contrast, the Democratic Party opposed the Civil War amendments, enacted Jim Crow laws, and prevented a federal law against lynching.
Republicans cannot, however, rest on their laurels from previous centuries. Too many Republicans today do not have correcting injustice on their radar screens. We have other priorities nowadays than ensuring that all Americans have "an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life."
One barrier to attracting more non-white voters is the perception of Republican hostility to minorities. One cause for this perception is the fact that so many conservative Southern white Democrats who had opposed civil rights law became Republicans over the last 40 years. Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman spoke before the NAACP on July 14, 2005. He apologized for the Nixon Southern strategy to "benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong."
Other things that reinforce the perception of GOP hostility to minorities are the following:
Blunt crusades against illegal immigrants and affirmative action, which are easily (mis)interpreted as racist.
A blind attachment to the death penalty, despite the high wrongful-conviction rate of minority defendants.
The lack of serious Republican effort (except for Ken Mehlman) to earn support from African-Americans.
Opposition or indifference to issues important to Latinos and African-Americans, such as rooting out racial profiling and closing the nation's biggest disparity in public education funding.
Immigration, like affirmative action, is an issue that must be addressed with care. Appeals to racial resentment and fears regarding either issue should be verboten. It's one thing to advocate better enforcement of our immigration laws; it's another to run campaign ads equating illegal immigrants with terrorists. Republican support from Latinos plummeted from 44 percent for Bush in 2004 to 26 percent this year.
Anyone who studies the issue recognizes that the death penalty needs serious reform. When Republicans resist reforms, such as videotaping interrogations and witness identification procedures in capital cases, they exhibit blindness to a status quo in Illinois that has been rife with errors.
Only those willfully blind to reality fail to recognize inequality and injustice in our nation. Median income has dropped in Illinois more than in any other state except Michigan, while the gap between rich and poor has grown. More and more jobs lack pensions and health coverage. Illinois has a greater proportion of children living in poverty than any other Midwestern state. Inner-city schools with the highest concentration of poor students tend to have the least-qualified teachers. Republicans need to make it a priority to address these problems. There is ample precedent for doing so.
The Declaration of Independence makes justice a priority when it states "all men are created equal" and that securing rights is the supreme purpose of government. (Justice means equals should be treated equally.) We pledge allegiance to a country "with liberty and justice for all." One purpose of the Constitution listed in the Preamble is to "establish justice."
When Republican leaders work on issues that matter to the groups whose support we seek, then we'll earn credibility with minorities who too often feel unwelcome in the party. The opportunity is there, but it will require recapturing the original vision of our party as we once again become champions for the oppressed, so we're not seen as protectors of the comfortable.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Illinois GOP's future: Paul Froehlich's letter to the Trib
Representative Paul Froehlich's letter to the Trib. Thank you Representative Froehlich! Check for thoughts on it here, here, here, and here.