In January, not long after President Barack Obama trounced Mitt Romney by 44 percent among Latino voters, the GOP-aligned Hispanic Leadership Network issued a new set of “tonally sensitive messaging points” for Republicans to use when engaging with Latino and Hispanic voters. The idea behind the memo seemed to be that, if Republicans won’t attract Hispanics with appealing policy proposals, they should at least try to stop driving them away with racially charged language.
Clearly, Representative Don Young (R-AK) didn’t get the message.
Congressman Young went disastrously off-script during an interview with Alaskan radio station KRBD, released Thursday, when he used a racial slur to describe the workers on his father’s ranch.
“My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes,” Young said. “It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”
Quickly realizing that he had made a tremendous error, Young issued an apology of sorts late Thursday night.
“I used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in central California,” Young said in a statement. “I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect.”
Putting aside the question of what context Young thinks could possibly make the term “wetback” acceptable—or for that matter, not disrespectful—his explanation clearly fails to undo the damage done by his offensive statement.
With an eye towards damage control, Republican leaders quickly blasted Young’s comments.
“Congressman Young’s remarks were offensive and beneath the dignity of the office he holds,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said in a statement. “I don’t care why he said it—there’s no excuse and it warrants an immediate apology.”
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus concurred, saying “The words used by Representative Young emphatically do not represent the beliefs of the Republican Party,” adding, “Offensive language and ethnic slurs have no place in our public discourse.”
Indeed, it was Priebus who just last week released a report urging that “if we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them, and show our sincerity.” In just 10 days since that report, Young labeled Hispanic workers as wetbacks, Senate Republicans started a racially charged campaign against President Obama’s only Latino cabinet nominee, and North Carolina governor Pat McCrory unceremoniously shuttered his state’s Office of Hispanic/Latino affairs. And that’s not even touching the Conservative Political Action Conference, which featured birther jokes and a minority “outreach” panel arguing that slavery was good for black Americans.
So much for showing sincerity.
Ultimately, the biggest problem with the GOP’s minority outreach program is simple: Most Republicans seem to have very little interest in actually appealing to minority communities. Polling suggests that Hispanic voters align much more closely with Democrats than Republicans on a wide range of social and economic issues. But instead of working to find common ground on these policy splits, Republicans chose to simply soften their rhetoric — and they haven’t even done that successfully.
If Republican politicians cannot even uphold their own “stop using racial slurs” rule, then their chances of making real inroads with minority communities seem more remote than ever.
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, March 28, 2013
Looks like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is going to try to be president now. Robert Costa reports that Walker is “collaborating on a book with Marc Thiessen, a former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush.” It’s not like a sci-fi robot murder mystery that takes place in the distant future on Ganymede, either: It is an I would like to be president sort of book, “with stories about his family, his values, and his rise to power.” It will probably be boring.
But just because it will be a boring book doesn’t mean that its existence isn’t interesting.
Thiessen is a very poor Washington Post opinion columnist who wrote a book in which he strung together a series of distortions in support of the thesis that torture is great. Before the book and the column gig, he was a speechwriter for George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. (Before that, Thiessen spent six years as a spokesperson and “policy adviser” to unreconstructed white supremacist Sen. Jesse Helms, which is another thing that should effectively bar him from participating in civilized society.)
Thiessen likely got the job because he’s written a bunch of columns lauding Walker as a leader at the forefront of the “GOP revolution.” In 2012, he called for Romney to select Walker as his running mate, writing, “Barack Obama is afraid of Scott Walker.” (Thiessen also wrote that a victory for Walker in his then-imminent recall election “would make Walker the instant front-runner for the GOP vice presidential nod.” Walker won, and did not become a front-runner for the vice-presidential nod.)
The book is clearly more about national ambition than it is part of Walker’s 2014 reelection campaign. He does not need help with name recognition in Wisconsin, and Thiessen has no connection to the state at all. Walker also just went to CPAC and plans to visit Iowa and give a speech to one of their thousands of random GOP groups this spring. He’s a Midwestern governor, roughly half of his state approves of him, and the conservative activist base loves him. It would almost be stupid if he didn’t give running for president a shot.
Walker’s decision likely got a bit easier this month, when the three-year investigation into the unusual amount of illegal campaign activity carried out by some of his appointees and fundraisers concluded without Walker facing any charges or specific allegations of wrongdoing. Six individuals connected to Walker were charged with crimes. Two of his aides each separately looted a fund intended for a picnic for veterans and their families. Timothy Russell, who worked closely with Walker in various jobs for a decade, was sentenced to two years in prison.
