Up Front

Dialogue: Republicans and race

Is the GOP making an effort at inclusiveness, or is the new RNC chair just a token?

DANA GOLDSTEIN: On Jan. 30, Maryland's former lieutenant governor, Michael Steele, was elected the first African American chair of the Republican National Committee. The competition really brought out the crazy in the GOP. But it's great to see that Steele's victory annoys all the right people—namely the far right.

ADAM SERWER: Yeah, the Southern Poverty Law Center has been documenting the reaction from groups like the Council of Conservative Citizens, and they're apoplectic. Steele isolates the unapologetic racists from the party, which basically means they have no home in the mainstream.
That said, the choice was really predictable. I assumed Steele would win from the beginning, because the Republicans are basically desperate to prove they're not a whites-only party.

DANA: One thing I'm concerned about, though, is that this doesn't really move the GOP to the center on immigration. Maybe anti-Latino bias will become the last refuge of the party's nativists. Bush and Rove made a heroic effort to change minds within the conservative coalition. But I think they've failed, and I don't see any more bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform.

ADAM: Well, Steele has previously sounded moderate on immigration, but as RNC chair, he'll have to toe the party line. And since the GOP is taking policy advice from Joe the Plumber, its thoughts on immigration policy aren't likely to become any more thoughtful. That said, the core of conservative nativism is the fear that immigrants will, in the words of Bill O'Reilly, destroy the "white male power structure," so they probably aren't feeling so welcome in Steele's party, either. But for every Pat Buchanan there's an Ezola B. Foster, so Steele might just decide there's room in the party for the nativist wing.

DANA: The Republicans are really in copy-cat mode. First Hillary Clinton begat Sarah Palin in the primary. Then Barack Obama begat Michael Steele.

ADAM: I think my favorite comment on Steele came from Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell on The Rachel Maddow Show. She said, "I think what this pick shows is they are thinking Barack Obama is Superman. So what they needed to do was to get kryptonite. Kryptonite comes from Superman's own planet. So they went to 'planet black guy.'"
Obviously I welcome any and all references to Superman.

DANA: Some conservative bloggers were angry that not every national paper put Steele's election on the front page. But when his success is so clearly a reaction to Obama—not a grass-roots drive among Republicans to change the face of their party or reconsider their positions on race—it's no wonder.

ADAM: Well, you also have to understand the motivation. Republicans aren't so committed to changing the way they deal with race as they are committed to proving that they aren't racist. When the media didn't shout Steele's win from the rooftops, it deprived Republicans of some immediate gratification.
But hey, maybe they have a point. It's totally unfair. I mean, what's so great about Obama? All he did was get elected president.

The Question: On which world leader will the GOP model its comeback?

"Presley, circa 1970; the sequined jumpsuits and photo ops with J. Edgar Hoover will at least help them hold onto their base"

-- Eric Alterman, The Nation

"Wizard of Oz, who can conjure up all the things the Republicans need—a brain, a heart, and some courage."

-- David Halperin, former speechwriter for Bill Clinton

"By all appearances, they're closely following the strategy of Hitler in his bunker, circa April 30, 1945."

-- Brian Cook, In These Times

Parody, by T.A. Frank

Memo

TO: House and Senate GOP Caucus
FROM: Republican National Committee Strategy Group

Senators and House members, we appreciate all your suggestions for talking points that GOP leaders ought to be promoting in response to upcoming Democratic legislation. As we retool our party's core message, we've gone through your ideas. Here's some guidance and feedback on your submissions so far:

Stressing the benefits of tax cuts over spending
EXCELLENT: "We need to cut [business/payroll/corporate/sales/inheritance/alternative-minimum/real-estate] taxes—forever and ever and ever."
FAIR: "Americans have irritable financial bowels, and they expect fast-acting, soothing tax relief."
LESS EFFECTIVE: "High-net-worth Americans are getting really sad. Tax cuts could fix that."

Stressing the wedge issues
EXCELLENT: "We don't need to be spending $4 trillion teaching 5-year-olds how to put condoms on babies."
FAIR: "This bill is a fiscal Christmas tree for just the sort of secularists who hate Christmas."
LESS EFFECTIVE: "This spending bill is really gay."

Stressing the danger of big government
EXCELLENT: "This is a giant package of government-run, big-government spending on government jobs to make bigger government."
FAIR: "This bill is socialist and possibly Stalinist, stealing hard-earned dollars out of taxpayer pockets and leading to the deaths of tens of millions."
LESS EFFECTIVE: "This bill grows government even more than we did under Bush."

Stressing the danger of spending
EXCELLENT: "We want a health-care bill, but Democrats want a spending bill."
FAIR: "Spending is bad. Say, did we float our idea about cutting taxes?"
LESS EFFECTIVE: "You want spending. We want stimulus. Let's go find some hookers."

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