GOP Needs to Find Its Inner Jack Kemp, Rebuild Urban Base

Image: GOP Needs to Find Its Inner Jack Kemp, Rebuild Urban Base

Thursday, 15 Aug 2013 10:58 AM

By Jennifer G. Hickey

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Republican efforts to make electoral gains in major cities require a return to urban policies of the kind championed by the late Jack Kemp, ones that seek to empower the impoverished, policy analysts and political observers tell Newsmax.

Author and historian Kevin Baker says Republicans could make political inroads in major cities, but for their failure to offer serious prescriptions to the problems unique to urban constituents.

"They have failed to effectively promote their ideas of empowerment -- choice in education and housing," Baker, also a contributing editor with Harper's Magazine, told Newsmax. "Those ideas are a natural fit, but Republicans have been ham-handed at doing it."

As a Republican congressman from New York in 1986, Kemp offered praise for "Losing Ground," Charles Murray's groundbreaking book on welfare reform, stressing the need to bring opportunity and economic freedom to urban areas.

Kemp, who also served as President George H.W. Bush's housing secretary and was Bob Dole's vice presidential running mate in 1996, said there was a need to "increase incentives to the maximum needed to build a ladder of opportunity for the poor to climb by their own God-given efforts and God-given potential."

"Real jobs and real opportunity can only arise from revitalizing democratic capitalism and restoring the possibilities of jobs and entrepreneurship for every man and woman in America," Kemp said.

Kemp had championed welfare reform and school choice measures while in Congress and during his tenure as housing secretary, he sought for the enactment of economic enterprise zones and made efforts toward public housing privatization, but was largely stymied by a Democratic-controlled Congress.

Republicans were able to achieve success in the 1990s with welfare reform, but the decades since Kemp's speech have been marked by a party that has stepped further away from cities, opting to cede major metropolitan centers to Democrats.

Baker tells Newsmax that for years Republicans "seemed to have an open cultural contempt for cities and the people who live in them and that perception remains."

In 2012, President Barack Obama earned approximately 69 percent of the vote in cities with more than 500,000 people.

In Philadelphia, it was even worse. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, in 59 inner-city precincts, the Republican ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan did not receive a single vote.

This came as a shock to Ryan, who admitted in a post-election interview with WISC-TV that he was surprised by "the turnout, especially in urban areas, which gave President Obama the big margin to win this race."

It was not a surprise to Edward L. Glaeser of the Manhattan Institute, who noted in a City Journal article that the Republican's 2012 platform "had no city-oriented policies whatsoever and used the word 'urban' just twice," and both references were criticisms of Obama administration policies.

Glaeser argued the party will not gain by "fiscal pandering or redistribution," but will have to "offer the good ideas that cities desperately need. Republicans have plenty."

The need to develop and communicate an effective urban agenda has not been lost on Republicans.

"I think in some ways we might be able to beat the Democrats hands down because the Democrats, I think, take all of this vote for granted and they've left people in rotting schools in the inner cities, full of drugs, full of crime, full of no discipline, really full of no hope," Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky told CBN's Brody Files.

Paul has taken positions on criminal justice reform at odds with some conservatives, but consistent with his libertarian views. For example, he welcomed Attorney General Eric Holder's recent decision to move forward with reforms to federal drug sentencing policies.

The national party recognizes its future will require making gains among minorities, says Republican National Committee Deputy Press Secretary Raffi Williams.

In March the party launched its Growth and Opportunity Project, which is a "ground-up" effort to reach minority voters by dispatching staff into communities to initiate a dialogue with local leaders.

"It is going to be a permanent campaign, not just a three-weeks-before-the-election strategy," Williams tells Newsmax. "We understand that when you talk about the 'city,' it means not only listening to the concerns of African-Americans, but also Asians, Hispanics, and other minority groups."

Some Republicans on the state level are trying to seriously addressing urban concerns and are advocating for reforming education, housing and criminal justice programs.

Kim Alfano, a Republican communications consultant, cites former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels as an example of a leader who was able to gain minority support without abandoning conservative fiscal principles.

"While he was austere on the budget, he overfunded and rebuilt child services and the education sector. He did the things that earned him credibility [with minority voters]," said Alfano, who served as an adviser to Daniels. "Our biggest problem is not that we are wrong about Obamacare, or about being more austere with the budget, it is that we have not offered any fresh ideas that would appeal to any subset."

But Henry Olsen, a senior fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center, doubts that policy prescriptions will bring electoral success for Republican in the big cities.

"There are lots of things Republicans can do in terms of policy on both the state and federal level, but there is not a lot of evidence that this will lead to electoral gains," Olsen told Newmax. "There are perceptions about civil rights, for example, that go back decades, so even though African Americans express ardent support for school vouchers, it is not likely to change their voting behavior."


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