Reflections Magazine August-September, 2011
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Can the conservative movement be inclusive?

Minorities can lead minorities to traditional values



The following is an extensive interview of Dr. Grace Vuoto, the founder and executive director of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal. The interview was conducted by Italian journalist Marco Faraci for publication in Italy. The interviewer seeks to better understand how to integrate minorities in the American conservative movement and delves into the problem of illegal immigration.

MR. FARACI: Why did you create the institute and what kind of work do you do?

DR.  GRACE:  I founded the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal while I was Professor of British and European History at Howard University, a predominantly black college. In many discussions with my students I realized that the black population in America has conservative values. Many of my black students were far more traditional than any of the white students I have ever taught at other universities. And soon I discovered that even on economic issues, they were very receptive to the doctrine of self-help and independence. The more I probed this, the more I learned the same is true of Hispanics and of women in this country. Hence, I realized that the conservative movement was missing a vital opportunity to claim these voters.

Another reason I founded the institute was that upon my arrival in Washington D.C. in 2000, I moved in conservative circles and realized that the movement was corrupt and stagnant. Conservatives were stuck in an old model, appealing only to white males above the age of 40. Long before the Tea Party revolt in this country, I recognized that the conservative movement needed a fresh start, bold ideas to capture the youth and virtuous leaders who stick to their principles both on public matters and in their private lives as exemplars of traditional values. That is how EBI was born.

Today, we are a national presence. Our major work is in educating both the public and the political class on key issues. We publish a monthly Web magazine, Reflections. In addition, I write a regular series of articles specifically on the culture called "Our Graceful Heritage"  and regular columns on politics. My work and that of others in the institute is dispersed across the nation, republished in multiple news outlets. Also, our ideas are disseminated mostly through radio broadcasts. We are on a multitude of radio programs every week. We also recruit and train writers in conservative values and how to disseminate these to the media so we can impact as many people as possible. With minimal resources, we can see daily that we have an impact on the national debate. Our next project is to establish a youth program whereby we will recruit top students from around America, including blacks, Hispanics, females and other minorities, so we can train them in conservative values as future leaders within their respective communities.

MR. FARACI: In the last mid-term elections, the GOP managed to get a record 60% of the white vote, while performing relatively poorly among ethnic minorities. What risks do you see in a political polarization according to racial lines, with the Republican Party focusing on white voters and the Democratic Party on minority voters?

DR. GRACE: There is a very grave risk for America that as the nation’s demographics change, the conservative movement will dwindle to the point that only very few citizens will uphold conservative values and vote for conservative candidates. The nation’s demographics are changing dramatically: both the Hispanic and Asian population in America is increasing at an astronomical rate. By contrast, both white and black Americans are diminishing as a portion of the total population. Therefore, unless conservatives wake up to the reality that all voters—blacks, Hispanics and Asians—must be vigorously courted, in the long run, traditional values and the conservative movement itself will simply dwindle to insignificance. The Democratic Party has understood the changing demographics in America better than the Republican Party. In order to be competitive in the future, Republicans must do a much better job of teaching conservative values to minorities and to women, and integrating them in the movement. There is no alternative to this.

MR. FARACI: How can conservatives send the message of being a truly inclusive movement? What are the current limits of the conservative movement in addressing minorities? What strategies can be enacted to improve the penetration of the conservative message among non-whites?

DR. GRACE: The conservative movement is gradually awakening to the realities of America’s changing demographics. For example, political figures like former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann are demonstrating how women can uphold conservative values, thus serving as a model for other women to adopt these. The same is happening with the Hispanic population: Hispanic leaders like Marco Rubio, recently elected to the Senate and Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuno, show other Hispanics how valuable these conservative ideas are to the Hispanic community. In addition, among blacks, the 2010 midterm election resulted in the election of two black conservative congressmen, Tim Scott and Col. Allen West. Both these men made national headlines, and are paving the way for more black conservatives to enter politics.

What we have seen recently is that one of the most effective ways to reach out to minorities is to create conservative minority leaders: when Hispanics, blacks or women see others who share their gender or ethnicity, touting conservative values, suddenly, the values get a better reception in those constituencies. The most effective outreach strategy is proving to be conservative minority leaders talking to fellow minority groups. Hence, the key is to ensure that both in the short term and the long term, there are efforts to educate the youth, of all ethnic and racial groups, to uphold conservative values and then these individuals must go into their respective communities and educate those who share their background. Minorities must lead minorities into the future. This is really very simple—and yet, extremely effective.

