Sit around a group of Republicans and ask them about the black vote and the consensus is that we should be doing better with black and minority voters because of social issues. African-Americans believe in family values, we tell ourselves, and education choice. They are churchgoers just like us, we say to ourselves. How do I know this? Because I have said the same things over and over before learning that has nothing to do why black voters don't respond to the GOP. The other thing that is often cited is the fact that the Republican Party was founded to defeat slavery and 100 years later were instrumental in passage of several civil rights bills. Rand Paul himself made this point in his speech to Howard.
Here is the problem that we never seem to want to deal with. The policies of the Republican Party adopted after 1960 to win seven presidential elections hurt African-Americans. I'm not talking about tax cuts, Reaganomics, or things like that. We can argue about that until we are blue in the face. What I am talking about is the GOP's embrace, starting in 1968, of "law and order." In this way, the GOP is still very much the party of Richard Nixon. In domestic policy we have initiated a never ending drug war that turned addict into criminal. In the name of public safety we have put thousands of citizens who need love and help into prison to rot and only get worse in their addiction. Our criminal justice system is no longer about rehabilitation, it is about retribution. Secondly, on the heels of this drug war and the federal government deciding for us what sins are acceptable and what sins aren't, we have compounded the problem by created a strict system of mandatory minimum sentences that too often put people in prison far too young and far too long for the crimes they have committed.
You want to understand why the black vote supports Democrats with nearly 96% unanimity? Spend some time doing real research on our criminal justice system and our drug laws. Shit, watch HBO's The Wire, that was the first thing that ever got me to start to re-think my position. The problem for Republicans is that this "law and order" theme has become a drug of our own. When the Republican Party finally decided to abandon the black voter in 1968 and embrace the white South to created a nearly unbeatable electoral coalition, it did so hiding behind law and order and social issues. This is why black voters do not support us. Some would argue that the GOP sold its soul to become a majority party.
What I find so refreshing about Rand Paul is that he gets this. He does not go before black voters and talk about a shared Christianity as if that is enough, he has figured out what truly ails that population and wants to find real solutions. His tour of black colleges and his upcoming appearance at the NAACP convention is not just tokenism. What Paul gets is that as a truly believer in limited government and individual liberty, the laws we carry now hurt real people and often they are not rooted in justice. That is a truly conservative thought. How a party of limited government found its way to imposing strict laws and sentences arbitrarily on its citizens remains baffling to me.
I'm sure part of Paul's aim here is to win black votes when he runs either for reelection or for the presidency. I'm sure he can do so in the former, but I remain dubious to the latter. One four year senator will have a hard time undoing nearly fifty years of policy that has disproportionately hurt one group of our citizens. The important thing Paul is really doing here I hope is helping every Republican and conservative take a deep breath and look in the mirror. We must reconcile what we have advocated for with the results we have created. Going before black voters and talking about traditional marriage and school choice is a nice thought, but in the end we will never be trusted so long as we continue to advocate for this Nixonian law and order legacy. It is my hope the party will follow Rand Paul on this mission to help bring the party into the 21st Century.
My gut feeling is pessimistic. I am not terribly hopeful that Rand Paul will be the GOP nominee in 2016. His views on foreign policy and the above mentioned law and order issues will be chewed up and spit out by a stage of Republican alligators like Santorum, Huckabee, and others who have advocated for this their entire careers. He has enough fringe in his background with his father to be tarred and abused by the words of others. The fear he stokes in the traditional party powers might be to much for him to handle himself. This is why he has done things like support Mitch McConnell's reelection, he knows he needs a few of the right friends. Here is hoping it works out.