The biggest complaints I get from black journalists when it comes to Republican officeholders and Party leaders is that they can’t get their calls returned. I used to think this was because of the reporters’ race or that some represented small, black media outlets.
Over the years, I have spent many hours reflecting on this dilemma and have concluded two things. First, the problem has nothing to do with race or racism; it has more to do with the lack of relationships with black journalists. People return calls of people they know or have a relationship with first; then and only then will they return calls of those they don’t know.
Second, there is no bridge between Republican members of Congress and other party leaders to the black media. Over the years, I have tried to bridge that gap, so to speak, but with limited success.
Continuing on that path, I organized a meeting two weeks ago between Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the vice presidential running mate with Mitt Romney, and five black journalists whose politics ranged from conservative to liberal.
One thing I like about Congressman Ryan is that he will listen to reasoned arguments, even if he disagrees. And my experience has been that when you make a persuasive argument that requires a change in his thinking, he is not hesitant to make the necessary change. I wish more Republicans were equally as open.
To his credit, he undertook a listening tour in underserved communities with Bob Woodson, a black Republican and founder the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. Ryan discovered what Bob and I had learned years ago – major civil rights organizations do not reflect the thinking of all blacks. But that’s something he had to hear for himself. And it didn’t hurt that he went into the black community with someone who had longstanding relationships and credibility. Ryan found that he had more in common with people he met on his tour than he had thought.
To other Republicans on the Hill in leadership, Paul Ryan has given you a blueprint for engagement with the black community and black media. The question is: Are you going to continue ignoring the black community and the black media? Or, will you surround yourself with staffers, as Congressman Ryan has done, who are willing to take a fresh approach in courting black voters?
The modern Republican Party has tried other approaches and they haven’t worked. With whites becoming a minority in less than 50 years, do we still want to be seen as exclusively the party of old, bitter, white men stuck in the 1930s? That’s a recipe for certain defeat.
Even when Republicans do the right thing, in most cases they do it the wrong way.
I have a few questions for Eric Cantor (House Majority Leader), Kevin McCarthy (House Majority Whip), John Boehner (Speaker of the House), Mitch McConnell (Senate Minority Leader), John Cornyn (Minority Whip), John Thune (Conference Chair), John Barrasso (Policy Committee Chair), and Roy Blunt (Conference Vice-Chair): Do you have any blacks on your staff? Do you have any blacks who are part of your inner circle? Have you ever had a media sit-down with black journalists? Have you ever advertised in the black media in this era of targeted advertising?
It’s sad to say, but the truth is the truth – there is absolutely no leadership on these issues coming from our Republican congressional leaders. Former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill once said, “To every man, there comes a time when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a great and mighty work; unique to him and fitted to his talents; what a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the moment that could be his finest hour.”
Our GOP congressional leadership cannot continue to ignore the black community and the black media while expecting to receive a larger share of the black vote. If they truly believe, as I do, that their conservative principles will be better for blacks than liberal principles, they should present their ideas directly to blacks instead of airing clearly racist attack ads and pretending to have clean hands, as former Senator Jesse Helms did when he had a black opponent in North Carolina.
It’s not enough to continue to do your black “drive-bys.” You go into the black community with an all-white staff (Sen. Rand Paul), make a speech at a black university and then vanish. Why should anyone take you seriously? If you really believe your conservative ideas are good for everyone, then include everyone on your staff. Why should non-whites believe you’re sincere when your staff is lily white, you ignore the black media, you have no black advisers and you can’t even articulate why blacks should switch back to the Republican Party?
And while you at it, you may want to hire some black pollsters and ignore the white consultants who tell you the pursuit of the black vote is a worthless cause.
Paul Ryan is off to a good start. But it is only a beginning. Who will join him?
(Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations/government affairs firm. He can be reached via www.raynardjackson.com. Follow him on Twitter at raynard1223.)