Walker’s repeated appointment of Russell to various positions suggests that a Walker administration would be, like the Bush administration, full of political hacks whose only qualifications for their posts will be either ideological certitude or fundraising ability. His hiring of Marc Thiessen is evidence that he has no strategic or moral issues with the Bush administration’s foreign policy. For a party that’s desperate to reform its image without changing a thing about its policies, he’s as good a candidate as any. He just better make sure his book doesn’t accidentally express any opinions about immigration reform.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, March 25, 2013
Dorsey Shaw noted late yesterday that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has had a “horrible, no good, very bad week.” It’s true — even by Bachmann’s awful standards, the ignominious congresswoman has had it rough lately.
Her CPAC speech was ridiculous, and left in tatters by fact-checkers. Asked for an explanation, Bachmann literally fled from a reporter confronting her with her own words. Bill O’Reilly invited her on to get back on track, but when Bachmann refused, he turned on her.
This, however, was the moment that arguably mattered most.
“Let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens,” Bachmann said on the House floor. “Let’s not do that. Let’s love people. Let’s care about people. Let’s repeal it now while we can.”
I’m sure this probably makes some sense to Bachmann, but for those of us living in reality, it’s just crazy.
She went on to say, “What [President Obama] demanded and insisted upon is that the government have 100 percent control over health care,” Bachmann said. “100 percent control? The American people lose control? What did they get? They get health care — health insurance, I should say — that is more expensive than anything they’ve ever paid for before. And they get less for it. Well what a deal, Mr. President, Mr. Speaker. What a deal.”
For anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the issue, this is complete gibberish. Under current law, government doesn’t have “100 percent control over health care,” but rather, private insurers have a key role providing coverage for tens of millions of people. What’s more, consumer costs are lower, not higher, and they have more expansive coverage, not less.
It’s almost as if Michele Bachmann, after having been caught saying ridiculously untrue things, has no qualms about making matters worse, bringing a new round of shame to her and her constituents.
Of course, she can at least take some comfort in the fact that the House Republican leadership kept her on the House Intelligence Committee, inexplicably giving this deeply strange and unhinged lawmaker access to the nation’s most sensitive, highly-classified secrets.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 22, 2013
The current intramural squabbling on the right is just too delicious for words. At least for nice words.
Senator John McCain called the far-right darlings Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Justin Amash “wacko birds” earlier this month. (McCain later apologized for that burst of honesty and candor.)
Ann Coulter used her Conservative Political Action Conference speech to take a shot at New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, who was not invited to speak this year. Coulter quipped: “Even CPAC had to cut back on its speakers this year, by about 300 pounds.” What a lovely woman.
Also at CPAC, the half-term ex-governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, took a whack at Karl Rove, challenging him to run for office himself. “Buck up or stay in the truck,” she said with her usual Shakespearean eloquence. Rove shot back that if he were to run and win, he’d at least finish his term. Ouch.
Donald Trump took to Twitter recently to call the conservative blogger Michelle Malkin a “dummy” who was “born stupid.” It’s hard to know whom to side with when two bullies battle.
But all this name-calling, as fun as it is to watch, is just a sideshow. The main show is the underlying agitation.
The Republican Party is experiencing an existential crisis, born of its own misguided incongruity with modern American culture and its insistence on choosing intransigence in a dynamic age of fundamental change. Instead of turning away from obsolescence, it is charging headlong into it, becoming more strident and pushing away more voters whom it could otherwise win.
Andrew Kohut, the founding director of the Pew Research Center, pointed out in The Washington Post on Friday that the party’s ratings “now stand at a 20-year low,” and that is in part because “the outside influence of hard-line elements in the party base is doing to the G.O.P. what supporters of Gene McCarthy and George McGovern did to the Democratic Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s — radicalizing its image and standing in the way of its revitalization.”
And too many of those hard-liners have a near-allergic reaction to the truth.
A prime example is Michele Bachmann, the person who convened the Tea Party Caucus in Congress and a Republican candidate for president last year.
She burst back on the scene with a string of lies and half-truths that could have drawn a tsk tsk from Tom Sawyer.
PolitiFact rated two of her claims during her CPAC speech last Saturday as “pants on fire” false. The first was that 70 cents of every dollar that’s supposed to go to the poor actually goes to salaries and pensions of bureaucrats. The second was that scientists could have a cure for Alzheimer’s in 10 years if it were not for “a cadre of overzealous regulators, excessive taxation and greedy litigators.”
She also said during that speech that President Obama was living “a lifestyle that is one of excess” in the White House, detailing how many chefs he had, and so on.
The Washington Post gave that claim four Pinocchios, and pointed out that “during last year’s G.O.P. presidential race, Bachmann racked up the highest ratio of Four-Pinocchio comments, so just about everything she says needs to be checked and double-checked before it is reported.”
