07/19/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

GOP Leadership Should Have Condemned Racist Jokes

Two blatant and mind-numbing acts of racism by Republicans were just reported in the news -- and unfortunately and unwisely, GOP "leadership" has chosen to remain silent. Why?

The first involved a former election commission chairman from South Carolina who, upon hearing a gorilla had escaped from the local zoo, posted on his Facebook site, "I'm sure it's just one of Michelle's ancestors -- probably harmless." The second involved the executive assistant to a Republican state senator in Tennessee who circulated a photo of all 44 presidents, with the picture of President Obama being an all black rectangle with two white eyes.

You would think, that as the complexion of America continues to change and as the GOP has discovered a desperate need to reach out to minorities, that at least some of those who purport to speak for the party might look upon these disreputable acts as a way to sincerely reach out to the black and minority communities. Sadly, that does not seem to be the case.

As an independent conservative who lived often in poor, predominately black neighborhoods as a child and who is now married to a Hispanic-American, the lack of meaningful outreach toward minorities by the Republican Party has long been an issue with me.

As such, I was not surprised but still saddened and disappointed, when a collection of older, white and wealthy Republican "leaders" met at the end of May in a pizza parlor in Arlington, Va., to announce the creation of the "National Council for a New America." Really?

With the NCNA being led in part by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, I'm just trying to understand: What's "new" about the council?

Opportunities for outreach to the minority community keep getting teed up for the GOP, and they habitually continue to ignore them.

Indicative of this was the 2008 Republican presidential primary season, when then-leading contenders Rudy Giuliani, McCain, Romney and Fred Thompson decided to blow off a debate hosted by African-American talk show host Tavis Smiley. Again, why? Who were they afraid of offending with their appearance? What was gained from not attending? Certainly not the White House.

Even with the appointment of Michael Steele as the first black chairman of the Republican National Committee, the party is far from connecting with black and minority communities. Beyond that, some GOP leaders seem to be looking for every chance to undermine Steele's efforts to create a more relevant and diverse party.

The recent racist flare ups could have been a turning point.

Regardless of whether they intend to run for the White House or not in 2012, the likes of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Romney and any other "leader" of the GOP, should step in front of a microphone immediately and offer a sincere and deserved apology to Michelle and Barack Obama on behalf of the GOP -- and let them and minorities across America know that not only do vile people who make such jokes not speak for the party, but they are not welcome in the party.

Palin asked for an apology from David Letterman for a joke that she said was an attack on women everywhere. He delivered it. Given these recent brazen offenses toward blacks, the GOP could learn from Letterman's contrition.

Speak up, GOP leaders -- and recognize this as a chance to do and say the right thing. If not, your silence will be analyzed and ultimately interpreted.

MacKinnon was press secretary to former Sen. Bob Dole. He is a former White House and Pentagon official and author.