Republicans and the black vote. The thought sends Democrats into hysterical laughter. And Republicans? We’d rather change the subject. But Republicans should stop being afraid and start making the case to the very Americans – black Americans – that once made up one of the strongest coalitions in the early days of the Party.

Just saying that we are the “party of Lincoln” won’t be enough. The best way for the Republican Party to begin reconnecting with black Americans is to just show up. Progress won’t come overnight, but the effort must begin somewhere. Candidates and incumbents should reach out to black churches, civic groups, and chambers of commerce. RNC chairman Michael Steele, the first black chairman of the Republican Party, has echoed this sentiment and I hope he and state and local chairmen also make themselves regulars in these circles.

Despite popular belief, black Republicans do exist, and it’s not easy out there. People question your “blackness” and wonder why you vote for a party that they’ve never had a meaningful interaction with. Black Republicans should lead, offer alternatives, and be present in the community.

The best way for the Party to get in the game is at the local level – with candidates from within communities whom people know and can accept as Republicans. In recent elections in Virginia a black Republican woman, Alicia Hughes, was elected to the Alexandria city council, an area that gave President Obama 72% of their votes in 2008. It would also help to have black Republicans elected nationally. One rising star is Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, who is poised to make a run for the U.S. Senate.

An issue that resonates strongly in our community is education which John McCain rightly called the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Republicans have been much too timid and absent from the debates over education policies, and as a result not much has changed and minority children continue to be let down in the classroom.

A perfect example of where Republicans can get in the door is school choice and vouchers. Here in Washington, DC a voucher program was created under President George W. Bush and currently has 1,400 students enrolled in it. While parents are relieved to have this program and their students thrive in it, the teachers’ unions and Democrats on Capitol Hill never liked it. When President Obama came into office, Democrats got it defunded, but without debate of course.

Obama and the Democrats in Congress should be called out – why private school for the Obama girls and your children, but not for Washington DC’s own? Even with No Child Left Behind, more and more money is being spent but results aren’t being achieved. Allowing competition in education as well as finding ways to better support teachers is a message Republicans could bring to the community.

With the economy suffering, a problem we’ve kicked down the road is rearing its ugly head: entitlements. Social Security and Medicare are on track to be in the negative within a decade and broke in a little more than thirty years. Something must be done: either reform or raising taxes. Republicans have stood for allowing greater individual freedom in how people’s retirement monies are saved and invested, while Democrats have preferred to keep money tied up in Social Security. What FDR meant to be temporary, the government has allowed to become entrenched and many to be dependent on.

Hard decisions must be made and our generation will likely pay the price for inaction, unless Republicans lead. Why can’t we take the payroll tax funds or a portion of them and invest them over a 30 year period? Why should we be forced to rely on a government “benefit” that only gives a 1% return?

Young people should be especially outraged at the lack of control they have over the money that is forcibly taken from them every month. What is more, getting control of these programs will make Americans less reliant on Washington and more able to see the fruits of their labors. With African Americans having a life expectancy that barely, if at all, surpasses the age when Social Security benefits are allowed to be paid out, it especially behooves us to have a chance to actually see the money we aren’t seeing now.

Finally, it all comes down to making the case. It will not be easy, especially with America’s first black president being a Democrat. But the question should be asked – what has voting Democrat got you? Since their well-intentioned Great Society and other big government programs that meant to help have been instituted, the black family has done worse.

Democrats have gotten away too easy just saying “Look out! That guy’s a Republican,” without taking black voters seriously. If they think they can take you for granted, they have no reason to listen to you. And Republicans haven’t been present to rebutt the charges and offer their own vision. The Hispanic community has greater sway now because of their numbers but also because they are catered to by both parties and their votes have gone back and forth.

The Republican Party needs to show up, promote and encourage black Americans to run under the GOP, speak to pressing local and national needs like education and entitlements, and make their case to anyone who can vote that this is the party for them. They shouldn’t plagiarize the Democrats and offer a different spin on failed government programs, but offer alternatives and ones that lead to greater freedom in the pursuit of the American Dream.

The American Dream is not more meddling by and reliance on the government, but more control of and independence from its grasp. After all, it was the idea of freedom itself and the war fought to bring it closer that first brought black Americans into the GOP. Making the black voter welcome in the Party, and treating them as an individual worthy to make their own destiny, will hopefully start the process of bringing more of us back to the Party of Lincoln.

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