MR. FARACI: I see that you consider traditional values, such as religion and the family, as important tools to integrate minorities in the conservative movement. What are your thoughts on this?

DR. GRACE: The most misunderstood fact in American politics today is that minorities hold liberal values. When it comes to social issues like abortion, gay marriage and love of the traditional family, minorities are very conservative. There is a vibrant black Christian community in America and there are very active Hispanic Catholic and Hispanic evangelical communities. All of these are deeply devoted to the family, uphold faith, are patriotic and aspire to lead very conventional lives. In other words, they reject the radical liberal agenda.

Yet, minorities vote for liberal candidates because they are mostly bamboozled into believing that economic liberalism—or big government—is in their interest. Instead, these policies only leave their communities dependent and stagnant—with a corrosion of their social values to boot because they are not voting according to their social convictions, but only according to their misguided sense of what is in their economic self-interest. Conservatives must do a much better job inspiring minorities to vote according to the social values they uphold in their private lives.

MR. FARACI: While the GOP has been able to make some gains in attracting Hispanic and Asian support, blacks still overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party. Why is the black vote different and how can conservatives and Republicans break through?

Blacks have told me repeatedly that they simply do not feel welcome by the Republicans or within the conservative movement. That is the number one complaint I have heard time and again since I founded the Edmund Burke Institute six years ago precisely to deal with this problem that conservatives have with minorities. Democrats, on the other hand, do a much better job of grasping black culture and tailoring their message in a manner that the black community finds appealing.

Conservatives need to learn to specifically address black issues, mix more with the black population on the campaign trail, take up their causes and concerns on a regular basis and in a more straightforward and open manner. In other words, conservatives hardly ever champion black causes, whereas liberal politicians always do. For example, conservatives believe in being tough on crime, yet rarely find a way to tailor this message to the specific needs of some black communities where the crime rate is very high. Why this avoidance of key issues in black communities? This has sent a message to black voters in America that conservatives do not care about them at all.

Sadly, what has happened is that because blacks vote overwhelmingly for Democrats—upwards of 90% of the black population does so in every election—the result is that Democrats end up taking this vote for granted and Republicans stop competing for it because they think it is hopeless. Hence, the black community ends up getting little practical attention once the campaign is over. A better strategy for blacks is to learn to leverage their vote between the two parties so they can extract policies that serve their communities best. Hispanics, for example, are much more crafty at leveraging their vote between the two parties, hence extracting many concessions, especially in “swing states” where their vote makes the difference between success and defeat.

One of the most hopeful signs that things can change, though, is when black conservatives are seen debating liberals in national platforms. When Rep. Allen West, Rep. Tim Scott or the recent presidential candidate Herman Cain uphold conservative ideas in national debates, other black people begin to wonder whether voting whole-hog for the Democrat Party all the time is really in their best interest.

MR. FARACI: When targeting the Hispanic vote the Republican Party often tends to stress compassionate conservatism and to put aside their fiscal conservative agenda. Do you think that conservatives really need to renounce some of their tenets in order to win minority votes, or is it possible to appeal to Hispanics and other minorities on a free-market, limited-government platform?

DR. GRACE:The biggest mistake conservatives made in the Bush years was to adopt “compassionate conservatism.” This policy served mostly to demoralize the conservative base and did little to attract minorities. In addition, the right wing must not try to be more like the left wing to attract minorities, as minorities understand the milk-toast version of leftism versus the more ardent and self-confident version touted by the Democratic Party.

Since the end of the Bush presidency, a grass roots movement in America, known as The Tea Party, has forced conservative leaders to uphold their values without apology or fear. The conservative base is now being re-energized as it returns to its core convictions. This new-found self-confidence will be more alluring to attract minority voters. Ronald Reagan, for example, stood solidly for conservative values and won over many Hispanics to conservatism. George Bush’s approach was a form of short-term pandering that caused more disarray within the conservative movement than leading to long-term growth of a committed and diverse electoral bloc—as seen by the fact that Hispanics swung to Obama in the 2008 election, despite all of Bush’s pandering to them.

