Dear Rep. Cantor, Gov. Romney & Gov. Bush:
I am writing to you because I hope you three (and others) can help bring the GOP back to a place of reason and civility. A party of openness and inclusiveness -- a party worthy of its first Presidential nominee Abraham Lincoln's legacy.
A few weeks ago now, I attended Memorial Services for my friend Jack Kemp. I first met Jack in 1988 when I was in college and he was running for the Republican nomination. As I listened to his eldest son Jeff eulogize his dad as a man of endless "passion and ideas" it reminded me of why I became a Republican. Jack's passionate zeal for "hope, growth, opportunity, and inclusion" inspired me to follow his special brand of conservatism.
I was even more struck by the words of former Nixon Aide Chuck Colson who said, "Jack's interest in Civil Rights and the desire to make the GOP more inclusive probably cost him within his own party." Ironically, Colson seemed to be publicly apologizing for his own role in the development of the so-called Nixon Southern strategy. Time has been known to change a man's soul. Colson clearly fits that bill as someone who has made his life valuable by learning to love, give, and serve others in prison ministry.
As an African American woman who was raised in a 3 to 1 democratic county in New Jersey, my choice to become a Republican was not expected. And to be frank it has been a difficult journey on many fronts. However, as I sat quietly in the Cathedral, one phrase kept coming to mind:
"What Kind of Republican" -- What kind of Republican has a memorial service that includes the Howard University Choir (Kemp served on the Howard Board of Trustees), black grassroots activists from Housing projects, Black Enterprise Magazine Chairman Earl Graves, Ways & Means Chairman Charlie Rangel, and The Mayor of Washington D.C.?
A Kemp Republican: One who is fiscally conservative, strong on National Defense, and who believes deeply that free market principles can work best for the poor, and disenfranchised in America.
It is here that I hope your new leadership council will begin its dialogue with the American people.
The fact is that it was "ideas" that won me to the GOP -- it was passion. It was Kemp's sunny optimism, and his desire to see the GOP become a truly inclusive party. Now is not the time for the GOP to listen. Now is the time for the GOP to lead with ideas and passion.
President Obama earned my vote in November not because he was black, but because of his optimistic (almost Reaganesque) speeches, his temperance, and his inclusive campaign. Obama made me believe in politics again. Although, I do not agree with many of the President's policies, he inspired me.
In these trying times people want to be inspired. I implore the three of you to inspire people with your ideas, your passion, and your vision for America.
This is where Republicans must begin anew.
So here is my humble advice to the three of you on how the GOP can recapture the country's interest and win elections:
1. Jack Kemp's brand of truly Compassionate Conservatism must be the model of our party going forward. He never attacked his opponents personally -- he fought back with his ideas.
2. GOP leaders must start standing on timeless American principles (life, liberty, less government) and win Americans over with the rightness of those values.
3. The GOP must stop saying it is a big tent. It is not. It must start from the ground up and go into non-traditional Republican communities (i.e., the northeast, urban areas, and minority communities) and present how their ideas can solve people's most pressing problems: joblessness, hunger, education, health care, and hope for a better future. The GOP can no longer afford to write off whole sectors of Americans (i.e., blacks, etc.).
4. The party must stop recycling the same old political hacks and bring in some fresh blood, with some fresh ideas. The GOP "goon squad" (my words) who don't really want blacks or non-conservatives in the party are destroying the party. Over the past 20 years I have witnessed some of our best and brightest people of color be smeared, black balled, and the like because they dare offer a different point of view within the party (I know, it happened to me). The fact is that the party has some very talented people who are well regarded within their respective communities who could help the party build a new coalition of diverse Republicans. Encourage these people to have a voice within the GOP.
5. You three need to talk to the black media, go on black radio, and reach out with your actions. It is simply unacceptable for Republican politicians to continue to avoid or ignore black and brown communities. Leaders must find the courage to bridge this divide. The time has come to stop hiding and start reaching out.
In the final analysis, the GOP must have a place for Republicans like Colin Powell, and Olympia Snow who are less conservative -- but who believe in core Republican principles. It must have an active place for women of color, blacks, Hispanics and white conservative voters alike. That is what a truly "big tent" encompasses. That is what the GOP of the 21st Century must look like if it is to have any chance of governing again.
Sophia A. Nelson is a regular contributor to the Root.com, Huffington Post, and she is editor of Political Intersection Blog you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org