The Republican Party yesterday called on an unlikely pair for advice on how to save the party: a Democratic intellectual and an outspoken civil rights leader.
It is doubtful that the party will adopt much of the soft-sell advice it received from ethnic expert Michael Novak or the hard sell, evangelistic message it got from NAACP president Benjamin Hooks.
But the mere fact they were invited to give key speeches to the semiannual meeting of the Republication National Committee here was remarkable in itself.
Hooks, head of the nation's oldest and most prestigious civil rights group, told the gathering: "You can not win black votes unless you are prepared to take black people and their interests seriously . . . The Republican Party will have to change its rhetoric and then match its enlightened speech with concrete performance."
He recommended the GOP adopt a black agenda that included passage of the Democratic-initiated Humphrey-Hawkins employment bill, endorsement of the Equal Rights Amendment, freedom for the Wilmington 10, revision of the tax structure to help poor people and endorsement of affirmative action programs.
"It is your responsiveness to these issues that will determine whether the Republican Party is serious about black equality, and serious about winning support from black voters," he added.
It was the second time in a year that the party has broken with tradition and called on a major civil rights leader to offer a key address to its leadership. Last January the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the spellbinding oratoi and disciple of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, and president of Operation PUSH, spoke to the group.
Hooks' recommendations ran directly against the conservative drift of the party membership, and the opportunity many party leaders see to make inroads among middle-class voters as a result of the "taxpayer revolt" spurrred by the adoption of Proposition 13 in California.
"We feel there must be a better way of 'roasting the pig' than burning down the barn." Hooks said of Proposition 13, which rolled back property taxes. "We invite Republican participation in stemming the national trend to reduce taxes for one class of citizens under the canopy of forcing cuts in welfare, and depriving another class of citizens of basic necessities."
Hooks spoke at the final session of a three-day urban GOP conference which included visits to Detroit hospitals, schools, police stations and drug treatment programs. National Chairman Bill Brock said he had invited the civil rights leader because "the NAACP is saying some important things on jobs, youth employment and urban problems that fits in with what we're trying to do."
Earlier, Novak, a professor at Syracuse University and a registered Democrat, praised Brock for his efforts to open up the party.
He recommended that the GOP redouble is efforts to attract voters from ethnic groups by espousing traditional Republican themes of individualism, but also acknowledging that such traditionally Democratic-backed institutions as labor unions, and Democratic programs like those under the New Deal, have benefited these groups.
It is, however, debatable how much real change is occurring in the party. Several party leaders interviewed after Hooksy speech said it would be a mistake for Republicans to adopt the NAACP leader's recommedations or "try to out-Democrat the Democrats."
"It's helpful for some of these people to hear this sort of thing, but minority involvement in the party is only going to come when candidates start coming to us from minority areas," one influential state chairman said.