In addition, as more Hispanics and blacks form small businesses, enter the middle and upper-middle class and become affluent, the free-market message appeals to them. The only way forward for conservatives is to stand our ground on all our values and to educate all groups about how these serve everyone's self-interest. In time, this self-confidence and clarity is more appealing to all voters than cheap strategies like “compassionate conservatism” that sell out our core convictions.

MR. FARACI: What are your thoughts on immigration and laws for citizenship? Do you favor freer immigration or do you support restrictions? Do you think that the path towards obtaining US citizenship should be made easier or more difficult? Do you believe in selective immigration and what would your criteria be to filter it?

DR. GRACE: The immigration situation in America is one giant mess that requires a complete overhaul. Immigration is generally a very healthy and productive aspect of a nation’s development. It is in America’s self-interest, both economically and culturally, to welcome immigrants to this beautiful and remarkable nation. Yet, immigration has to be completely overhauled so that immigration serves the self-interest of America first and foremost, rather than that Americans are made to feel that they are required to serve the interests of the poor all around the world.

America must determine what kind of immigrants it needs for its economy to thrive—and tailor its immigration policies according to those simple criteria. In addition, there must be a more vigorous crackdown on all who break immigration laws—this includes corporations or individuals who hire illegal immigrants, students who overstay their visas, and the illegal immigrants themselves.

The problem in America today is not that we are unable to police our borders: we did so very effectively for over one hundred and fifty years. The problem is that we no longer have enough national pride and self-confidence to create an America First immigration policy and to stick to it. Instead, too many are exploiting the cheap labor that is presented illegally and too many are buying into the argument of false compassion that states that America must be kind to all who enter here illegally. In other words, in varying degrees, there are too many sectors of the public who are in collusion with the law-breaking that is committed by illegal immigrants. And the laws that exist to stop this are applied unevenly, leading to charges of going soft on corporations and hard on the illegals. All these inconsistencies are causing havoc—leading only to emboldening those who want to come illegally.

Sadly, the American political class is in paralysis on this issue as they are on many others, leaving the situation largely unaddressed. There is a failure of will in this country, rather than not knowing what the solution is.

MR. FARACI: Do you think that the same principles for the inclusion of minorities in the political right that apply in America can also apply to Europe? Italy is facing a massive tide of immigration for the first time in its history and is largely unprepared to confront this new phenomenon. You also need to consider that much immigration to Italy is from Muslim countries of northern Africa, and this implies a strong cultural gap. What advice would you give to the Italian political right to cope with immigration wisely?

I am of Italian descent; both my parents were immigrants to Canada from Italy. I can tell you that it pained me greatly, in my last visit to Italy, to notice how badly Italians are handling the immigration situation. The Italian people are losing their nation—in much the same manner as Americans are losing their nation. The Italians must create an Italia First immigration policy: immigrants are permitted to enter only on the basis of the needs of the Italian economy. And then Italians must vigorously shut out or deport all those who break the rules. The Italian people must understand that this is not a form of cruelty, but an essential part of being good and kind to its own citizens who have a right to live in a law-abiding, orderly nation.

There is nothing wrong with national or ethnic pride. Italians must understand that in order to protect the beauty of their culture, society and the effectiveness for their economy, they must restore order to the flow of immigrants. I think the key argument to make is to tell Italians that immigrants must be treated no differently than guests that are invited into a home. Every Italian is very judicious in choosing who enters their home, of which they are generally very proud; why is there little judgment and structure as to which individuals can enter the nation? If this problem is not rectified with vigor and self-confidence, all will suffer in the long-term, both Italian citizens and new immigrants, because a once prosperous and ordered nation will become increasingly disordered and impoverished in the growing confusion.

Italians, like Americans, must learn to ignore the politically-correct radicals, who want to destroy nations by mixing immigrants indiscriminately and diluting national cohesion. Instead, both Italians and Americans must not be ashamed to protect their borders, their culture and their national identity. Both Italy and America became first-world nations because they had policies that served and protected their national interest, rather than catering to an international, experimental agenda. Both nations must return to the common-sense policies of our forefathers who were not embarrassed to be patriotic.

-Marco Faraci, an Italian columnist and essayist, is a regular contributor to Libertiamo. The interview with Dr. Grace was published in Italian in Libertiamo on August 2, 2011:


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