Can the Republican Party convince urban voters that it has better answers than the Democrats for revitalizing America's cities? There is no question but that the party and nominee Ronald Reagan, eager to broaden the Republican base, are going to try.
Though much of the attention on the GOP party platform here has focused on its conservative stance on abortion and the Equal Right Amendment, the Republican document also pledges the party to work toward the unprecedented goal of "full employment without inflation" and sets down a detailed five-point plan aimed at revitalizing neighborhoods and inner cities.
"It goes further in commitment and in its suggestions of more creative, innovative ways to encourage private enterprise to go into the cities than any platform I can recall," says Michigan Governor and GOP delegate William K. Milliken, who has repeatedly urged delegates and platform committee members at the convention to pay earnest attention to pressing city problems and their solutions. He told platform decisionmakers last week that both parties were guilty in 1976 of only paying "lip service" to the problems.He warned that "the bell will toll for this party if we ignore the cities."
The Michigan governor told the Monitor that he and Mr. Reagan discussed urban problems during the Republican candidate's ride in from the airport to Detroit for the convention.
"I believe he understands the problems very well," says Milliken "And I think there's a very good chance that he may be able in a very unique kind of way -- almost like Nixon was able to do in his approach to China -- to create a program of things that have not yet been tried before. I'm hopeful."
Reagan is expected to make a major policy statement on urban problems within the next few months, according to Richard Carver, head of the GOP candidate's urban task forcE. Mr. Carver says the message will stress the importance of a successful private sector in the urban renaissance effort and of less-burdensome government regulation and fewer strings attached to the spending of Washington money.
Just how successful Reagan is, however, in courting blacks, blue-collar workers, and other urban dwellers depends on whether traditional Democratic city voters will buy the idea that private enterprise, properly encouraged with the right government incentives -- rather than more federal money -- is the real key to the needed urban renaissance.
A number of Republicans argue that voter dissatisfaction with the Democrats' approach to city problems has already done the selling job for them.
"What has been tried for several decades is obviously not working," observes Peter B. Wilson, Mayor of San Diego and a delegate to the GOP convention. "It's an expensive patchwork effort centralized at the federal level . . . that clearly has failed. Raging inflation has intensified the problems and that has to be addressed by cutting domestic spending and by granting tax cuts of enough magnitude to stimulate investment and therefore jobs."
"Pouring more money on the problem simply doesn't work," agrees Carver, who, in addition to his urban job for Reagan, is Mayor of Peoria, Ill., and the immediate past president of the US Conference of Mayors. "You do the job by stabilizing the economy and providing an environment in which private enterprise can flourish."