The GOP's White Supremacy

Like a restricted country club that would rather die than change, the Republican Party is marginalizing itself for the sake of the white men who run it.
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When a 19 year-old white supremacist recently gained a seat on the Palm Beach County Republican Executive Committee, the election created such an outcry that embarrassed local politicians used a technicality to block his seating. The entire process was buffoonish, although the views of the spawn of a grand wizard of the KKK and his supporters were not. Events such as this, or the stunning success of David Duke in Louisiana in 1990, occur every few years within the GOP, a reminder of the party's racist faction. Even more standard for Republicans, especially in the year that saw Barack Obama's election, are the off-key comments about uppitiness, Senators whistling Dixie, and, most recently, a funny little party-endorsed mailer called "Barack the Magic Negro."

All of this stupidity, and hatred, is a symptom of the larger problem for the Republican Party: it is utterly unrepresentative of America in the 21st century. Its Congressional representation is nearly uniformly white, and overwhelmingly male. So much so, in fact, that there is not one single African-American GOP member of Congress (out of 219 or 220); nor, for that matter, are there any black GOP Governors (out of 22). There are just four Republican Latinos in Congress, all Florida Cuban-Americans; one of them, Senator Mel Martinez, has announced his retirement. He is the only non-white or Hispanic GOP Senator.

The current Republican party is so absurdly out of touch demographically (and, of course, politically) that the election of just one Asian-American Congressman in a fluke special election in New Orleans had the leadership gushing for days that the "future is Cao," a creepy play on the name of the new member of Congress. Left unsaid was that Ahn Cao's success came after the Democratic incumbent's corruption-related problems became too much for even this overwhelmingly Democratic district, and that the Republican is unlikely to survive electorally in a 2010 general election. Also left unsaid by the happily bewildered GOP leadership was the complete lack of support given to Cao by the national and state Republican parties. Cao, in fact, was one of the numerous sacrificial candidates, often women or people of color, whom the Republican party puts up in races that are impossible to win. It just happens that in this case the Asian guy won, and so "the future is Cao."

Of course, we know this is not the case. John McCain lost by a margin of 90% among African-Americans, and 2 to 1 among other ethnic and racial minority groups, and young people. The future hardly belongs to a party who is falling further and further behind among the fastest-growing demographic groups, and among those who will be voting for decades to come. Republicans' problems go well beyond their dreadful record of the past decade and their wrong-footed policies, although neither helps. As it shrinks, the GOP is becoming ever-whiter, more male, more Southern, more Christian-centric, and increasingly unable to appeal to voters, or potential candidates who do not fit its narrow mold. Besides the Cao novelty, the party's hopes seem to be resting on Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and on Sarah Palin, which says a lot about the GOP's difficulty in recruiting diverse talent, partly because of the party's stringent litmus tests on social issues. Toeing the line, Jindal and Palin are both religious extremists, one of whom veils his social views under the guise of business-like competence, the other behind her down-home manner. Both achieved a measure of success by being elected Governor, but neither is exactly presidential material: there is little more to say about Palin's inarticulate ignorance, but as for Jindal, his first order of the day in Louisiana was to go on an oil-money-fueled spending binge that has come back to haunt him after just a few months. So much for McKinsey-an efficiency and competence.

Even non-white members of George W. Bush's cabinet appear to have turned on the party: people like Colin Powell, who heartily endorsed Obama, or Condoleezza Rice, who seemed at her very happiest the day after Obama's victory. The last African-American GOP member of Congress, J.C. Watts, who retired in 2002, is equally as disillusioned, not to say anything of potential candidates such as Charles Barkley, a one-time Republican with aspirations to Alabama's governorship, who says the Republicans "lost their mind." And so the GOP trots out the same sad losers, Michael Steele of Maryland, and Ken Blackwell of Ohio, who have achieved little more than secondary elected office in their respective states, both losing in landslides when they sought a bigger job.

Conservatives have for years hidden behind a disdain for quotas, political correctness and diversity gone wild to explain away the everlasting supremacy of white men in the Republican Party. The subtext, of course, is that selection, and election, is based on competence, not gender, race or ethnicity. And that the most competent simply happen to be white men. Always. Unless they are Sarah Palin or Clarence Thomas, whose nomination would have been a joke were its consequences not so long-lasting (his latest achievement, besides a bitter, angry, hate-filled book was to refer to his colleagues at the Supreme Court a frivolous case about Obama's citizenship.)

