Republican Party leaders have written much about the need for minority outreach, particularly among voters of Hispanic descent. They argue for tactical changes — for the GOP to find cosmetically attractive candidates who can connect with minorities, to adopt policy positions that align with these voters, and to put more political operatives on the ground in these communities. Each of these ideas may have merit, but all of them lack the focus of a strategic vision to provide a moral basis motivating the effort.
Do we want their votes because we want to win elections? That might work when we happen to have the right kind of candidates or properly crafted position statements, but it has a high risk of being seen as pandering at best or patronizing and paternal at worst. Or do we want to earn their support through our work to provide better alternatives than what big government can offer?
Urban cores across America are populated largely by poor and blue-collar minorities. Inner-city Republicans are almost as mythical as unicorns. We have been framed by Democrats as greedy, selfish people who want to undermine what many of these residents see as their primary economic support system. Given this perception, why in the world would any of these voters ever support one of our candidates?
We decry the fact that rising numbers of Americans have been sucked into the vortex of government-induced dependency, but we haven’t accepted our responsibility for creating this immoral condition. We abandoned many of these communities through suburban migration. And far too often we obey tactical political strategists who insist that making efforts in these communities is a waste of time and money when it comes to winning the next election.
The path back is strategic and requires us to confess our neglect, reassert ourselves as neighbors in these communities, and back up our talk with concrete efforts to build relationships and trust. Only this way offers the chance to permanently shift the current state of electoral coalitions.
It is not enough to curse the flaws of the big government dependency machine. We must offer an alternative to those who feel they have no choice but to turn to government. We must demonstrate that help offered in the context of our values can more effectively transition people to dignified independence and even prosperity. We must not abandon those Americans who have been shortchanged by the failure of our schools and social welfare systems.
The right strategy should come as no surprise: It’s competition. We’ll compete with government and steal its customers, because our alternatives actually alleviate poverty and offer a better future.
To begin, we need to return to the urban cores and get to know the residents — get to know them as individuals, understand their challenges as they see them. That means setting aside our preconceived notions, talking points, paternalistic attitudes, and cultural biases. If we hope to get a hearing, we first need to listen. As we come to build friendships, gain trust, and understand their perspective, we can offer to support their desire for a better life. Our political ideas and objectives cannot exist outside of a social context. The axiom applies: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Part of the eventual solution may be to create charter neighborhoods as a competitive alternative to the government monopoly on social welfare, bringing autonomy and local control to small communities. This is an idea consistent with our moral beliefs. It is certainly not a quick fix but provides a better opportunity for a sure solution. Imagine an effort entirely driven by private resources that begins with the purchase of inner-city homes to be occupied by struggling but aspiring families.
We could enter into contracts with them to put them on a path to a better life free of government subsidy. Participants would agree to complete their basic education, acquire skills to earn a living wage, learn how to budget and improve their credit, and work on their language and communication skills. Our obligation would be to provide the resources to support these efforts and the mentorship to see them through. Inner-city homes are cheap and affordable. We could rent them to residents at cost during the contract period and, upon successful completion of the program and with a commitment to remain in the neighborhood, we could deed the homes over to our graduates.
We simply have to commit our skills, connections, and resources — our competitive advantage — to folks who currently have no other options. We need to convince donors, employers, and financial institutions who lament the state of these communities to commit to act.
Progressive leaders grew up chanting, “Power to the People!” Yet they have spent their entire careers systematically reducing the People’s power. Maybe it’s time to consider allocating a portion of our immense campaign capital to a social initiative that would serve as a free-market comparison to Democratic social policy.
Let’s have a real competition with our ideological opponents. We’re not a party that desires to shrink government for selfish purposes. We’re a party that wants to limit government in order to unleash the human spirit to throw off the shackles that have been holding people down. We’ve been saying it for years. It’s time to start showing it.