On the 45th anniversary of the dark day when Dr. Martin Luther King was gunned down in Memphis, I feel the need to write about some political history. I grew up in the Dayton area. Most of my friends back home are black. I have always found it hard to believe that most of them constantly vote Democrat, when the party itself has run many of Ohio’s major cities into the ground economically for many years. But I shouldn’t be surprised. The Ohio Republican Party, often showing little difference between themselves and the Democrats, deserves blame as well. They have allowed Ohio to remain a tax and spend state with failing schools, high crime, union and corporate corruption, and annoying, bigoted nativist sentiments.
Though my family mostly votes Democrat I have always been a Republican. You might call me a recovering neocon turned Rand Paul Republican through a drawn out awakening from the statism I grew up around. Though I wasn’t a huge fan of Bush I believe–and did from my teen years–that historically the Republican Party has had the better track record on economics and foreign policy; even though I’ve never quite been in agreement with them on social issues. In high school I read John Stuart Mill and got my first taste of the importance of individual liberty. The history books I read suggested that the Republican Party, at least prior to George W. Bush, had a better track record on this, through the civil rights support from Calvin Coolidge and Dwight Eisenhower, and the economic policies of Ronald Reagan. When the party was founded as the party of civil rights, its motto was: Free Soil, Free Labor, and Free Men.
Though some northern Democrats such as my late grandfather (who would have turned 86 today) were friendly to the black community in the first half of the 20th century, most of the party — especially in the south — had always been an enemy of civil rights. It had been the party of Jim Crow. Even in the North, working class Democrats before the 1960s had a tendency to bigotry. The earliest labor unions were founded to protect “white labor.” After both WWI and WWII, many blacks fled the south to work in the industrial cities of the northeast and midwest, and the white unions would fight hard to keep them out. This would continue until the 50s, when the struggle for racial equality reached new heights.
Prior to the 70s, most blacks were Republicans. They began a mass exodus to the Democratic Party when Johnson signed the civil rights bill, even though it only passed because of the Republicans in congress. Ironically enough, Johnson as a Senator opposed civil rights legislation vehemently.
Unfortunately the Republican Party never did anything to maintain those voters or get them back. The last Republican president to campaign in black neighborhoods and truly speak to issues that affected black communities in televised debates was Ronald Reagan. Had he not been such a drug warrior he might have repaired the frayed relations. Now, historically misguided baby boomers and gen-xers in the African-American community have taught their children the myth that Republicans are racist; some of it as a result of the aggressive anti-drug policies that were kicked up during the Reagan years. Of course, our opposition to Barack Obama makes it easier to keep this myth going even if this opposition is legitimate because the president’s economic and foreign policies have been counterproductive and downright wrong. Perception is everything.
Fact: the only thing the Republican Party ever did to set back black people in its entire history was the War on Drugs. But that was a bipartisan mistake and has been supported over the years by just as many Democrats. Many rising Republican leaders such as Rand Paul and Justin Amash are finally willing to admit prohibition doesn’t work and does nothing but disproportionately incarcerate black and Hispanic men for crimes where no physical or financial harm was wrought by them on another; just as gun laws do (ever heard of the “white and polite” rule?). As they do this, rising Democratic leaders such as Elizabeth Warren mock them as potheads or flip flop on the issue and do nothing to alleviate the problem.
I’m sick and damn tired of ignoramuses accusing the Republican Party of being racist for reasons most of them can’t even explain when the Democrats clearly are part of the problem and won’t admit it. At least Rick Perry, in spite of all his faults, signed the Peaceable Journey act into law to strike down the “white and polite” rule that was locking up minorities in Texas for carrying lawfully owned guns in their car for their own protection. Historically, you could carry a gun in your car in Texas for protection; but if you were ever stopped, there was a de facto “white and polite” rule. If you were white, and nice to the officer, he’d let it slide. If you were black or Tejano, good luck. You were probably going to be arrested. This disgusting remnant of the Jim Crow south was finally repealed when the Texas Republican Party pushed for the peaceable journey act. Now all Texans’ second amendment rights are respected. They are allowed to carry guns in their car without a permit. It keeps me safe when driving at night in Houston, that’s for sure.
Do you ever wonder why minority poverty and minority incarceration are highest in blue states? There are a lot of reasons; and support for prohibition — which I will define as locking someone up for possession or use of an item where no physical or financial harm was done to anyone else — is one such reason. The welfare state and teacher’s unions are to blame too; as well as opposition to school choice programs that allow black students to get out of the ghetto by doing something as simple as: STOP FORCING THEM TO STAY THERE! (I’m very passionate about education reform. You’ll see me write more on it in coming months).