Let's be thankful for one thing about Bush's presidency: the white male leadership of the Republican Party showed the world once and for all that its cronyism, corruption and discrimination completely outweighed any shred of competence. And that it can no longer count on white votes to carry its divisive, prejudiced agenda, both because there are proportionately fewer white voters, and because outside of the Deep South and Appalachia, white voters are increasingly disgusted by the Republican Party. GOP leaders, not all stupid, have seen this coming for some time now, as one predominantly white suburb after another has fallen to the Democrats. And so for years they have been hanging their hopes on the perceived social conservatism of African-American and, especially, Latino voters. The 2008 elections put the final nail in that coffin, as even with the specter of same-sex marriage, supposedly conservative non-white voters stayed away from the GOP in numbers larger than ever before despite the stock Republican gay-baiting. For those of them who did want to take a stand, in California, Florida and Arizona, for instance, they voted against same-sex marriage rights and for Democrats. This presents a challenge for progressive Democrats, certainly, but one that pales in comparison to what the fast-shrinking GOP faces. Another fiasco by Republicans this year was their latest attempt at swaying Jewish voters away from the Democratic party, especially in Florida, this time with accusations that Obama, among others, is weak on Israel, and hints that he was a Muslim. The result: just 1 in 5 Jewish voters picked McCain. Perhaps the fact that there are only three Republican Jews in Congress (versus 42 Democrats) should have been a hint that there was far more work to do there than simply brandishing the specter of Islam in the White House. And that the party's rush to out-Christian itself is probably unlikely to appeal to people who are, well, not Christian, including Jews, Muslims, and agnostics, to name a few.

To compound the problem, the Republican Party is threatened by a bubbling religious war pitting younger evangelicals and Catholics against their more socially stringent elders. If the GOP cannot hold on to the most religious of Americans because they are more concerned with social equality than with, say, sexuality, it is doomed. Young people in general turned on the Republican Party's candidate with repulsion this year, and he hardly represents the party's most socially conservative wing. McCain received just 32% of the vote among 18-29 year-olds. Considering that about one in two young people consider religion "very important," that leaves a big chunk of very religious young people who did not vote for the Republican candidate. And if they don't, who will?

It was all supposed to end very differently: the Republican Party's Southern strategy, which seemed to many so cynically brilliant as recently as the turn of this century, has backfired so badly that even parts of the South, such as Virginia and North Carolina, are now dominated by Democrats, and not the old-school segregation-era Democrats. These new Southern Democrats come in all colors and both genders and they range from the most socially progressive to others who would have felt quite at home in the more moderate Republican party of old. The failure of the GOP's Southern strategy is also in evidence in one often overlooked respect: the election of candidates by electorates of a different race or ethnicity. Obama is, of course, the most extremely visible example of this phenomenon, but there are others, including in the South. In Georgia, for instance, the 2nd district's Representative, Sanford Bishop, who is African-American, has been comfortably reelected several times despite redistricting that has given his constituency a slender white majority. The same goes for Mel Watt, one of the most progressive members of Congress, an African-American elected in a narrowly white majority district in North Carolina. Conversely, the Memphis area Congressman is white and represents a district that is nearly two-thirds black. In total, there are over two-dozen seats nationally that are represented by members who are in a racial or ethnic minority in their own constituency; half of these are African-Americans, many of them in the Midwest (Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Kansas City) and in California. This represents a sea change from just a decade ago, when it was considered far-fetched to believe that a black candidate could be elected from a district that was anything less than 60% African-American.

The 1992 redistricting piled up non-white voters into congressional districts dubbed "minority-majority," to increase non-white representation in Congress. Republicans eagerly embraced the new take on voting rights, as they felt it would make dozens of white-majority districts less competitive for Democrats. There was also much hand-wringing among Democrats for the same reason, and some even argued that there was no point in increasing non-white representation in Congress if it meant that the party would never again regain power. Obviously, things have turned out quite differently for the Democrats, whose Congressional majority is now as strong as it has been in decades, thanks in part to its robust diversity, and to a growing indifference to race and ethnicity.

It is no coincidence that at the same time, the GOP has shriveled into a more uniform party than at most times since the 1960s. Like a restricted country club that would rather die than change, the Republican Party is marginalizing itself for the sake of the white men who run it. "Barack The Magic Negro" and Palm Beach aryanists are just the more bizarre manifestations of a party that has wallowed for so long in the privileges of its white male supremacy that it does not even realize that everyone has left the plantation, and they are not coming back.

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