Civil Rights

Americans are looking anew at the state of race relations in the United States, and particularly in the Republican Party.

Contrary to impressions sometimes left unchallenged, there is much in the Republican Party’s history that demonstrates its commitment to equal rights for all Americans, regardless of race or ethnic origin. And there is much today in the Republican agenda that would help lift members of our minority community from poverty and its effects - poor educational opportunities and chronic unemployment.

Our party’s priorities almost always are tailored not to a single ethnic or racial group, but to all citizens. Republicans believe that the best way to promote inclusiveness is to treat every one of us as part of a common group, not to divide people into racial classifications or pit one group against the other.

Like any diverse political party, the Republican Party has had within its ranks - as have the Democrats -- individuals who have opposed improvements in race relations. We all have a special responsibility to ease whatever hurt such unwelcome sentiments have left.

That said, however, the Republican history of early - and sometimes lone - support for minority advancement is a laudable one. If anything, it has been overlooked for too long.

The party of Lincoln, of course, was founded on opposition to slavery -- an indisputable moral failing in our nation’s early history. President Grant committed federal troops to the South to enforce the constitutional rights of the freed slaves. A century later, it was a Republican President, Dwight Eisenhower, who sent federal troops to desegregate schools in Arkansas. The Eisenhower administration, moreover, ushered through Congress the first civil-rights legislation since Reconstruction.

The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 simply would not have been passed into law without the support - and votes -- of the majority of Republican officeholders. Indeed, very few Republicans voted against the civil rights legislation. One who did, Senator Barry Goldwater, was in fact an early advocate of desegregating the military and supported strengthened voting rights for African Americans as part of the Eisenhower civil rights bill.

The Nixon administration, according to a former columnist for the New York Times, “accomplished more in 1970 to desegregate Southern school systems than had been done in the 16 previous years, or probably since.” Establishment of urban enterprise zones -- designed to attract businesses into the inner cities -- was a proposal pushed early and most strongly by conservative Republicans during the Reagan administration.

President Bush’s determined efforts to reach out to Latino and African-American citizens are reflected in many of his legislative priorities. The proposals may be different -- and often more creative -- than traditional Democratic prescriptions, but the end goal remains the same.

The President’s push for parental choice in education, for example, would dramatically help many minority children trapped in our nation’s most impoverished communities. Social Security reform designed to give Americans personal ownership of a part of the taxes they pay into the system would also significantly aid African Americans, who statistically get less on average from their investments in the current Social Security system simply because African Americans tend to have shorter life spans than others. And under the current system, they cannot pass on to their heirs what they have earned in Social Security.

Tax relief helps small-business owners, an increasing number of whom are members of minority groups. Efforts to make permanent federal death-tax repeal are especially welcome by minority business owners, who want to ensure that their achievements, often the result of unusually tough struggles, are passed on as legacies to their heirs.

In Washington, there are always attempts to impugn the motives of those on the other side of the aisle. That’s the nature of politics. But when accusations of racial animus are injected into congressional debates - something that occurs far too often these days - that should be beyond the pale. Such charges ignore a distinguished history of a party that has always preached equality.

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