Politics & Policy

Dean On Defense

The "White Christian" party.

During a discussion with minority leaders and journalists on Monday, Howard Dean declared that Republicans are “a pretty monolithic party. They all believe the same. They all look the same. It’s pretty much a white Christian party.” He further stated that “the Republicans are not very friendly to different kinds of people” and Democrats are “more welcoming to different folks, because that’s the type of people we are.” Dean continued to defend his remarks as recently as Thursday.

Dean’s comments clearly suggest that the GOP is, if not hostile to a demographic broader than white Christians, at least cool toward including non-whites and non-Christians in the party. If Dean truly believes these statements, then he needs to both review his history texts and spend some time on current events.

In terms of sheer historical hostility toward minorities, the Republican party fares a bit better than the competition. For example, it wasn’t the GOP that opposed the Emancipation Proclamation. Nor was it the GOP that opposed the Thirteenth Amendment prohibiting slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing equal protection, or the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteeing voting rights. (In fact, Republicans voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act in greater percentages than did Democrats.)

Moreover, it wasn’t the Republican party that opposed Teddy Roosevelt’s anti-lynching legislation or that filibustered or otherwise opposed more than a dozen other anti-lynching provisions during the 20th century.

Republicans didn’t institutionalize Jim Crow, implement school segregation, or establish poll taxes and literacy tests to keep non-whites from voting. Bull Connor, George Wallace, Lester Maddox, and Orval Faubus weren’t Republicans.

It wasn’t a Republican who ordered the internment of Japanese-American citizens (or Italians or Germans) during World War II. Nor were Republicans behind the Chinese exclusion acts or licensing requirements that discriminated against non-white businesses and tradesmen.

Dean may honestly believe that his party is “more welcoming to different folks,” but tell that to Clarence Thomas, Miguel Estrada, or Janice Rogers Brown, each of whom was vilified in explicitly racial terms during their respective confirmation processes by members of Dean’s party.

While Dean maintains that Democrats are more welcoming to non-whites, several major media organizations have noted that the aggressive GOP outreach to minorities is far more vigorous than that of the Democrats. USA Today recently noted that whereas Dean has been spending the bulk of his time preaching to the converted, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman has maintained an exhausting schedule appearing before predominantly black, Hispanic, and Asian audiences.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the GOP’s relentless efforts to recruit more non-whites has caused Democrats to express alarm: “I am frightened by what’s happening,” Rep. Major Owens (D., N.Y.) told the paper. “Our party is in grave danger. The Republican movement is going to expand exponentially unless we do something.” Apparently, Dean believes that “something” is making mere assertions that all Republicans look and act the same. President Bush on the other hand provides more than lip service. The upper echelon of his administration, the most diverse in history, is an affirmation of meritocracy and a rebuke to the symbolism and tokenism that had previously relegated blacks almost exclusively to departmental ghettoes. Cf. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, HUD Secretary Alfonso Jackson, and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez–just to name a few.

In addition, the GOP has been partnering with black churches–ranging from conservative suburban megachurches to smaller inner-city churches–in promoting faith-based initiatives. These efforts are showing results at the polls. President Bush increased his percentage of the black vote from 8 percent in 2000 to nearly 12 percent in 2004. In battleground states such as Ohio, President Bush nearly doubled his percentage of the black vote from 9 to 16 percent. These percentage increases, coupled with higher black turnout, resulted in a doubling of the number of black votes received by President Bush between 2000 and 2004. In some jurisdictions, nearly 50 percent of new black voters cast their ballots for President Bush. He also increased his numbers substantially among Hispanics, Jews, and Catholics.

These figures obviously don’t presage minority realignment toward the GOP–a trend that’s been predicted by overly optimistic Republican strategists nearly every election cycle. But the quality and quantity of GOP minority-outreach efforts surpasses anything the party has done in this regard since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. (Small but telling anecdote: Prior to 2004, I’d never seen a single Republican yard sign, flyer, or campaigner in my nearly all-black ward in Cleveland, Ohio. Last November, they were everywhere.)

The GOP may have been missing in action in minority communities in the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties but Howard Dean must not have paid much attention to what’s been going on recently. Republicans still have lots of work to do, but now they’re playing offense while Dean’s on defense.

Peter Kirsanow is a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and an attorney in Cleveland, Ohio. These comments do not necessarily reflect the position of the commission.


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