Libertarian radio host Larry Elder has a message for the GOP: If the party has any hope of attracting a significant percentage of the black vote, it must speak to that community honestly — and as adults.
“Stop talking to blacks like they are children to whom the truth cannot be told,” Elder told The Daily Caller in an interview about his new book, “Dear Father, Dear Son: Two Lives … Eight Hours.”
“Racism is no longer a major issue in this country. Racism is no longer a major issue in this country. Racism is no longer a major issue in this country,” he wrote in an email. “That Democrats have convinced blacks otherwise, is an affront.”
Elder argues that the greatest threat to the black community is not racism, but the scourge of absentee fathers.
“To avoid poverty, UCLA public policy professor James Q. Wilson said that everyone — not just blacks — must do three things: finish high school, don’t become a parent until at least the age of twenty, and get married before having a child. Do this and you will not be poor,” Elder said.
“I once asked Kweisi Mfume, then the head of the NAACP the following question: ‘As between the presence of white racism and the absence of black fathers, which poses the bigger threat to the black community.’ He immediately responded, ‘The absence of black fathers.’ Screaming about racism won’t solve this problem.”
“And if every white person, as my friend Walter Williams likes to say, suddenly became as pure as Mother Teresa, the problem of a 50 percent urban high school drop out rate would remain,” he added.
Elder went on to say that the GOP has to explain that the policies advocated by Democrats actually hurt the black community.
“Republicans need to explain how the welfare state has undermined the formation of traditional two-parent families,” he said, “that the Democratic Party’s allegiance to teachers unions means urban parents are forced to send their children to schools the parents don’t like; that policies like minimum wage hikes destroy jobs for the unskilled; and admitting students under ‘race-based preferences’ means a higher drop-out rate for the ‘affirmative action student’; that raising taxes on the rich threatens the prosperity of all.”
Elder’s book strays from politics to discuss a very personal story about how he and his late father made amends after years of tension between the two.
He spoke at length with TheDC about his book, his thoughts on November’s presidential election, and what the GOP needs to do to be competitive in 2016.
Why did you decide to write the book?
When I talked about my father’s life on my radio show, people would call and tell me how inspirational they found his life, and that I should share his story with others. Dad was a janitor who worked two full time jobs as a janitor, cooked for a family on the weekends, and went to school a couple of nights a weeks to get his GED.
How was your relationship with your father growing up?
Awful. My brothers and I thought he was an ogre — hard, ill-tempered, and we thought the spankings were harder than necessary. But dad was from what Tom Brokaw calls “the greatest generation.” Dad was a Montford Point Marine, the first black Marines. The man was anything but touchy and feely. The fact that he got so little sleep — and that constant lack of sleep makes anyone one cranky — was lost on my brothers and me as kids.
What spurred the 8-hour conversation that the book centers around?
When I finished law school, I took a job in Cleveland, where I became friends with my uncle (one of my mother’s brothers). Turns out, he knew my dad before my dad met my mom. And my uncle actually roomed with my dad for nearly a year. I never met any friend, relative or person who knew my father. He is an only child, and no relative of his ever visited us or even called him on the phone. It was fascinating to hear stories about my dad’s life.
When I told my uncle the bad feelings I had toward my dad, my uncle was shocked. “That’s not the man I knew,” he insisted. “The man I know,” my uncle says, “was fun, hard working, honest and respected. Either he has changed,” my uncle said, “or, more likely, you have misread him.” This got me thinking that at least I should tell my dad how I felt about him — not that we could ever have a real relationship, but at least he’d know why I couldn’t stand him. Maybe, I thought, there is some value in that. So I decided to at least tell the s.o.b. how I felt about him.
How did it change your relationship with your father?
Well, my dad and I had a “fight” when I was fifteen — and we did not speak to each other for ten years. I say “fight” because I did not have the guts to sit down with him mano a mano and tell him how I felt.
Dad, at 47, finally realized a life long ambition. He started a little cafe with pennies he managed to save while working as a janitor. So now, I’m working for him. If you can imagine how difficult it was to co-exist with him at home, imagine working for this hot-tempered man in a place as stressful as a busy little restaurant. He would bark at me, yell if things went wrong. So I told myself if he spoke to me that way again, I was walking out. One day, I did, leaving him to fend for himself in a busy place full of customers. He was furious! Dad and I did not speak to each other for ten years.
When we finally spoke, ten years later, he told me for the first time about his life. Who knew that the name Elder was not the name of his biological father — a man he never met? Who knew that my dad’s mom threw him out of the house at age 13 — and that my dad never returned home? And we’re talking about a black man, Jim Crow south, during the Great Depression when fifty percent of black adults were out of work.
