Politics & Policy

Take the Cities Back from Democrats

(Photo Illustration: NRO)
Republicans need to stop conceding defeat in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, a survey administered by the U.S. Department of Education, has just released its 2015 report on school performance. The school districts of most big cities are awful, but two stand out as utter, pathetic failures: Cleveland and Detroit. In Cleveland, 90 percent of students are unable to read “proficiently”; 91 percent are non-proficient at math. Detroit, remarkably, is even worse: 93 percent of kids fail at reading and 96 percent fail at math. It’s staggering.

Cleveland has had Democratic mayors for the last 25 years. Detroit has had Democratic mayors for the last 63 years. It’s hard to imagine that either city could be run worse — but Republicans barely contest mayoral elections in either. The last mayor’s race in each city featured two candidates who were both Democrats. No Republican thinks he would have a chance in either city. No Republican has the requisite ambition.

In 2012, nine of ten blacks voted Democratic, along with seven of ten Hispanics. As of 2010, Cleveland was 63 percent black and Hispanic, and Detroit was 89 percent black and Hispanic. In the minds of Republicans, those numbers represent an insurmountable obstacle. But they shouldn’t.

Education is the number-one issue among both black and Hispanic voters, and the Democrats they overwhelmingly support have in no area failed more overwhelmingly than in education.

Education is the number-one issue among both black and Hispanic voters, and the Democrats they overwhelmingly support have in no area failed more overwhelmingly than in education. What makes Republicans think that black and Hispanic voters have more loyalty to party than to self-interest? If that were the case, black voters would never have begun supporting the Democratic party in the first place — they would have stayed loyal to the Grand Old Party that ended slavery.

Republicans need to stop conceding black and Hispanic inner cities to the Democrats. Republicans need to start asking big-city voters if they’re better off than they were four years ago, when they voted Democratic, or eight years ago, when they voted Democratic, or 20 years ago, when they voted Democratic, or 40 years ago, when they voted Democratic. They need to forget talking about abortion or gay marriage or gun rights or taxes, and talk exclusively about education. The theme of every ad should be: “Fix our schools.” The theme of every speech should be: “The Democrats care about teachers’ unions, not kids.” Policy platforms should be devoted to proposals for more teacher accountability, more charter schools, and vouchers to let inner-city parents send their kids to the same swanky private schools that Democratic politicos’ kids go to. Republicans should be telling parents that the last time Detroit’s education budget was published — in 2012 — Detroit’s worst-in-the-country schools were paying $18,361 per student. Which is about $100 more than twice the yearly tuition at the average state university.

#share#Both Detroit and Cleveland have mayoral elections in 2017. Republicans ought to make a play for both. Whom should they run in Cleveland? Surely someone can find a prominent ex-Brown or Indian or Cavalier who’s a closet Republican. Whom should it be in Detroit? Ben Carson, who, likely having failed to win the Republican presidential nomination, will be looking for new good works to pursue. Dr. Carson was born in Detroit and was raised there, in poverty, by a single mother. He ended up as a pediatric neurosurgeon distinguished even among pediatric neurosurgeons. Who better to espouse the importance of childhood education in Detroit than a Detroit-native, Yale-educated kids’ brain expert? Who better to bridge the gap between the GOP and ethnic-minority voters than an ethnic-minority member of the GOP who is so obviously none of the things traditional leftists imagine Republicans to be? Carson is neither arrogant nor out of touch, and I’m reasonably certain he’s not racist. He’s soft spoken and courteous, and extremely likable even to those of us who don’t plan to vote for him.

RELATED: Yes, Republicans Can Win Black Voters

Republicans (like Democrats) are loath to spend their finite supply of money and candidates on races they don’t expect to win — but given the other side’s pathetic shortcomings, it’s absurd to go on conceding cities: The RNC ought to stop being so damned conservative. If Republicans campaign on Democratic failures in education, every city in the country is theoretically winnable. If Republicans could win cities, virtually every state would be in play in every election. The entire political fabric of the country could be changed — isn’t that worth a speculative dip into the GOP coffers, starting with Detroit and Cleveland?

And much more important than the political fabric, the country’s educational and cultural fabric would be changed. Picture an America of cities wherein more than one of ten kids can read, write, and do arithmetic. Then send Reince Priebus an e-mail.

Josh Gelernter — Josh Gelernter is a weekly columnist for NRO, and a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.

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