June 27, 2011

Bachmann and Gingrich: Finally Cracking the Code That Will Let the GOP Communicate With Black Voters?

Presidential candidates Michelle Bachman and Newt Gingrich have both decided that they want to open a can of racial rhetorical whoop ass on President Obama.  Catch Bachmann's broadside at a speech in New Orleans:

 Bachmann has the opportunity to get off my crazy rightwinger list and make my crazy like a fox list. This is interesting and even groundbreaking if Bachmann makes the effort to define and refine this element of her message.  I'd have to hear more from her to know where she is coming from.  Is she trying to make the point that because Obama is black, blacks and latinos, his fellow minorities, should be doing better?  If that's her point, that will be a loser argument within conservative circles and it won't resonate with minorities at all. Note that her impassioned declaration that Obama had failed these minority communities and that she would focus on them did not raise any applause until she broadened the statement. 

If she is instead making the point that Obama's liberal policies don't work, are not working in minority communities, thats the winner argument.   If she wants to hit the homerun, she'll need to take it to the next level and spell out concretely HOW Obama's policies are not working for these communities (not difficult).  If she does that convincingly in front of black/latino audiences and does it effectively, she will become a breakout T-Party candidate with a real potential to peel critical percentages of the minority vote away from Obama.  

I've argued many times that the GOP and the conservative movement writ large consistently blow its opportunity to effectively communicate with blacks as a political constituency.  Bachmann has the chance to redeem this error.  The metaphorical phrase "Only Nixon could go to China" refers to the ability of a politician with an unassailable reputation among their supporters for representing and defending their values to take actions that would draw their criticism and even opposition if taken by someone without those credentials. Its possible that only Bachmann can take the T-Party message to black America and win with it. 

Gingrich has a facile but dangerous attack line; Obama is the food stamp president, Gingrich says, whereas he wants to be the paycheck president."Think of the social catastrophe of 41% of a community not being able to find a job. But we have to have the courage to walk into that neighborhood, to talk to that preacher, to visit that small business, to talk to that mother. And we have to have a convincing case that we actually know how to create jobs....I will bet you there is not a single precinct in this state in which the majority will pick for their children food stamps over paychecks,'

Deployed correctly, this has the makings of an effective attack, notwithstanding the fact that it undercuts itself a bit by playing off imagery of blacks as food stamp recipients.   Like Bachmann, Gingrich will have to take this to the next level and articulate the HOW of this argument.  He doesn't have the credibility of a Bachmann making that case, but he does have the intellectual heft to articulate the argument properly. 
Booker Rising highlights some positive reaction to these stratagems from Chidike Okeem writing at Salon. He makes some salient points:

" There is a segment of the conservative movement that wants to cloak their obvious timidity vis-à-vis the issue of race by purposefully refusing to acknowledge the difference between making racial public policy arguments and playing demographic politics.  However, there is another group of conservatives that understands the fact that while demographic politics is harmful and benefits nobody, racial public policy arguments are undeniably important to reaching all communities with the conservative message."

 His argument is a little wobbly with this idea of  "racial public policy".  That concept makes me scoff.  Its the same mistakenly condescending formulation the GOP uses too often.  You don't need to reference race so much as you need to reference the policy decisions that impact racial groups to their detriment.  Its a question of emphasis.  But the basic premise, that the conservative movement should stop being timid about making the case to black America for conservative policy, is dead on.  So's this: "the GOP has not articulated why conservative policies are in the interest of blacks, whereas the left expertly promulgates their message in a carefully packaged way...conservatives imprudently dismiss race altogether, without understanding that they are missing a critical opportunity to promote conservative ideas to populations that have traditionally eluded them."