I was recently struck by an event that I hope represents the future of the Republican Party in particular and America in general. I had the pleasure of attending the kick-off dinner of Steve Forbes' presidential campaign.
While impressed by the enthusiasm of the approximately 1,200 supporters at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan, the type of people attending surprised me that much more. As expected, numerous prominent conservatives and Republican movers-and-shakers were on hand. But what I did not anticipate was the large number of blacks in the audience and on stage. And no, I don't mean the entertainment.
Yaphet Kotto, the fine actor and role model, introduced Mr. Forbes. J. Kenneth Blackwell, the black Republican State Treasurer of Ohio, and Herman Cain, the very successful black CEO of Godfather's Pizza, both spoke and are co-chairmen of Forbes' national campaign. Even a name that seems to have been tied forever to Democratic and liberal causes, King - in this case, Alveda, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - will have a prominent role in the Forbes campaign. Ms. King endorsed Mr. Forbes for president on May 25th. The person who invited me to this festive occasion in the first place was Armstrong Williams, the nationally syndicated black conservative writer and talk show host.
I only can hope that what I saw that night symbolizes what a Forbes Administration and, to a greater extent, the conservative movement might represent in the future - blacks being well-integrated into every aspect of American political life not because they are filling a quota (or, as one high-profile politician subtly stated, "I want an administration that looks like America"). Instead, blacks are there because they have a common purpose and can work together to accomplish mutually beneficial goals.
Except for Mr. Kotto, each of the aforementioned individuals has had a professional and sometimes a personal relationship with Mr. Forbes over the years, not because they are black but because they are individuals who share similar values and goals for America. They also happen to be black.
The fact that many consider Mr. Forbes one of the more conservative figures in American politics - and not among the typically "liberal" or "compassionate" Republicans one might expect to be seen reaching out to the black community - makes these relationships that much more compelling. By being solidly conservative and inclusive of minorities, Steve Forbes is teaching the Republican Party two very valuable lessons:
First, Republicans and conservatives need not "sell out" conservative principles (like embracing preferences) or use purposely ambiguous phrases such as "affirmative access" to attract black voters.
Second, Republicans and conservatives need not reach out to the "usual suspects" in the black community or its usually suspicious leadership (such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton) in order to develop an understanding of and kinship with the black community. This last lesson was one that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich learned far too late.
I look forward to following Steve Forbes' candidacy. It seems to be off
to a good start. In one evening, Mr. Forbes has done a great service for
America's future. He has shown blacks that they have a home in the most
conservative wing of the Republican Party and demonstrated to America that
just as blacks don't all look alike, they don't all think alike either.
(Niger Innis is a member of Project 21 and a National Spokesman for the
Congress of Racial Equality.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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