My good friend, Timothy Johnson, Ph.D., was recently honored by the Buncombe County (Asheville, NC) Republican party. Timothy Johnson has been elected party chair. It did not go unnoticed that he is the first black elected party chair in Buncombe County - Republican or Democratic. In an interview with the Weaverville newspaper, Tim commented on how many blacks are "ignorant" of the bedrock beliefs of the Republican Party. Dr. Johnson believes that the ideals of the Republican Party line up very well with the ideals of the Black community.
Before I go on any further, I would like to say that no one and no party has cornered the market on ethics or morality. There are bad and evil people that are motivated by greed and power in both parties. But, with that being said, I think we can look over the past 40 years and honestly begin to evaluate which party truly benefited Blacks and continues to benefit minorities and the underprivileged. Let's look at a few issues.
Civil rights. This one is easy. There is no contest. In the 60s the Democrats stood with Blacks. Southern Democrats who were opposed to integration did not like the direction of the party and slowly but surely left the Democratic Party and joined the Republican Party. Were there individual Republicans who believed that integration was inevitable? Were there individual Republicans who believed that segregation was an abomination? I think the answer is yes on both counts. Did the Republican party change their platform in 1964 and 1968 to appease Southern Whites? Yes.
The Economy. Republicans like to talk about cutting government spending. I lived in Texas most of my life. Republicans rule in Texas. I saw the state government cut so deeply that some regulatory agencies had to stop regulating. They had to fire some government workers because there was no more money. Republicans stood back and smiled but when you go to the DMV and have to wait 2 or 3 hours just to talk to someone before you can begin the process of getting your license? Please think of those cuts. When you get a brand new tatoo which gives you a skin infection or possibly even hepatitis because there was not enough inspectors to regularly inspect that parlor who's smiling now?
When Ronald Reagan took office he promised to cut the size of government and to cut government spending. Conservatives talk eloquently about how masterful Reagan was with the budget. They forget to tell you that the budget deficit grew during the Reagan years. No matter how the Republicans like to sugar coat their policies, the fact that under Reagan, Bush and now, George W. Bush the budget deficit has grown completely flies in the face of any fiscal responsibility. Even the conservative Cato Institute, in an article by Chris Edwards states, "Reagan's failure was that he did not control federal spending growth. By 1989, federal spending was up 69 percent from 1981. The deficit widened."
In my own book, A Letter to America, I criticized the Bush administration for its tax cuts for the rich. I believe that your tax policy should reflect your morals beliefs. The budget process is more than pushing numbers around. The process should reflect the hopes and dreams of America. A small and simple program like LIHEAP (low income heating and energy assistance program), this program provides assistance to the poor for heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. Who can be against this program? The Bush administration. Bush tried to cut funding for this program several years in a row. In 2003, it took a Senate vote (88-4) to force the Bush administration to release the funding. You can't tell me that this helps Blacks, minorities or the poor.
Race. When President Reagan increased the low interest rates on student loans, it was clear that he really did not understand the needs of working Americans. When Ronald Reagan stood by and supported Apartheid well that's a completely different story or is it? You don't have to take my word for it, take Bishop Desmond Tutu's. In 1984, while on Capital Hill, Bishop Tutu blasted Reagan's support of South Africa, "In my view, the Reagan administration's support and collaboration with it is equally immoral, evil, and totally un‑Christian. . . . You are either for or against apartheid and not by rhetoric. You are either in favor of evil or you are in favor of good. You are either on the side of the oppressed or on the side of the oppressor. You can't be neutral."
Right wing Republican think tanks have been working on trying to reverse affirmative action for over 30 years. Affirmative action has been fundamental to the progress that we have seen recently. From Justice Clarence Thomas to Barack Obama, affirmative action has begun to equalize the playing field. Thomas came from a small town in Georgia. Why would Holy Cross take him in 1967? He wasn't a great student from a small Georgia town. In college, he did well then went on to Yale. Remember before affirmative action, colleges would simply pass over Blacks and other minorities. Whether they were qualified or not. No matter how some folks try to spin affirmative action, it is an excellent program that has benefitted Blacks, Whites, Latinos ... Americans.
Education. This is the great equalizer. You can lift someone out of poverty by giving them the winning lottery ticket (Evander Hollyfield's house is up for foreclosure so having a pile of money doesn't guarantee that you will keep that pile.) or by giving them an education. There are no guarantees in life but an education maybe the closest thing. Everyone has seen the numbers that the average income for someone without a high school diploma is about $23,000. The average income for someone with a college degree is $52,000.
With student loans harder and harder to come by and college tuition going up faster than the price of gas, college students need some help. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has had none to offer. There is no major program that the Bush administration has designed to help college students.
No Child Left Behind. The fact that the program has never been fully funded should be considered a crime. The whole concept of teaching to a test just never sat well with me. There is no data suggesting that testing equals learning which is the whole basis of NCLB. As a matter of fact, I think that the opposite happens. When focusing on the information for a test, students and teachers miss great learning opportunities.
Reagan, Bush, Sr. and Bush, Jr. have trying to suck funding out one of the only government programs that has been universally praised - Head Start. This program has been credited for helping minorities get out of poverty. We need more programs like it and not less. We need a Head Start like program for middle school and for high school, so our children can get ahead and stay ahead.
One of the best hoaxes played on the American people are school vouchers. The Republicans have been pushing this idea from coast to coast for some time. The idea is if your public school isn't performing well then you should be able to take your child out of public school and place your child in some other school using public funds. It sounds great. Of course, if you pull funds out of failing schools how are those schools going to get any better. Actually, these cash strapped schools should get increased funding if they are failing. We need better teachers and better books and facilities in these schools. The other side of voucher hoax is where are you going to try to put your child? Is there a good school that has a bunch of openings for kids from failing schools? No. School vouchers are just another way to cripple the public educational system.
Tim Johnson, I congratulate you on your new position but I don't think that the Republican party has been friendly to minorities in general or Blacks in particular. I saw Senator John McCain, the Republican party's presidential nominee, speak last week in Kenner, La, just outside New Orleans. He spoke in front of an almost completely White crowd. Outside of Governor Jindal, I was unable to see any face of color in the crowd. I have watched the video several times. I think that's telling. You can't tell me that you can't find a Black face in Southern Louisiana. Tim, I wish you good luck hopefully you can change the Republican party for the better.