Your father died in 2011. Did he know you were writing the book? What would he have thought of it?
He died shortly after I finished the book. He constantly said, “I don’t know why anyone would care about my little life.”
What do you want readers to take away from the book?
A few things.
Remember, but for my meeting my uncle, I don’t know that I ever would have sat down with my dad. I don’t want others to wait for a chance encounter to get them to reach out to their dads — if you are lucky enough to have one still around — and tell him how you feel.
If you had a bad relationship or a non-existent one — you can at the very least clarify your position. It’s also possible, as was the case with my dad and me, that you’ve misunderstood him, misread him, and feared him to the point of conjuring up all images of him, as I did with my dad, that are completely inconsistent with the and man and father he really is.
If anyone had a reason to become a criminal or to become vindictive and hateful toward society, the country, the world, it’s my dad. But he told my two brothers and me: that hard work wins, you get out of life what you put into it, and no matter how hard you work, bad things will still happen. How you react to those bad things, he would say, will tell “whether or not me and your mother raised a man.”
Nearly 70 percent of black children, 50 percent of Hispanic children and 25 percent of whites are today born outside of wedlock. True, studies show a strong correlation with lack of fathers and crime, high school drop outs, unwed motherhood and fatherhood, drug abuse and welfare. But not having a father in the home is not a death sentence.
Dad says no matter the cards you are dealt, you have an obligation to play them to the best of your ability. If you work hard and people see you trying and struggling, people will help. People help people who try and help themselves. And you can be “raised by apes like Tarzan” and you should know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, and the value of hard work. What, he would say, are the options?
Let’s talk politics a bit. What did you make of the recent election results? Why do you think Mitt Romney lost?
Because voters believed that Obama inherited a “mess” from George W. Bush, and that Romney cared mostly about “the rich.” News bulletin: Americans want a welfare state. They just want someone else to pay for it.
What do you think Republicans have to do to become more competitive in 2016? Is there a candidate you would like to see run?
Republicans need to do a much better job at explaining how and why a growing federal government threatens prosperity. Apart from creating less opportunity for work and prosperity, the welfare state makes it tempting to under-spend on defense. This makes the country — and the world — less safe.
But this is an unfair fight. The media, academia and Hollywood are all aligned against Republicans. In ways big and small, subtle and not so subtle, this “arc of liberalism” — media, academia, Hollywood — tells us that capitalism and free markets are cruel and unfair. Why, capitalism creates not just winners, but losers, too. How unfair is that? And capitalism, the “arc of liberalism” tells us, creates socially unjust “gaps” between the rich and the poor.
My Republican father used to say, “Democrats want to give people something for nothing. And when you try and get something for nothing, you usually get nothing for something.”
Republicans lost big among almost all minority groups, but most significantly among African-American voters. In fact, in recent history, the GOP has only generally won in the neighborhood of 10% of the black vote in presidential elections. What do you think they can do to attract more black voters?
Stop talking to blacks like they are children to whom the truth cannot be told. Racism is no longer a major issue in this country. Racism is no longer a major issue in this country. Racism is no longer a major issue in this country. That democrats have convinced blacks otherwise, is an affront.
To avoid poverty, UCLA public policy professor James Q. Wilson said that everyone — not just blacks — must do three things: finish high school, don’t become a parent until at least the age of twenty, and get married before having a child. Do this and you will not be poor.
I once asked Kweisi Mfume, then the head of the NAACP, the following question: “As between the presence of white racism and the absence of black fathers, which poses the bigger threat to the black community.” He immediately responded, “The absence of black fathers.” Screaming about racism won’t solve this problem.
And if every white person, as my friend Walter Williams likes to say, suddenly became as pure as Mother Teresa, the problem of a 50 percent urban high school drop out rate would remain.
Republicans need to explain how the welfare state has undermined the formation of traditional two-parent families; that the Democratic Party’s allegiance to teachers unions means urban parents are forced to send their children to schools the parents don’t like; that policies like minimum wage hikes destroy jobs for the unskilled; and admitting students under “race-based preferences” means a higher drop-out rate for the “affirmative action student”; that raising taxes on the rich threatens the prosperity of all; and that, as my dad used to say, “He’s never gotten a job from a poor person.”
What three books most influenced your worldview?
“Free to Choose” by Milton Friedman; “The Road to Serfdom” by F. A. Hayek; and “Up From Slavery” by Booker T. Washington.