And in a speech Thursday on the House floor, she said of the federal health care law:
“The American people, especially vulnerable women, vulnerable children, vulnerable senior citizens, now get to pay more and they get less. That’s why we’re here, because we’re saying let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.”
Factcheck.org pointed out that her “facts” didn’t match her hyperbole.
Last year The Washington Post quoted Jim Drinkard, who oversees fact-checking at The Associated Press, as saying, “We had to have a self-imposed Michele Bachmann quota in some of those debates.”
It’s sad when you are so fact-challenged that you burn out the fact-checkers.
People like Bachmann represent everything that is wrong with the Republican Party. She and her colleagues are hyperbolic, reactionary, ill-informed and ill-intentioned, and they have become synonymous with the Republican brand. We don’t need all politicians to be Mensa-worthy, but we do expect them to be cogent and competent.
When all the dust settles from the current dustup within the party over who holds the mantle and which direction to take, Republicans will still be left with the problem of what to do with people like Bachmann.
And as long as the party has Bachmanns, it has a problem.
By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 22, 2013
Recent brutal attacks on the GOP have claimed that minorities often think that “Republicans do not like them or want them in the country.” That younger voters are “rolling their eyes at what the party represents.” That former Republicans view the party as “scary,” “narrow-minded,” “out of touch” and populated by “stuffy old men.”
But these were not Democratic attacks. The quotes come from the Republican National Committee’s “Growth & Opportunity Project” report, which, as far as I can tell, is unique in the history of party-sponsored self-reflection. Losing parties generally look in the mirror and see the need for cosmetics. This report calls for reconstructive surgery. In the aftermath of the 2012 election, it describes a party unpopular with the public, fading in must-win states and progressively marginalized at the national level.
Yet this analysis should be encouraging for Republicans in the same way that a reliable medical diagnosis is encouraging — it provides the basis for aggressive treatment.
The report, inevitably, set off an internal GOP conflict. This is not so much a matter of ideology; a number of politicians with tea party roots, such as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, have fully internalized these political realities. The emerging argument is between political realists and ideological entrepreneurs.
All conservatives believe in the power of markets, which is explanatory in this case. The RNC is attempting to reach the market of gettable voters in Ohio, Colorado, New Mexico and other electorally strategic places. Other conservatives target the markets of talk-radio listeners or attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference. The RNC report engages this divergence of purposes in a forthright manner: “We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.” The role of a political party, the report insists, is different from the pursuit of “universal purity.”
This declaration of independence is accompanied by a serious reassertion of the role of the party itself. The document calls for more purposeful outreach to minorities, improved campaign mechanics and a more rationally designed presidential primary process. It criticizes the proliferation of primary debates, as well as redundant or unhelpful campaign expenditures by lone-wolf advocacy groups.
But the report recognizes that Republicans require more than changed tone or technique; they need relevant, appealing policies. Here, the GOP is making some preliminary progress. The two early rivals for presidential buzz, Rubio and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, both support variants of comprehensive immigration reform. Republicans who oppose gay marriage, such as Rubio, and those who support it, such as Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, are now agreed on marriage federalism — respecting the rights of states to make their own choices.
Still, these efforts merely clear the decks of some existing objections, not dramatically expand Republican appeal. The 2012 election revealed insufficient GOP enthusiasm among working-class Americans and plummeting support among rising demographic groups, particularly Asians and Latinos. Appealing to these voters will require more than repetition of the Republican economic message circa 1980. They want the reassurance of a modern, functioning safety net and the realistic hope of economic and social mobility. Republicans have yet to effectively address either priority.
This is partly an institutional problem. A smattering of conservative policy experts is working on these issues — conservative alternatives on health and education reform or promoting social capital and family stability. But the major conservative think tanks tend to be driven by ideological and donor priorities. Few conservative institutions operate effectively at the confluence of policy and politics.
Democratic reformers in the 1980s and ’90s had the Democratic Leadership Council to help reshape their identity and lay the policy foundations for Bill Clinton’s presidential run. Britain’s Conservative Party has the Centre for Social Justice, which in the past year has produced policy documents on fighting modern slavery, addressing child poverty, breaking the cycle of domestic abuse and strengthening marriage. Where is the Republican equivalent?
Major Republican donors seem perfectly willing to support the presidential races of quixotic candidates. They foot the bill for television attack ads. They seem less interested in funding the revival of ideas and policy that is a prerequisite to reestablishing a GOP majority. It is a strategic failure of the first order.
Those concerned about the Republican future hope for the arrival of a transformational candidate. But he or she will need something compelling to say.
By: Michael Gerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 21, 2013