Why Top GOP Candidates Skipped the Black College Debate
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It was galling to hear the top gun Republican presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson weasel out of the Republican presidential debate scheduled for Sept. 27 at historically black Morgan State University with the well-worn ploy of a scheduling conflict. It probably wasn't much consolation to the debate sponsors that the fearsome foursome candidates also flagged out of the YouTube, Univision, and the so-called values debates at Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
Some chalked their no-show at these yak sessions to a case of the GOP reverting back to its ugly type. That being a return to its long standing pre-Bush Jr. political encrusted political mantra to say and do as little about civil rights and social issues. Bush supposedly changed all that. Though few blacks bought his much ballyhooed vow to make the GOP a big tent part of diversity, it at least held out some promise of eventually transforming the GOP into something other than a clubby good ole white guys dorm party. But calling the GOP's candidates' debate snub as a reversal to benign neglect is much too simplistic.
The GOP candidates didn't bug out solely because they have an acute phobia of discussing racial matters, or worse because they have a phobia for black folks. The big four are hard nosed politicians. They count numbers first and last, and the number that counts most is 270. That's the electoral count that it takes to rebag the White House. In a year when millions hold the GOP in only slightly higher regard than disgraced former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and O.J. Simpson, the GOP must do anything and everything it can to again win the South and the stretch of states from the heartland to the West. They have the big chunk of the votes to win those state's electoral votes.
The GOP candidates can't rely again on the Christian right to deliver en masse. It's too fragmented, alienated and disillusioned with GOP scandals and broken promises. The GOP's trump card is conservative but centrist white males. They make up a big share of the America's electorate. In a debate at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley in May, the GOP candidates tipped their hand on how they aim to get their votes in 2008.
They wrapped themselves tightly in the mantle of Ronald Reagan, and each jockeyed to position themselves as the heir apparent. At the debate, the ten presidential candidates bellowed out his name nineteen times. Their Reagan love fest was not solely a calculated political ploy to play on the name of the man that millions still hold in reverential awe. Reagan did not actively court the Christian fundamentalists, Hispanics, and it's doubtful if YouTube had been around then he wouldn't have anything to do with it. Reagan courted Nixon's forgotten man.
The Reagan revolution didn't merely return America to a world in which God, patriotism, rugged individualism, militant anti-communism and family values ruled supreme. Reagan, far more adroitly, than Nixon a decade before him parlayed the forgotten American sentiment and a sanitized image of the past into a powerful conservative ideological movement. He stoked their fervent hope that a telegenic, conservative Republican could fulfill Nixon and Goldwater's promise to restore law and order, clamp down on permissiveness and restore prosperity.
Reagan upped Goldwater and Nixon's ante. His first task was to eliminate the remnants of the Great Society programs rejected by an increasingly disenchanted public as government handouts to minorities. He didn't totally succeed. But he further eroded public enthusiasm for massive spending on social and education programs. Reagan fixated Middle Americans on the government as pro-higher taxes, pro-bureaucracy, pro-immigrant and especially pro-welfare and pro-rights of criminals.
He painted government as a destructive, bloated, inefficient white elephant, weighting down the backs of Americans. He claimed that government entitlement programs that benefited the poor were a crushing drain on the budget. The Reagan wannabes have played hard on these themes and vowed to cut taxes and tighten the reins even more on federal spending in their debates.
The top GOP contenders Giuliani, McCain, Romney, as well as the other seven that stood on the podium at the Reagan library in May, owe their political life to Reagan. Their stay the course talk on Iraq, terrorism, taxes and curbing federal spending, and of course, staying mute on social issues are pages straight from Reagan's playbook. The not-so-subtle aim is to shore up any wavering GOP backing in the South.
They will continue to invoke Reagan's patented winning God, country, and patriotic themes in debates through 2007 and in the primaries in 2008. The big four hope that Reagan's legacy and themes will be the winning formula for them too. Saying no to a debate at historically black Morgan State and any other similar forum is merely there way of trying to capitalize on that formula.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press and Hispanic Economics New York) in English and Spanish will be out in October.