My boss at a major civil rights coalition once accused me of being willing to work for Republicans.
“You’re right,” I said, “I admire the party’s organization, messaging skills and internal discipline. Unfortunately, I don’t like its ethos.”
An ethos that can write off 47 percent of Americans; that divides us up as “takers and makers,” as if we’re not all both at one time or another. An ethos that fosters money over morals; or wants to impose a one-size- fits -all morality on everyone; that encourages our worse demons. An ethos that doesn’t recognize an infrastructure of schools and roads and electricity as integral to supporting our businesses.
Even though I’m a dyed in the wool Democrat, I want the GOP to get itself together and offer rational alternatives that appeal to all Americans. That’s all Americans, GOPers. I’ve seen what one-party states do in Africa, and while I don’t think that’s about to happen in the United States, a healthy competition of ideas about our future is important to me and to the nation.
In the last couple of days, I’ve listened to Republican pundits twist themselves into pretzels about why their candidate, Gov. Mitt Romney, lost. The most bizarre is the one where they didn’t really lose, but I won’t follow that one down the rabbit hole. Then there is one closer to the truth—they spent too much time running against President Obama, leveraging an unfortunate appeal to a segment of the population stuck in a racial and gender time warp, and dismissing whole swathes of Americans, rather than offering their take on a vision of the nation that would appeal to us all, young, old, rich, poor whatever our ethnic make-up.
Progressive pundits pointed to that demographic shift—especially, the increase in Latino voters—the women’s vote and the overwhelming youth vote. Few have pointed out that President Obama also presented a vision of all of us in it together. It’s that communion with fellow citizens, us all working together to make a better future for this nation that continues to appeal and inspire despite disappointments with the president.
This election was a tipping point when old Republican strategies, such as splitting voters over race ebbed into to the fringe to become, hopefully, by 2050, as archaic a position as that of Benjamin Franklin’s opposition to the swarthy “Palatine boors” –the German immigrants arriving in Pennsylvania in the mid-1700s.
I don’t think the Republicans loss can solely be attributable to it being a party of aging white men, either, as has been hinted at in the multi-culti talk following the election.
Attitude, yes, race, not so much. Obama may not have appealed to white men as much as to women and minorities, but he had to pick up enough white male voters to win re-election. I even know several white male Republicans who told me earlier this year that they were voting for Obama because their party wasn’t the party they’d joined as young men.
The issue isn’t simply white men. The first person to give me a full time job was a white man. He gave it to me we shared something in common: both his daughters and I had attended the same Catholic girls’ school. Early in my writing freelance career for a black magazine, a white editor told me that I wrote so well that I should demand better pay. I did and I got the money.
It’s not white men per se, but a particular attitude of some white men, perhaps too many white men—men who are frightened by a changing world, by white men in power who feel entitled to that power and a dwindling number of white men whose only asset is that they are white men, nothing more.
Will the GOP have to make a shift to appeal beyond this demographic?
No question. Much of this campaign season, it has seemed that Republicans were angry and annoyed. Is it fear of the demographic shift, the increasing number of minorities, the decline in white births? Was it the economy, the loss of good blue-collar jobs, the inability of those with only a high school education to get ahead, the loss of economic security of the middle classes? What? Republicans just seemed so worried and aggrieved.
I saw this emotion years ago when a woman colleague for a newspaper I once worked for, apparently alarmed at reports of the browning of America, said to me: “What’s going to happen to my two white sons?”
I was stunned by the question, but managed to get out: “Nothing. They’ll continue to be among the elite. They’re going to be well-educated with connections. They’re the new global elite who will be able to get jobs anywhere.”
I like much better what Frank Wu, author of Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White, answered to a similarly worried father. He said something like: “He’ll probably marry my daughter and we’ll both be grandfathers.”
On an accreditation visit to San Francisco State University, a school that even two decades ago was so diverse you couldn’t tell from watching the student body which racial/gender group dominated the campus, I talked with a group of white male students to see how they were faring in all the diversity.
Their answer: They were ignored and discriminated against. They said that professors called on women and minorities more often than on them; that they favored women and ethnic minorities over them. They all nodded in agreement.
I asked if they’d experienced this in high school and, no, they hadn’t. They were tops in their class, leaders, recognized, etc.
Had there been any minorities or women in those classes, I wondered. Yes, some. Had they been called on as frequently?
They were thoughtful, but they really couldn’t remember.
I reminded them that they’d come from small schools where they were accustomed to being noticed and now were at a university with thousands of other students. Perhaps, I suggested, what they were feeling was competition, not discrimination and they should enjoy the challenge.
I hope the GOP not only recognizes it’s facing a challenge, but rises to it.
Long before the current bitter divisiveness, our currency provided an answer to all the nation’s challenges: “Out of many, one.”
I personally look forward to a reinvigorated Republican Party, the big tent one that has been talked about for so long.