It’s going to take more than a generation to get blacks voting Republican again. It starts with ignoring or even laughing at the Rovian notion that religious-right wedge issues like gay marriage and abortion are the answer. If the black community was really that passionate about social conservatism, they would not be voting overwhelmingly Democrat. Truthfully, young blacks are just as secular as young whites. The generational shift away from social conservatism transcends race. I’ve actually met fewer young blacks who are aggressively anti-abortion or anti-gay than I have young whites, and when you put the two together, the number is inconsequential. It is likely to remain that way. The liberals control the pop culture, and it has secularized the generation. The culture war is effectively over. Fortunately, secularism and capitalism are not mutually exclusive; rather they are highly compatible.
First, the GOP needs a message of economic empowerment in black communities; one that can be brought by a revival of vocational training opportunities and academic improvement that the free market can best provide. We must be able to explain why lower taxes and fewer regulations create jobs, lower the price of everyday goods, and raise local wages. We must aggressively promote upward mobility through school choice and a return of apprenticeships in skilled crafts and STEM fields.
Next, we must become the civil rights party again, by doing as Senator Rand Paul recently said:
“It is important that we always stand up for the Bill of Rights, whether the First Amendment, Fourth or Second. The Constitution is non-negotiable”
The Bill of Rights is like dominoes, knock down one and they all fall. We must become the party of civil liberties again.
Finally, it would help if the first president to pardon a high number of non-violent gun or drug offenders was Republican. Rand Paul could very well be that president. He’s probably not going to campaign on it if he runs in 2016. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he did so after being elected.
In his address to CPAC, he said:
“Ask the Facebook generation whether we should put a kid in jail for the nonviolent crime of drug use, and you’ll hear a resounding no,”
That would be as symbolic a move for the GOP as civil rights legislation was for the Democratic Party under Johnson. Tens of thousands of mostly black and Hispanic men, who have committed no physical or financial harm to anyone other than themselves, suddenly released back into society with their records expunged, so that they can get the help they need, get back on their feet and get back into the workforce. It’s the right thing to do. And the Republican governors (hint hint, Mr. Perry), should start now as congress gears up for this gun control debate.
I urge Republican governors to scour the records of the incarcerated. Find people, of any race, who were incarcerated for possession of a firearm without a permit but committed no violent or financial crimes on top of this possession, and expunge their sentences and/or reimburse their fines. The overwhelming majority of them will be minorities. Show these people the Republican Party is not the party of prohibition, but the party of liberty, by freeing them from the police state.
I also urge you to pardon those who are incarcerated for committing non-violent, non-financial drug crimes, at least for weed–which science has irrefutably proven (to the point where anyone who still denies it is stupid) is safer than alcohol or tobacco. But you might as well start with the non-violent/non-financial gun “offenders.” Think of the taxpayer money you will save! Your voters will thank you!
It’s sad. Most of my generation thinks Dr. Martin Luther King was a pro-gun control liberal and many baby boomers think he’d be a drug warrior. I assure you if he was alive today and saw the prison statistics resulting from gun and drug prohibition, he’d be ashamed. Not that he was a fan of guns or drugs. He was a preacher of non-violent resistance and would not have appreciated self-destructive behavior. However, he would have been against government locking people up for possession of either; especially with those in prison for non-violent offenses being so disproportionately non-white. He would not want self-destructive behavior to be met with police brutality and incarceration. I’m confident he would have seen it as a mission of the church to solve these problems, not the nanny state.
The pro-civil liberties, pro-economic growth Republican Party being [re]invented by fresh young faces like Rand Paul, Justin Amash, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, as well as the many Gen Y Republicans supporting organizations like Young Americans for Liberty, is the one that will repair the GOP’s frayed relations with the black community, as well as other minority groups; Hispanics, Asians, Arabs, even gays. The Rove/Kristol/Graham/Santorum wings of Dominionism, prohibition, crony capitalism, disrespect for the Bill of Rights, and perpetual warfare is what destroyed the relationship in the first place. The sooner we realize this, and begin taking action, the sooner black Americans will begin coming back to the party they once loved.
Aaron Alghawi obtained a B.S. in Economics from Texas A&M University in 2012, and is an At-Large Board Member of the Republican Liberty Caucus national committee.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect official positions of the RLC.