Patrick O'Keefe

MDGOP Political Director, UF Political Comms Program Director. Focused on using digital to reach the masses.

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Patrick O'Keefe

Stephen A. Smith, Republicans, and “The Black Vote”

Patrick O'KeefePatrick O'Keefe

Stephen A. Smith attended the Impact Symposium at Vanderbilt University as a featured speaker on the topic of “How You See It: Preceptions of (In)Equality. At the symposium, Smith made some pretty bold statements in full, he said:

“What I dream is that for one election, just one, every black person in America vote Republican,” he said. “Because from what I’ve read, and I’m open to correction, but from what I’ve read, Barry Goldwater is going against Lyndon B. Johnson. He’s your Republican candidate. He is completely against the Civil Rights Movement. Lyndon B. Johnson was in favor of it. What happens is, he wins office, Barry Goldwater loses office, but there was a senate, a Republican senate, that pushed the votes to the president’s desk. It was the Democrats who were against Civil Rights legislation. So because President Lyndon B. Johnson was a Democrat, black America assumed the Democrats were for it.”

He also added, “Black folks in America are telling one party, ‘We don’t give a damn about you.’ They’re telling the other party ‘You’ve got our vote.’ Therefore, you have labeled yourself ‘disenfranchised’ because one party knows they’ve got you under their thumb. The other party knows they’ll never get you and nobody comes to address your interest.”

Naturally, his opinions were loved on the right and hated on the left. Many (mostly white) Republicans on Facebook made comments like “That will never happen,” or “they are just uninformed.” Many (also mostly white) Democrats commented “I don’t know why anyone but a rich person would vote for a Republican.”

Here’s the problem, they’re both right and they’re both wrong and neither side will admit it. Smith’s statement on Facebook was probably taken best by the people it was actually directed to: black people. Many stated that while Smith’s statement was correct, that Republicans haven’t given them a good reason to vote for them. This is pretty true when you look around. There’s pandering that goes on here and there, but if you look around at most Republican caucus meetings in State Houses, you see a sea of white faces. When a black person walks into a victory office for a Republican candidate, there are immediate whispers wondering if the person is some sort of spy. Racism still exists in America. There is a big argument as to how much, but it does exist.

Here’s my take: my fellow Republicans, if you want to actually make in-roads to other communities take Rand Paul’s lead and then go further. Rand and Cory Booker (D, NJ) have introduced the REDEEM (Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment) Act to address criminal justice reform. Rand has also introduced an Economic Freedom Zones Act to improve the economic conditions in areas ravished by poverty. Marijuana laws are overly harsh and also wreck primarily poor communities. These are areas where the GOP can show some real leadership on issues the black community has shown matter to them. 

Aside from criminal justice and theoretical bills, there’s also the opportunity to open up real, good paying jobs to people who previously couldn’t obtain them. 33% of small business owners say they can’t fill their job openings due to a lack of qualified workers. There are 4 million U.S. job openings that cannot be filled.  The Republican Party could become the party of jobs and opportunity with some bold initiatives. Why couldn’t legislators create a compact between businesses, colleges, and the government to fill these voids? This isn’t a completely abstract concept as AT&T and Georgia Tech already have a partnership through the MOOC Udacity to address their own talent shortage. The general framework would target poverty stricken areas and would have government help foot the bill for the training/trial period of hiring an employee. It would also include a contract from employers to keep the employee for a set period of time. The initial cost may be fairly high, but over time less government money would be spent on entitlements and the court system. This is a bold initiative that would actually help people get back to work while being fiscally responsible. It also addresses the concerns of some GOP voters who have the belief (which I vehemently disagree with) that many people in poverty stricken areas are “just lazy.” Broadening the tax base, reducing welfare, helping American businesses. What’s not to like?

MDGOP Political Director, UF Political Comms Program Director. Focused on using digital to reach the masses.

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