GOP progress with blacks hurt by tone-deaf tactics during shutdown

Just when many blacks were becoming disenchanted with Obama, the tone of the Republican message during the shutdown hurt their cause. Photo: Ronald Moten

WASHINGTON, October 18, 2013 — Before the government shutdown, the Republican Party was beginning to make progress with black Democrats who were becoming increasingly disenchanted with President Obama’s “jobless recovery” and his inaction in regard to other issues important to the African American community. While his personal popularity remained high, local Democratic leaders and blacks in Washington had just about had enough of him because nothing in their lives had improved since he took office. 

Local discontent among black Democrats started brewing when 3.4 million in stimulus dollars was designated to provide jobs in the poor communities surrounding the construction of the new Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Southeast D.C. This national project is adjacent to the infamous Barry Farms Public Housing Complex located in Ward 8, which has a whopping 25 percent unemployment rate. D.C. residents had to hold protests to get a few citizens from Ward 8 hired on this project. To add insult to injury, 25 skilled and drug free black electricians with no criminal records could not get a call back for jobs.

This is just one example of what blacks got in return for two massive turnouts and voting 93 percent for Obama and other Democrats. The Democratic Party message to black voters amounts to, “Why should we spend political capital to please loyal black constituents when we know you won’t vote for those racist Republicans?” That was my attitude before being introduced to the principles of the historic Civil Rights Republican Party by an African-American man who had helped Martin Luther King end segregation in the Jim Crow south in 1960s.

Before the shutdown blacks had begun to pay more attention to the substance of Obama’s policies rather than to the appeal of his personal style and the good example he sets as a father and husband. Black minds were digesting issues that affect blacks directly on both a national and local level such as D.C.’s abusive regulations that hinder the entrepreneurial spirit of many poor black residents. 

People began wondering why strong young men in Washington were selling vials of fragranced oils on Metro trains rather than from vendor stands. They were questioning what the local Democratic leadership was doing about the unnecessary and unjustifiable moratorium that makes getting a vendor’s license impossible. Those who want to drive taxis are reduced to bootlegging transportation for seniors from the Safeway grocery stores because of the endless red tape in the bureaucracy and the expense of getting a taxicab license.

Vendor and taxicab licenses used to be tickets to the American Dream in urban American. Unfortunately, it seems both the national Democratic Party and its local D.C. politicos are more interested in growing dependency on government programs, passing burdensome regulations and imposing exorbitant fees than in creating jobs.

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Then came the government shutdown and the undoing of so much of the progress that the Republican Party was making in the black community, mostly through thoughtless words and hurtful symbols. Take for example the protest where someone waved a Confederate flag as another protester in front of the White House yelled for President Obama to get on his knees and put down the Qur’an.

The mainstream media with its pervasive liberal bias uses those kinds of incidents to cancel out any negative thought black Democrats might be forming about Obama’s policies. That is not to suggest that those two protesters’ views in any way represent the Republican Party, but where were the voices of the RNC and the congressional leadership denouncing and rejecting those negative words and symbols that the press so gleefully plasters all over the airwaves?

The good citizens who were protesting the closing of the WWII Memorial were exercising their right of free speech and the veterans among them deserve the highest level of respect for their service and sacrifices. The problem was that Republican leadership should have immediately responded to news reports that linked the words and symbols of a few bad apples with Republican Party policies. Imagine the impact the right tone and the right words at the right time could have had to draw dissatisfied blacks and other Democrats into the Republican fold.

The Republican message to black voters must be one that clearly and proudly reclaims its historic commitment to civil rights along with its fundamental belief in individual freedom, opportunity and personal responsibility. It must be a message that uses positive images and words to invite African Americans to take a place at the tables of both parties rather than giving total and unquestioning loyalty to just one party in a two-party political system.

Now that the shutdown is over, the Republican Party needs to get back on message. If the tone and lack of clarity we heard from party leaders during the shutdown is the best they have to offer, it is time for new leadership.

My personal bias in favor of Republican political philosophy has a twist to it that comes from being an African American Civil Rights Republican. Switching parties and identifying myself as aCivil Rights Republican was influenced primarily by the fact that so many of our great black leaders like Frederick Douglass and Senator Blanch Bruce, who is buried in Ward 7’s Woodlawn Cemetery with my grandparents, were Republicans. Still, the stigma in the black community that goes with being a Republican caused me to delay my decision long after realizing in my heart that the Democratic Party takes the black vote, my vote, for granted.

It is time for Republicans to have well-thought-out national and local strategies that use smart tactics to take advantage of the fact that so many Obama supporters have been consistently disappointed in his policies and his inaction in regard to issues important to the black community. It is also long past the time for African Americans to stop letting the Democratic Party take its vote for granted.

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Ronald Moten

Ronald L. “Mo” Moten is a fifth generation Washingtonian. He had brushes with the law as a youth and later was incarcerated at Danbury Federal Correction Institution where he earned his GED from the state of Connecticut. Upon his release from prison in 1995, Ron began providing outreach and then became the spokesman for Cease Fire Don’t Smoke the Brothers. He also taught at the Village Learning Center, one of the first D.C. Public Charter Schools. He was appointed to Ballou Senior High School PTSA, The Mayor’s Taskforce to Eliminate Homicides, and to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton’s Commission on Black Men and Boys.

Ron is best known as a co-founder of Peaceoholics in 2004 with Jauhar Abraham. With Ron as the COO, Peaceoholics became a nationally known nonprofit organization successfully combating violence and promoting peace among youth. Peaceoholics’ results were remarkable sending 160 troubled youth to college, employing 361 D.C. citizens and brokering over forty truces between rival gangs. He and Mr. Abraham developed a curriculum called Rebuild the Village Triangle in One model for schools, institutions, and communities that focuses on positive youth and family development, and empowering communities.

In 2012 Ron ran as a “Civil Rights Republican” for the Ward 7 D.C. City Council seat. He is committed to the historic principles of the Party of Abraham Lincoln, Jack Kemp, and the many black Civil Rights Republicans who fought for freedom, responsibility and opportunity such as Fredrick Douglass, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Dr. Benjamin Carson, and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.


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