GOP not for blacks … yet.

By Matt Simmons

Former Pittsburgh Steeler great, Lynn Swann, is in virtual dead heat in the race for governor of Pennsylvania with current governor Ed Rendell. If elected, Swann will be the first black governor of the state. Despite the fact that Swann’s election would be a historic step in African-American history, most observers believe that Swann will not come anywhere close to winning a majority of the African-American vote.

Swann is a rare breed in American politics, a black conservative. In recent years, Republicans have made genuine efforts to bring blacks into the party as both candidates and voters. Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Melhman has vowed that the GOP will no longer surrender any voting blocs to the Democratic Party, including African-Americans. President Bush has also reached out, appointing blacks to several high-profile positions in his cabinet.

Their attempts have been largely futile. African-Americans remain loyal to the Democratic Party with 88 percent of blacks voting for John Kerry in 2004. African-Americans realize that Republicans have consistently and unambiguously voted against our interests for the last several decades. We have no reason to believe that this pattern will discontinue even if there are more black Republicans than there were 20 or 30 years ago.

Some Republicans like to think that blacks only support Democrats because of democratic support of affirmative action and safety net programs for the poor. In reality, the policy and value differences are much deeper than those issues.

For starters, the Republican Party has made African-Americans into one their key adversaries. During the 1980s, Ronald Reagan transformed black women into the personification of laziness and the face of welfare. He made up wild stories about “Welfare Queens” driving “Welfare Cadillacs” throughout Chicago. Reagan failed to mention that at the time of his presidency there were more white people on welfare than blacks.

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He campaigned against welfare by accusing black women of purposefully cheating the system to make themselves wealthy. He was out to protect good, tax-paying white Americans from unscrupulous blacks in the inner-cities. No evidence to support any of the Reagan’s claims was ever found. The champion of the modern Republican Party maliciously vilified African-Americans in order to further his party’s agenda.

Today, Republicans still stand opposed to black priorities. Many in the party continue to oppose hate crime legislation. Even President Bush has stated that hate crime laws are unnecessary. The concept of protecting marginalized groups from violent acts purposefully done to intimidate them is lost on many conservatives.

Also, Republicans have done little to ensure the voting rights of African-Americans are protected. In fact, they were able to have many of the ballots in largely African-American areas thrown out during the 2000 recount in Florida. Conservatives have not made any substantial efforts to make it easier for blacks to vote or to ensure their votes are counted properly.

Finally, Republican values are not in tune with the black community. Their handling of immigration issues clearly portrays their priorities. Instead of focusing on family reunification and granting amnesty to people that have lived, worked and paid taxes in this country, they are concerned with temporarily exploiting immigrant labor and pandering to xenophobic sentiments of some of its Southern supporters. A party with such values is not the party for African-Americans.

The GOP has an opportunity to make gains with African-Americans. Many blacks strongly embrace the moral conservatism of the party. Others feel that affirmative action and welfare programs lauded by Democrats encourage black dependency on the government. Also, the system is set up so the Democratic Party can largely marginalize black voices because they know blacks have no other alternative. Blacks would benefit from having an alternative in the Republican Party. Before this can happen though, the GOP must realize that lining up black candidates like Swann will not win any points. Republicans must adopt favorable stances on the issues that are vital to our communities.

Matt Simmons is a senior in LAS. He is loathe to admit that his “Welfare Cadillac” is a blue minivan. His column appears on Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected].