GOP’s appeal to blacks real

When Republicans are advised to choose the black rather than the white in the 8th Congressional District runoff, a perfectly legitimate question arises: Isn’t a preference that takes account of race affirmative action politics?

That’s a question conservatives debate as a result of Dylan Glenn’s endorsements from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp. Both think Glenn’s success would draw other blacks into the Republican Party, which is essential to building a stable governing majority.

The difference between racial preferences/affirmative action, as commonly practiced, and the Glenn endorsement is that both Glenn and his runoff opponent, state Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Sharpsburg), are solid conservatives whose votes in Congress would probably be indistinguishable.

When two equally qualified candidates present themselves, voters, employers or college admissions officers should, in fact, ask themselves what additional benefit accrues by choosing one over another. Equally qualified is the key. Not pretend. Not expand the qualifications zone so broadly that it becomes meaningless. And not fudge standards to mask discrimination.

The problem with affirmative action as most governments and universities practice it is that they’re not upfront and honest about what they’re doing. Often they’re not choosing among equals. They’re granting preferences on the basis of race and feeling morally justified because they see themselves as promoting diversity — or at least Kodak and surname diversity. Rarely to never is the diversity argument applied to social conservatives, devout Christians, anti-abortion women or others whose views differ from the assembled group.

In Glenn, Republicans are not elevating a lesser qualified candidate on the basis of race. The GOP’s voters can choose in self-interest and be true to their convictions. Blacks and Hispanics are essential, long term. But to get them, the GOP can’t become an extension of the Democratic Party. The differences are not cosmetic. The two parties have fundamentally different core beliefs on the role of government.

President Bush’s encounter with the NAACP should be an eye-opener. No president who does not wish to filter his message through the liberal wing of the Democratic Party should spend five minutes before the NAACP. Or waste two minutes with the Democratic Party’s race spokesmen.

But clearly, getting past those filters to fairly present the conservative message to minorities is absolutely essential.

In Glenn and others — a surprising number of substantial black conservatives are emerging in metro Atlanta — the GOP has minorities attracted to the party’s message. They’re not faking it. They believe the message of personal responsibility, free enterprise, limited government, low taxes and strong defense.

Appealing to blacks without compromising core beliefs, without prostrating convictions before the icons of liberalism and without pandering is a long-term struggle requiring patience and dedication.

I believe that you reward courage, that you embrace blacks and other minorities who endure scorn and hardships to articulate conservative values. A governing majority that does not expand its base cannot endure.

Democrats have succeeded by turning weakness into strength. The weakness is that it’s a party of gimme constituencies determined to use government to transfer the wealth of “the rich” to them. But it projects “diversity.” And Democrats successfully spin to the media that their party is diverse, while the GOP is the party of old white men and Christian fundamentalists. Sooner or later, that pejorative begins to take root.

Affirmative action politics? No. It’s the politics of those who wish to build a governing majority.

* Jim Wooten is the associate editorial page editor. His column appears Fridays, Sundays and Tuesdays.