STEELE
Matt Houston  /  AP
Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele talks about the presidential election, during a gathering of Republicans in Annapolis, Md. in March.
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BET.com
updated 10/20/2004 5:35:22 PM ET 2004-10-20T21:35:22

Many people ask me how any African American can support President Bush. Short answer: He has done significantly more for African Americans than his challenger, Sen. John Kerry, ever did or has promised to do.

In the last stretch of this campaign, I believe African American voters must make some hard choices.  We can no longer afford to think of political leadership in a static way but must focus our attention on the quality of leadership, the freshness of ideas, the inevitability of change.  For far too long, African American voters have turned a blind eye to their own welfare. At some point, we have to stop and ask ourselves hard questions about the leaders we elect and the policies they promote.

Can't afford to be distracted
We can no longer afford to be distracted by the “D’s” and the “R’s” or by those who use fear to color our objectivity. We need to leverage our support in both parties so that we, as a community, can continue to move toward prosperity and economic empowerment, and create what I call “legacy wealth” for the next generation.

Look at where African Americans were 40 years ago and where we are today.  During the Civil Rights Movement, our struggle was about gaining access to the lunch counter. Today, our struggle is about owning that lunch counter. This president gets it.

President Bush has embraced the concerns of African-American voters and brought to our community the fruits of tax cuts, school reform and entrepreneurism. Our children are excelling in school, minority ownership of homes and businesses is accelerating, and we’re making strong gains in creating a legacy of wealth for future generations.

For the first time in nearly a generation, we are creating jobs in our neighborhoods and communities, as more and more small minority business owners have greater access to capital and credit. The Bush administration is lending a hand. The Small Business Administration reports that loans to African Americans are up by 75 percent from last year.

Access to loans is having another powerful effect in our communities under this president. For the first time ever, more than half of minority households own their own homes. To further minority homeownership, President Bush is spending $200 million so that 40,000 low-income families will have help purchasing their first home. The president recognizes that building wealth begins with ownership, and ownership is key to creating opportunities for yourself and your family.

"Soft bigotry of low expectations"
President Bush raised the bar in education by not tolerating the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, for the first time, makes schools accountable for the higher performance and progress of every student, and it’s making a real and measurable difference in our community.

Sen. Kerry accused President Bush of not funding education. The truth is, President Bush has spent more in three years on K-12 education than the previous administration did in eight years.

Sen. Kerry accused President Bush of reducing financial aid for college students. The fact is, President Bush has encouraged minority enrollment in higher education institutions and has increased student aid 55 percent to more than $73 billion, thereby making college more affordable for America’s low- and middle-income families. Moreover, President Bush has kept his promise to our historically Black colleges and universities and has increased funding to these institutions 30 percent from 2001 to 2005.

For some time, the Republican Party and African American voters have danced around each other --Republicans hiding behind the “Blacks will never vote for us” mentality and Blacks ignoring real solutions to very serious problems facing their families and communities, solely because those solutions have a “Republican” label. Call it what you want, but this president has made a positive difference in our community by not accepting the status quo.

Every once and a while I like to put on my rose-colored glasses and see the world as it should be. In this world, I see African Americans having a legitimate seat at both political tables. In this world, I see both political parties recognizing that their viability is inextricably intertwined with the African-American community and acting accordingly.

Now is an opportune time for both African Americans and Republicans to take hold of their political destinies and to come together in a new partnership. But, in order for such partnership to work, both must be prepared to listen to each other and at all times be open to possibilities.

Michael Steele, a close adviser to President George W. Bush, is the first-term lieutenant governor of Maryland and highest ranking elected state official in the nation. He was the keynote speaker at the Republican National conference in late summer.

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