Black ex-Republican: My former party is clueless on race

OPINION - President Lincoln would grimace at what the GOP has become and so would many of the great leaders that build it into a formidable party pre-1972; before Nixon's southern strategy...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Yesterday was my forty something birthday. And as I reflected back on the last several decades of my life this morning, I reflected on when and why I first became a Republican.

I know strange thought to have on one’s birthday, but the season of presidential politics is now fully upon us so it makes sense.

It was in 1988, I was a college sophomore and the late Congressman Jack Kemp came to my college campus in San Diego to speak. He was running in a large GOP field at the time. I was but 21 years old and ready to vote in my first ever presidential election.

For those who knew Kemp, he was a different kind of Republican. He was a firebrand conservative who knew how to talk a message of empowerment, access, and opportunity to people of color, and walk among us with grace and ease. He was a former pro-football quarterback, who had played in an integrated league during a time of segregation and he never forgot those lessons.

I was later fortunate enough to work for former New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman right out of law school. I truly believe she could have been our nation’s first female president, had she had better folks around her in her inner circle. Alas, she proved too moderate for the conservatives in the Republican party, who refused to look at her as the incredible fiscal conservative and tax cutter, beyond her support for abortion rights.

As I look at the GOP today — a party I left to become an independent some four years ago now — I see a party that has lost its soul, its compass, and its future. President Lincoln would grimace at what the GOP has become and so would many of the great leaders that build it into a formidable party pre-1972; before Nixon’s southern strategy.

After Iowa, as we head into New Hampshire, I see a Republican party in deeper disarray than ever before. I see a young guy like former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, who has great potential, but has no clue how to talk to people who don’t look or think as he does.

He is a conservative for sure, with some good ideas on how to fix America’s broken fiscal house. I agree with him that our moral and family decay has broken our once great nation. Yet, his not so veiled comments this week about not giving blacks “other people’s money” (i.e., welfare) was a jarring reminder of just how out of touch the GOP is at its core.

The facts show that more whites and Latino’s are on welfare now than are blacks. And while I wholeheartedly agree with Santorum that “welfare” is not helping to lift a new generation of my folks out of poverty, to play that same old race baiting card is tired and not helpful to the GOP being taken seriously by black voters.

As for Mitt Romney, who is this man anyway? That is the question.

Had Romney gotten the GOP nomination in 2008, I likely would have voted Republican versus voting for President Obama as I did. Yet, I see Romney as man who is out of touch also. He offered to make a $10,000 bet with Texas Governor Rick Perry during a Republican presidential debate, and thought nothing of doing so on national television. Most people in this nation don’t have $10,000 saved or available to them in a crisis. For black people who have been the hardest hit by the recession and unemployment, I have not heard Romney have the courage to even raise the issue of black/brown inequity in America as did Rep. Michele Bachmann and Governor Perry.

Yet, Romney flippantly throws that number around just for fun. Really? Truth be told, Romney is a moderate in conservative’s clothing. And he is likely the best shot the GOP has to defeat President Obama in a general election. Yet, the party is so out of control that they would rather nominate someone like Ron Paul, or Santorum, who swing far to the right of center of the American political mainstream. If Romney wants to win black support against President Obama he had better come up with a bold business strategy to put black folks back to work!

And then there is Newt Gingrich. Just today, the former House speaker declared he is going to “demand” that black people ask for jobs, rather than welfare.

Is he living in a 1990’s Bill Clinton vs. the Republican congress welfare reform reality universe?

Here is the bottom line. With Herman Cain now out of the 2012 race, the Republican party has no black Superman to rely upon. They have no credible person of color who can run as a ticket-mate with their nominee in 2012.

The reason this actually matters is that the country is becoming more black and brown. I have been wailing at the GOP walls for two decades in op-eds about its lack of diversity and how one day those chickens would come home to roost.

I am afraid that the chickens have not only come home to roost, but if Iowa is any indication of the kind of rhetoric we can expect from leading GOP presidential contenders relative to black folks in America, then I can safely say, I made the right choice to leave the Grand Old Party behind.

Follow Sophia Nelson on Twitter at @sophiaredefined