July 17, 2009

GOP: Your "Witness" is Weak

On a sadly periodic and almost predictably routine basis, the GOP give me reason to question why I bother to call myself a republican, albeit a reluctant one. Perhaps its simply my way of being contrarian, to provoke a conversation in my one man crusade to talk sense to black folk.

I think conservative principles are better as an underlying ideology for policy making. The GOP however are a sorry set of representatives for those principles. Especially when it comes to the party's messaging to blacks. Party leadership and rank and file often posit the problem as one of communication, that the GOP message is just not getting properly received. I'm sorry, its more fundamental than that. The GOP , from rank and file to its leadership, seems increasingly, almost inexorably, drawn to political appeals crafted in a ways that are covertly and overtly hostile to blacks and other minorities.

Case in point, the recent election of Audra Shay as the head of the Young Republicans of America (which took place here in Indianapolis). Ms. Shay found her candidacy for the post embroiled in controversy after co-signing the racist comments of her face book friend Eric Piker, who referred to blacks in general as "coons". When some other folks in her FB circle called out Piker for the reference and her for co-signing it, she banished them from her friends list, but kept Piker and his racial epithets in her circle. Hours later, after booting the people who criticized the racist talk, Piker was still a friend and making comments on her wall about how he was a southern boy and if you were black, the sun better not set on you in a southern town.

A lot of folks are calling Shay a racist. I've argued many times that the term has become useless for political discourse as its been so carelessly overused. I'm prepared to eschew tagging Shay with the racist label. In fact, its more instructive if we don't. Because then the issue becomes more interesting to me, namely that I want to understand Ms. Shay's behavior. Lets take her explanation at face value, that she was responding to his earlier comment, not the coon thing. At some point though, she saw it. Why did it take other people pointing it out before she said anything? Why did she boot the people who called it out instead of the author? In short, if no one had said anything, she would have been cool with that conversation. Why is that? What made any of it okay? Thats what I want an explanation about. Thats the explanation I want to hear from a person who is now leadership for the young republicans nationwide. Why are GOP rank and file so oblivious and tone deaf to this sort of thing? This incident was not subtle nor nuanced and Shay could not manage the right response.

The other case in point that to me is indicative of the attitude towards blacks within a significant portion of the GOP's vocal and ascendant far right rank and file is the hot mess of despicable and derogatory commentary aimed at Malia Obama by posters at the blog Free Republic because she wore a shirt with a peace symbol on it during the trip to Russia. My fellow blogger in arms, Shay of Booker Rising took them to task "for calling the 11-year-old things like "a typical street whore" and "ghetto street trash" after she wore a peace sign T-shirt in Italy (they also said U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama was doing "monkey chants" when she had a fun moment with Malia)"

The Freepers are decrying the criticism as planted comments from liberals, but thats a joke and its really pathetic of them to make the claim. Free Republic, like Redstate, also practices banning people who don't share their point of view, a practice that would be defensible to the charge of cowardice but for the fact that both sites will ban you for the mildest of divergence from their particular brand of conservative orthodoxy as evidenced by the continuing string of Redstate refugees washing up on our shores here.

Another sign of the times in this regard is simply the quite casual way in which rank and file conservatives on the right will engage in commentary that is clearly rich with racially inflammatory language and feel as though its perfectly okay and justified I guess by the First Amendment and their general anger over the Obama administration's outrages. Here's an example from blogger and Twitter user Conservative Gal:

Pinkelephant_normal ConservativeGal
I received my stimulus package yesterday. It contained watermelon seeds, cornbread mix, & 10 coupons 2 KFC. The directions were in Spanish.
2 days ago from web

I responded to her about this tweet and said I thought it was foul and did not communicate goodwill and that got me hit with some name calling and plain old hostility, which is okay, this is the internet. But this sort of thing is again indicative of my broader point, that the GOP from rank and file on up, has not made a decision that blacks are a political constituency it is actually interested in having be a part of its coalition (or latinos for that matter). Conservative Gal's response to me when I said this was foul was hostility. She didn't stop and think about what she had said, whether or not it was cool, whether or not it would be considered racially offensive or inflammatory. Think of it in terms of the concept of Christian witness. If you're a Christian, you are expected to witness Christ with your life and behavior, such that people who observe you will be drawn to Christ because they see Christ's principles at work in your life. Well, likewise the GOP needs to consider its political witness. Would a person observing this behavior and rhetoric be drawn to your cause? This comment is a bad witness and worse, it was retweeted like mad all over the place.

Members of the GOP like Conservative Gal would do well to keep this idea of witness in mind. When leadership and rank and file GOP members use or cosign this kind of rhetoric so casually and attack people who call them on it, it communicates nothing but hostility and worse to blacks. I'm NOT saying Conservative Gal is a racist. She may have black friends (hell, even family), she may have nothing but wonderful interactions with blacks that she comes in contact with personally, I don't know. But this kind of comment she made is not funny. Its not helpful to the cause of political dialogue except among those who think this is funny. It does not help in winning the hearts and minds of blacks and latinos to the GOP and a comment like that causes blacks and latinos to wonder if the members of the GOP care if they come at all (much dap to her on her 8,000+ Twitter followers though, she rocks there).

The GOP's "witness" to blacks and latinos is consistently really poor (my examples above case in point), enough so that one can reasonably question whether or not they have any true interest in minorities as political constituencies at all.

UPDATE I: Routine and predictable, I swear. Weak GOP political witness in action. Republicans figure the way to win hearts and minds is to talk about the President's momma? To talk about a Supreme Court Justice's momma?

There is also a crappy little racial subtext assumption here that poor black women are just waiting for a government program that will finance killing their babies. Can we pick a stereotype for pete's sake. Either we are sexually promiscuous irresponsible baby killers, or welfare mother baby making economic leeches. This kind of stuff is simply continuing proof that the GOP has no real interest in blacks as a political constituency. Dollars to donuts, you won't hear a mumbling word from Michael Steele.

UPDATE II: Hat tip Electronic Village. Another conservative official has been busted sending racist e-mails. This time, the culprit is Atwater, CA Councilman Gary Frago, who sent at least half-a-dozen racist, anti-Obama e-mails to Atwater staff and community members:

Some compared Obama to O.J. Simpson while others suggested that “n[*****] rigs” should now be called “presidential solutions.”

Perhaps the most overboard e-mail was sent on Jan. 15. It read: “Breaking News Playboy just offered Sarah Palin $1 million to pose nude in the January issue. Michelle Obama got the same offer from National Geographic.”

Frago admitted sending the e-mails, but showed no regret. “If they’re from me, then I sent them,” he said. “I have no disrespect for the president or anybody, they weren’t meant in any bad way or harm.”

When given an opportunity to explain himself, Frago somehow managed to dig himself a deeper hole by saying: “I don’t see where there’s a story, I’m not the only one that does it. … I didn’t originate them, they came to me and I just passed them on.”