In a recent interview on NBC's "Meet the Press", moderate Republican General Colin Powell, who served as Secretary of State under George W. Bush, claimed that the Republican Party has an "identity" problem. He then added that the Republican Party looks down on minorities . "There is a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party. They still look down minorities."
In reality, Powell has an integrity and information problem. The notion that the Republican Party is a racist organization does not withstand any serious scrutiny. Powell suggest that the Republican Party "take a very hard look at itself." Perhaps the former general should take a long hard look at the Republican Party's history.
Founded in Michigan in 1854, the Republican Party welcomed federal internal improvements, disgraced Federalists and Whigs, and championed the end of slavery. Taking on liberal positions without overthrowing the entire political machinery of the federal government, the first Republican candidate to win the Presidency, Abraham Lincoln, waged a war first to preserve the union, then shifted not just to end the spread of slavery, but to outlaw the "peculiar institution" once and for all. Because of his political acumen and legal maneuverings (all celebrated in the Steven Spielberg epic "Lincoln,") the beloved sixteenth president helped pass Amendments Thirteen, Fourteen, and Fifteen, which respectively granted the African-American freedom, citizenship, and the vote.
Following the Civil War, the Republicans controlled the White House for the next fifty years, pushing Civil Rights legislation in the 1870s. African-American legislators for Congress and the Senate ranked among the Republicans. Blacks in general identified with the Republican Party precisely because during that period of time, the Democratic Party, including the "Solid South," entitled itself "The White Man's Party." The first Democratic President to serve two consecutive terms after the Civil War, Princeton President Woodrow Wilson, was a racist progressive who purged the White House and the Washington bureaucracy of African-Americans while waging a costly American intervention in World War I and jailing anti-war political dissenters, including socialist Presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs. The next Republican President, Warren G. Harding, released Debs and reintegrated blacks back into the White House and Washington.
Despite the widespread Democratic dominance of the 1930's and 1940's, Republicans still gathered a plurality of the black vote. Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater launched a campaign based on states' rights instead of Washington righteousness. Despite the backlash of Civil Rights supporters in the 1960's, "Negroes for Goldwater" spread the word on his behalf. Richard Nixon won 38% of the black vote, then forty-nine states in 1972.
Ronald Reagan took in his own "rainbow coalition" without condescending to minority voters, but welcoming all of them, regardless of their skin color. Republican President Eisenhower defended the Little Rock Six against the segregationist Democratic hegemony in the South. Nixon finished the desegregation that Republican Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren had started with Brown v. Board of Education.
Powell later spewed race-based spite about Romney, castigating the former Massachusetts governor's less scintillating statements. Romney's "47%" remark was bad, but Romney was not racist when he quipped "The President was lazy" to explain why the President did so poorly in his first debate. The "political correctness" police imagined him then saying "shiftless" and other negative terms which had disparaged African-Americans.
All of this race-bating around "code speech" is unsubstantiated and insulting. Besides, Colin Powell conveniently neglected Vice President Joe Biden's "Chains, y'all!" interjection at one Democratic meeting. Before that, national media outlets were slamming Biden for calling President Obama an "articulate" politician. The mad search for racist commentaries and subtexts has distorted the proper discourse in this country while insulting minority voters, as if they are not made of "sterner stuff" to begin with.
One Democratic President, the crummy architect of the crumbled "Great Society," said the following:
“I’ll have those [racial epithet] voting Democratic for the next 200 years.” - Lyndon B. Johnson
However, the most impressive indictment against Powell's uninformed assertion rests on no greater an example than former Massachusetts' US Senator Edward Brooke, the first African-American to be elected to the US Senate by popular vote, and a Republican. In reviewing his eventful political life, Brooke joined the Republican Party because they gave him an opportunity to serve. He agreed with the Republican stance on civil rights, since it was the Massachusetts GOP which desegregated the Bay State schools. Brooke was a moderate who respected limited government and individual opportunity. He served as the Massachusetts Attorney General, winning statewide in 1964 while Barry Goldwater's Presidential campaign tarnished the Republican brand briefly. Refusing to endorse his party's Presidential nominee, Brooke went on to win the US Senate seat against an incumbent Democrat in 1966 and reelection in 1972.
Colin Powell suggests that the Republican Party has an "identity" problem, when in fact they have a memory problem, failing to remember and remind the country that the Republican Party has the stronger legacy on civil rights and minority respect than the Democratic Party. Just ask Massachusetts' former US Senator Edward Brooke. And Alabama's Artur Davis and South Carolina's Tim Scott. . .