Even though the election ended a few weeks ago, the Republican party is still feeling the sting of losing the election and are reviewing the reasons why the election did not turn out the way we predicted. I've sat and read many articles that attempted to explain our party's loss and identify the problems of the GOP. It seems to me that there is a general consensus that the GOP party and Mitt Romney's campaign failed to seriously take the current and future demographic make up of our country. Our country's make up has rapidly changed and will do so in the foreseeable future. As a result of these huge demographic change, there will be a change in how people view the government and its responsibility to the citizens.
The pundits, columnists, political advisors seem to all agree that our party needs reach out to important voting groups such as women, Asian Americans, Latinos, African-Americans or young people. However, there is one demographic that the GOP doesn't even make an attempt to reach out to that Democrats consistently do and they win by large margins.
Its people with disabilities.
According to some estimates, there are approximately 54 million Americans with some kind of disability. What's so important about this group is that it can be found across every level of society and affects people of every age, race, occupation, education or economic situation. This means that approximately 1 in 5 U.S. residents, or 19 percent of America, fall into this group. The democrats are very aware of this segment of society and that's why they overwhelmingly win this voting demographic at the ballot box.
But the size of this group isn't limited to just those who have some form of disability. If you include the individuals, single parents, families, educators, law enforcement, the judicial system and businesses who deal with disabilities on a personal and daily basis, you have a large voting bloc. They join in on the concerns and issues that this demographic group is concerned about. Think about it. We all know someone who has some form of a disability whether it be severe or mild and we know the challenges they face. They are deeply concerned about promoting their interests and protecting their rights.
If the Republican party can reach out to this group and articulate how conservative principles will improve the lives of people with disability, it will dramatically change how people, especially minorities, view the Republican party. People will be more receptive to the conservative message and view the GOP in a more positive light if they could see the tangible impact on the lives of the disabled. They will know that if it works for them, it will work others as well.
In volunteering or working for various political candidates, I have suggested that we reach out to Deaf people as well as people with other disabilities. Nobody takes my suggestion seriously. But then again, the Republican Party and consevatives don't fully understand why they need to.
Conservatism is a universal yet unique message. Our principles and values apply to everyone regardless of who they are or what groups they belong to because our policies allow the greatest number of people to be successful in society. That is made possible because we believe that paths to success are as infinite and unique as the people who dare to dream to do what they aspire to do.
Conservatism is a liberating, empowering and powerful message because the individual, can expand or push beyond the limitations that their bodies, circumstances, or background places upon them. It is a free thinking and open minded belief that encourages people to be their best selves and to constantly reach for new vistas of excellence. It allows people to reach their fullest potential by using their intellect and creative powers to solve problems that benefit themselves and others, to create products and services and to make beautiful paintings, art, books, film and clothing.
However, in the conservative world view, the individual isn't an island unto himself. There are times when the individuals rely on othera who freely and voluntarily pool their talents, resources and finances to individuals in need. Families, churches as well as educational and medical organizations are the best venues to help disabled people reach their full potential.
The final point to the conservative message is that we do believe in a limited government. This concept is a message that needs to be better articulated to the public because non-conservatives understand this idea in theory but not in practice. What this means is that government is given specific duties as well as limited responsibilities and powers. In practice, that means that government can be the solution to some problems that are too large for individuals to fix and that provide fairness and equality to everyone.
This is why we need to better explain this message to the various groups. The major, and common, concerns of these different minority groups is their concern about widespread discrimination both in the past, present and future as well as the inability to integrate into American society.
However, Republicans were once fully aware of these concerns and addressed it. After all, Republicans were the ones who got the post civil war Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution passed. It was the Republicans who passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Reconstruction Act of 1867 and other civil rights laws in 1875, 1890, 1922, 1935, 1938 as well as the anti-poll tax bills in 1942, 1944, and 1946. The Republican party also passed Civil Rights laws of 1957, 1964 and 1965.
When it comes to helping people with disabilities, it was a Republican President named Abraham Lincoln who established the Galludet University which is a college for Deaf people.
It was a Republican President, George H. W. Bush, who signed the Americans With Disability Act (ADA). The law is not perfect but as a conservative lawyer who engages in disability discrimination litigation in a deeply Republican state populated by a majority of people who share my faith, I can tell you that this law and other anti-discrimination laws that help people with disabilities is the kind of limited government solutions to big problems that real conservatives endorse.
If the GOP wants to be successful in upcoming elections, they have to clearly articulate and demonstrate that our policies and agendas allow the greatest number of people benefit in a country with different ethnic, racial, social, religious, economic and physical backgrounds. We believe that the free market is the best way for all walks of life to become successful. We also believe that the government can help those who sincerely need it. We do not believe that government should be helping everyone regardless if they need it or not.
When conservatives talk about limited government, conservatives can demonstrate what they mean by that phrase. The disability community relies on government for assistance, legislation and public funded programs and they are justified in doing so. They don't seek a government handout. These programs help people who truly need it to in order to be independent, to obtain medical assistance they cannot afford, or to become active participants in society.
Conservatives should tread very carefully when talking about people who receive government assistance because their are certainly those who abuse the system and there are those who truly need it. Libertarians and Conservatives have been careless and not very articulate when talking about Americans who receive public assistance of some kind. There are those, such as John Stossel, who have openly opposed anti discrimination laws such as the ADA. They fail to realize that they're alienating people rather than attracting people to their political views when they make stupid comments about individuals with disabilities.
I don't oppose people criticizing the ADA since there are valid objections to be made. However, what these critics fail to realize that for people with disabilities, life in the absence of these laws, was not that great. Thanks to these laws, it helps to combat discrimination, allow disabled people to be employed with businesses supplying reasonable accommodations for them and having the technology to become more integrated into our society. Disabled people didn't have these kinds of protections back then.
As a result, the Republican party and conservatives need to do better at making their case to the American people when it come to the discussion of the entitlement society and the people who rely on some form of government assistance. We need to make the distinction clear to the American people that we oppose those who who abuse the system and support government support for those who truly need it.We need to set up policies that understands this distinction and addresses these problems.
I know that reaching out to people with disabilities is a winning message. I've seen it. When Sarah Palin talked about her commitment to help people with disabilities and to make it a priority as Vice President in her 2008 GOP convention speech, she got conservatives Moms and Dads excited and teary eyed. But if Sarah Palin and others want to reach out to the Disability community, they're going to have to mean it since many the GOP rarely follow through with talk of including them in our party or government policies.
The conservative philosophy for individuals with disability works. I know because I am an example of it. I have worked hard to overcome discrimination and other obstacles to become one of the handful of Deaf attorneys in the United States. I have received assistance from the government not as a hand out but as a stepping stone to achieving my dreams of becoming an attorney.
If the GOP wants to become successful, they need stop playing safe in promoting our message but go out and share that message in places we normally don't share it:
What I am talking about is taking the conservative message, a message that stands to benefit everyone in society, to places the GOP often ignores--local African-American and Hispanic church groups, feminist centers, and left-leaning college campuses, to name a few.Will your message face resistance? Yes, and that's okay. It gives you a chance to correct false, media-driven stereotypes about conservatives and conservatism. Will you convert the majority in one afternoon? Of course not; these stereotypes have been inculcated over decades. Opening hearts and minds is a process, not a lunch appointment.
If the GOP is serious in winning elections in the future, they're going have to get serious about promoting that message. We don't need to change our core values, principles or beliefs. We already have a wining message. We just need to do better in reaching out to those people and helping them understand that conservatives believe that government needs to get out of the way of those who don't need government and to get invovled with those who do need it.