Author's note: While many around the country are arguing that the future of the Republican Party lies in its ability to attract the Hispanic vote, it is the party's inability to attract black voters that is its true hindrance. Hispanics certainly help election math, but blacks assist in the more difficult calculus of perfecting the message.
This opinion piece is the hypothetical text of a Republican's speech given at an African-American church shortly after President Obama is sworn in for a second term. Recognizing that the party cannot survive with the country's changing demographics without diversifying its constituents, this speech is the first step in a concerted effort to attract the African-American vote.
Thank you Reverend for that kind introduction. And thanks to all of you for welcoming me into your place of worship. The Bible says we should show hospitality to strangers. And, unfortunately, that is how I stand before you today: as a member of a party that has been a stranger to you.
It's no secret; the Republican Party has failed to attract African-Americans. There are number of explanations as to why this is the case, but I believe it is primarily so for two simple reasons. First, the party has done a poor job of communicating its core values. And second, it has not prioritized inclusion, particularly of Africans-Americans. I am here today to take a step to fix this.
It is said that the Republican Party has ignored the nation's changing demographics and values. Our policies are portrayed as favoring the rich at the expense of minorities and the poor. And though the party is proud to have many African-Americans amongst our ranks today -- Mitt Romney garnered more black votes in 2012 than John McCain did in 2008 -- we have not done enough to attract more.
This is our fault, and it is unacceptable. Let me put this bluntly: if the Republican Party is not attractive to African-American voters, it will cease to exist. America cannot exist without you, and neither can the Republican Party.
Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, knew this. He knew that until the country addressed the horror of slavery, it would never be true to its founding principles. So the Civil War occurred because the Republican Party believed African-Americans had an inalienable, God-given right to be free.
The first African-American electorates voted Republican for generations -- your parents or grandparents were probably Teddy Roosevelt Republicans. The first African-American officials elected to Congress were Republicans. The grants that made Historically Black Colleges and Universities possible were written and signed into law by Republicans.
All these rights -- voting, higher education, and more equitable treatment -- became more real for African-Americans because of three things: the Good Lord above, the incredible perseverance of African-Americans, and compassionate Republicans who did the right thing, even when it was not easy. Because of this, the American Dream is more possible for everyone.
But somewhere along the way, the party forgot part of its roots. So let us look ahead, and I believe you will see that we are not so far apart after all.
Let me tell you plainly what the Republican Party believes. We believe in strong defense -- not so we can pick fights, but so that when others threaten us or start them, we can finish them. We believe in the strong families and their importance to our communities and to the country. And we do not want the government telling our churches to do things we do not believe in. We believe in parents having more choice in their children's schools and education. We believe that the country needs to do the same thing our families do when we spend too much -- tighten our belts. We believe that the way to increase revenue to pay our bills is to get more people employed, not raise taxes on those that are working. And we believe by using the energy resources that the Lord above has given us, we can reduce unemployment, increase our security, and become more self-reliant.
In others words, we believe in God, strong communities, hard work, and a fair environment for everyone to pursue their dreams, just like you do.
It is not our ideas and goals that are wrong; it was our expression and execution. We believe we have the best solutions to all of our country's challenges, but we need you. Without your voice, our approach will always be tone deaf.
African-Americans have voted Democrat over 90 percent of the time for decades. Let me tell you the results of that. Nationally, we have near eight percent unemployment. But for African-Americans, it is fifteen percent! When the housing bubble burst, twice as many African-Americans lost their homes as white Americans. The average net worth for African-Americans households is less than $5,000. For white households, it is about $110,000. African-Americans are paid less, dropping out more, and incarcerated more. A monolithic African-American voting bloc is not good for the country or for you. When politicians have to work to earn your vote, your community's issues are a higher priority and our country will be stronger for it.
Our histories are intertwined. When African-Americans and Republicans worked together, our country made the most enormous strides since its founding. Likewise, our futures must be intertwined if America is to remain the divinely blessed nation that God has ordained.
So, we can be strangers no more. We must be friends, for as the Good Book tells us, as iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.
May God bless you, and our United States of America.
Theodore R. Johnson is a registered Independent, a naval officer and a 2011-2012 White House Fellow. The views expressed in this article are his own.
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