With an audience of black children as a backdrop, Senator Rand Paul continued his effort to brand himself as the “outreach” Republican with a speech at a school in Chicago. His appearance was a maddening blend of everything right and wrong about Republican urban politics. While it is refreshing to find that someone in the GOP can actually find Chicago on a map, this effort continues to say more about the party’s problems than its promise. The party has a long road to travel before it can regain relevance in America’s economic powerhouses – her cities.
What was good about Paul’s visit? The fact that he showed up at all is exciting. As miserable a statement as it is, few Republicans ever show their faces in the country’s major urban areas. Paul is also showing a willingness to appear in front of minority audiences. That doesn’t sound like much and God knows it shouldn’t be, but precious few serious Republican figures can enter a room full of black people without hyperventilating. If nothing else, Paul is getting used to the experience.
Most promising of all was the message Paul chose as his centerpiece. When he went to Howard University last year he endeavored to lecture a room full of black grad students on America’s racial history. It was an unfortunate choice. In this Chicago visit he focused on the issue most likely to resonate with an urban minority audience – school choice.
For all that was right about this visit and Paul’s previous efforts, so much remains frustrating. The African American kids Paul addressed were little more than decoration. Paul was visiting a Catholic school in relatively affluent, majority-white Wicker Park on the north side. His visit was arranged and staged by a libertarian group. There was no listening, no question and answer, no engagement whatsoever.
This was outreach by photo-op. For all the good it did, he could have saved some time and money and done it by photo-shop instead. Rand Paul, Paul Ryan and the rest of the small cadre of Republicans who claim to care about outreach remain terminally convinced that expanding GOP appeal in urban areas means more energetically white-splaining their existing policy positions. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone that urban voters already understand their positions and do not like them – for some good reasons.
More to the point, they lack any shred of recognition that Americans in the cities have some ideas about politics that might benefit the Republican Party. For some reason, they are unwilling to actually listen to anything emerging from the regions of America that are growing the fastest and producing the overwhelming bulk of our wealth.
Senator Paul deserves some appreciation for coming to Chicago and sharing his ideas. Sadly, just having him visit represents progress for the Republican Party. Next time, perhaps he will consider staying an extra hour to listen.