“Reaching Out”: Racial Pandering in Elections 2004

The American Enterprise Online*, October 28, 2004

Reaching out to racial minorities requires doling out positions based on color, insists Marc Morial, President of the Urban League. In an op-ed in the Washington Post (September 26, 2004), Morial chided the Commission on Presidential Debates for its failure to include a minority journalist as moderator of the debates, and exhorted the Kerry and Bush campaigns to do a better job reaching out to minorities.

The Democrats, believing that race trumps real qualifications, have long ago bought into Morial’s rationale of tokenism. The Party of Lincoln, on the other hand, carries the unenviable burden of denouncing racist quotas and preferences while demonstrating that it is not actually racist toward black, brown and yellow people. Unfortunately, the Republicans’ balancing act has not brought about what President George W. Bush so often refers to as “clarity of vision”; instead, it has only resulted in tokenism-lite.

This campaign season, Republicans have trotted out their racial minorities before the silver screen to show the Bush administration’s support and understanding of the people of color.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao boasted at the Republican National Convention, “President Bush has appointed record numbers of Asian-Pacific Americans to the highest levels of his Administration.” The Bush campaign proudly touts the number as over 200.

Governor Jeb Bush, in a campaign ad directed at the Latino community, noted, “This President, more than any other president before him, has recognized the contribution of Hispanics all across this country… [by] making sure that appointments to the judiciary and other positions of responsibility mirror the reflection of the diversity of this country.” Miguel Estrada, the outstanding appellate litigator appointed (unsuccessfully) by Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, is now but an example of Republican “reaching out.”

President Bush himself, appearing before the Urban League, eagerly pointed out that he employed Condi Rice, Colin Powell, Secretary of Education Rod Paige and other high-level black officials in his administration. The gravitas of Rice and Powell, displayed each day of the war on terror, at that moment was diminished to mere proof that the President liked black people too.

This campaign season, the Republican Party has asked minority groups to judge the President based on his minority appointments. While not brazenly declaring, as the Democrats often do, that minorities should be hired qualified or not, Republicans contend that their minority officials and appointees, even those highly qualified, remain first and foremost minority tokens.

To be sure, this President has never hidden his soft spot for rainbow coalitions of his own style. He qualified his denunciation of quotas and preferences employed by the University of Michigan by stating, “I strongly support diversity of all kinds, including racial diversity in higher education.” Similarly, he has insisted that it is important to promote a “diverse administration.”

Nevertheless, the President has opposed, even if in a somewhat mealy-mouthed fashion, racial quotas and preferences in higher education. His campaign has insisted that his promotion of tax cuts, health care reform and education reform benefit minorities because they benefit all Americans. Furthermore, he has made clear that he does not believe in giving minorities handouts and sent a black man to the Republican National Convention to say about as much: “You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong….You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they should do for themselves.”

In the world envisioned by Lincoln and quoted above by Michael Steele, Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, a vote for the President should not be determined by the number of positions handed out to yellow, brown and black people.

Unfortunately, identity politics has so permeated the country’s political consciousness that Republicans, preferring expediency over principle, often choose to conduct their political outreach using the skewed and perverse framework created by the political left. Instead of rebuking racial bean counting all together, Republicans argue that they do it just as well as, if not better than, the left, going as far as to imply that more bean counting would be forthcoming should they get four more years.

To complicate matters, minorities, including Republican ones, care deeply about race and ethnicity in the voting booth. Buying into the same rationale as the Marc Morial, prominent Hispanic Republicans have harped on how much the President has done and will continue to do for their community (read: political appointments). Some prominent Asian supporters of the President have admitted that it is paramount to have Asians in high political office, even if they advance a leftwing agenda. One former Bush official of Asian descent even noted that relying on connections and clout to get more Asians appointed is simply how the political game is played. Republicans cannot ignore such political reality, so they give into it.

Yet telling people that tokenism should prevail is not leadership, even if that is what people wish to hear. Pandering to racial minorities is not fair, even if they like it. The President, who has displayed extraordinary leadership in putting forward big ideas and bold policies, should now lead by telling minorities that his record, more than any form of bean counting, should inspire their vote.

*The American Enterprise was the flagship publication of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. In 2006, the magazine was relaunched as The American.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s