What Republicans Can Do on MLK Day 2012 … and Beyond

What Republicans Can Do on MLK Day 2012 … and Beyond


With a strong history of equality and a weak modern record on diversity, the GOP must embrace the symbolism of MLK Day and bolster their partnerships with minorities if they seek to lead in the 21st century’s browner America.

What do Mr. James (Dan) Quayle and Mr. Richard Cheney have in common?

That they were the last two Republican vice presidents? True.

Now what do they have in common with former US Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, former presidential candidate John McCain, and the late conservative firebrand Jesse Helms from North Carolina?

All five men – Republican starlets over the past 40 years in their own respects – voted against the passage of the MLK Day holiday when they had a chance to honor the Republican Party’s history of racial justice and American equality with a vote honoring the Black Republican civil rights activist.

Just a look at that reminds most Black Americans as to why they refuse to vote Republican – and it should remind Republicans that as long as the population growth in the nation continues a shift towards the browning of America, 21st century political leadership at important levels will not include Republicans without a shift from our recent record on race.

Never mind the repugnant fashion in which many Republican insiders treated former RNC Chair Michael Steele even during the best days of his tenure. Ignore how even the best of the bunch were cast aside through questionable attacks despite sound service and leadership. Overlook the Ron Paul/Rand Paul brand of conservatism that casts a blind eye towards racism in their newsletters or defends property rights over civil rights.

A look at the recent Republican Party political routine symbolized by these five votes concerning the holiday we celebrate today – coupled with the past 50 years of failures with diversity and the cowardice (and/or apathy) to resurrect a significant portion of America from societal abyss – shows how the Republican Party has gotten it wrong on MLK Day. Sadder, still, the Party of Lincoln has been a party-pooper when celebrating the legacy of Dr. King – and even its own history as the GOP.

The ad from current Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney that features him speaking Spanish initially comes across as a vote-pandering attempt by another Republican at a time when bold leadership to unify a diverse and fragmented nation is sorely needed.

Former US Senator Rick Santorum’s attempt to “empower” Blacks by stating that he wants to provide jobs to empower them – not “other people’s money” – comes across worse.

At a time when Americans are pointing fingers at each other in blame almost as much as politicians in capital cities, Republican leaders should take advantage of the MLK Holiday. MLK Day should be a valued opportunity used by Republicans to springboard themselves out of the hole that they have collectively dug for themselves over decades of negative perceptions and bigoted actions. 2012’s celebration is the chance to begin speaking honestly and cooperatively about ending racial disparities in America in a manner that the last three Black presidential candidates have failed to do in a tangible and long-lasting fashion.

Do most people expect the Republican Party to use today as a chance to finally heal the wounds formed over the decades since President Nixon and Southern Strategy? No.

Can Republicans use 2012 as a chance to improve its relationships with Black and Latino voters, especially with two high-profile Black congressmen running for re-election and a potential Latino vice presidential nominee in Senator Marco Rubio? Perhaps.

Will the GOP change its course and diversify its message, membership, and mantra as 21st century America continues to emerge? Over time, yes.

That change will come sooner if the GOP takes the message of the MLK Day celebration to heart, starting this year. Although much of the message is clearly about diversity, equality, and liberty (words that have a particular ring to them as the racial disparities in America tragically increase, not decrease, over recent times), the bigger point that my fellow Republicans must take from today and apply to this moment is the need for a renewed sense of urgency when addressing the societal gaps found in our nation today.

Republicans – as politicians and as patriots – must collectively take a more humble tone of contrition, a stronger sense of service, and a deeper commitment to a segment of the nation that has been overlooked for far too long.

No ethos of smaller government in today’s urban-based America can be successful in a country that leaves much of urban America behind in the past century. No rallying cry of a return to the tenets of the Constitution can merit satisfactory support and subsequent success when the nation reverts back to the mores of a “separate but equal” society. No message of conservative ideals and leadership to usher in an era of the renewed American Dream of prosperity can ring true moving forward without drowning out the racial politics of the past.

The time is now for the Republican Party to embrace what this celebration means to Americans.  It’s more than just political speeches that pontificate a philosophy rather than project a personal and political way of life for Republicans. The time is now to close an oft-ignored chapter in the book on America, one where five former Republican leaders were once on the wrong side of history and, in doing so, kept an open wound painfully singed. If one man can give his life to improving America, one political party should be able to give back a little more to achieve this noble goal – starting today.

LENNY MCALLISTER is a senior contributor to Politic 365 who can be found every Saturday with Democratic pundit Maria Cardona on “CNN Saturday Morning” at 10:30 AM Eastern (9:30 Central / 7:30 Pacific.) In 2012, he has been featured on CNN’s “Early Start” weekdays between 5:00 AM – 7:00 AM Eastern as well. His latest podcast “Getting Ready to Get Right” can be found on www.LMGILIVE.COM and “McAllister’s Weekend Remix” can be found exclusively on Politic365.


  1. "No ethos of smaller government in today’s urban-based America can be successful in a country that leaves much of urban America behind in the past century."

    While I agree, the GOP doesn't. Their entire "ethos" is one of small government and personal responsibility. Their prescription is to deregulate and cut taxes on the rich and supposedly the wealth will trickle down on everyone. It doesn't matter how badly the last 30 years disproves this assumption, they'll defend this idea no matter what.