A Tale of Two Americas

A few years ago, my high school planned a class reunion, and my friend Pam shared with me an experience she had serving on the reunion committee with some of my former classmates.  A mailing list of students’ contact information had been passed amongst the committee for verifications, corrections, and assurances that all of the class members from my graduating year had been included.  At one of the final meetings before the invitations were to be mailed, Pam noticed that about twenty names had been marked off the list.  Pam knew these individuals to be classmates; several of them were individuals with whom she had kept close contact through the years, so she was not sure why their names had been removed from the reunion mailing list.  When she asked the committee about the deletions, another classmate Sharon, a popular girl from our class, acknowledged that she had marked out the names.  When Pam asked why, Sharon’s responses ranged from, “They never liked me in school,” to “We didn’t get along,” and “She would whisper about me behind my back in Chemistry class.”  Both Pam and I were appalled that Sharon, an intelligent, college educated woman now working in a lucrative field, would even find it acceptable to take it upon herself to disallow former students from attending their own class reunion simply because she felt they did not like her.

I’ve thought a lot about Sharon’s actions this week while watching the results of the Presidential election unfold; the blatant disregard with which Sharon treated a segment of my graduating class mirrors the way in which the GOP has ignored a significant population of American citizens.  In a rather unfathomable way, Republicans appear to have pandered entirely to the (Christian, heterosexual) white male vote, pretending that all others living in the country simply did not exist, or at the very least, did not represent a large enough faction of the voting public to matter.  By ignoring the needs and issues of these other groups—and in many cases attacking them—the GOP essentially ignored these individuals’ rights as citizens, just as Sharon uninvited those fellow classmates that she didn’t like, solely because she felt empowered to do so.

The repercussions of operating within such an insulated world-view became clear on election night, however, when (according to exit poll results) despite capturing 59% of the white vote and 78% of the evangelicals, Mitt Romney lost his bid to be president.  That’s because America’s minority populations, comprised of blacks (93%), Hispanics (71%), Asians (73%), and women (55%), combined to form a collective majority that backed President Obama and garnered his reelection.

This new majority, if you will, represents the rest of America that Republicans either have forgotten or wish they could just ignore.  For at least 30 years, the Republicans have run on platforms that catered to White America and the Christian Right and were often successful in their campaign bids because of it.  However, the growth of minority populations, especially that of Hispanic voters, has significantly offset the voting power whites once held.  Republican dissatisfaction over immigration laws, coupled with Romney’s comments that “illegals” would have to “self deport” are believed to have further decreased Hispanic support for the GOP below margins that even John McCain received in 2008.  Republicans also lost the support of women for its recent attacks on their reproductive rights, due largely in part to the bizarre comments of several Tea Party extremist candidates concerning rape and abortion.  Attacks on other social issues such as marriage equality also damaged any connection Republicans might have made with minority groups, as both Romney and running mate Paul Ryan expressed a desire to block equality measures that would guarantee gay Americans the same rights as heterosexuals.

After the election, a number of the more sensible Republicans seemed to understand the GOP’s problem; Meghan McCain, daughter of 2008 presidential nominee John McCain tweeted on election night, “My party has to evolve or it’s going to die.” The following morning on MSNBC, former RNC Chairman Michael Steele noted that without the inclusion of these minority voters, the Republican Party would cease to exist, and when speaking with Reverend Al Sharpton on Thursday evening, McCain reiterated the need for change within the GOP, remarking that their unpopular position on social issues had cost them greatly in recent elections.  She also said that Republicans had to stop catering to “old white men” because they are no longer the voting majority.  McCain’s calls for evolution appear to be ignored by louder voices within the party, however.  Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and Laura Ingraham, for example, have all stated that rather than move to the center on such matters, the Party must shift farther to the right and offer up candidates who are more rigidly conservative and Christian in order to reignite its base.

The problem with this strategy is that the current Republican Party base consists of a voting group that by 2016 will be even smaller than it is now.  The America we live in today is not the same America that existed when Ronald Reagan took office; it’s not even the same America that it was in 2004 when George W. Bush was reelected.  I remember telling a friend just after Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 that the large turnout of minority voters that year would prove to these individuals that they do, in fact, have saying power in this country when they come together.  I believed then, much as I do now, that as they realize their own force in the country to sway elections and have their voices heard, America will see even stronger voter turnouts from minorities.

Therefore, I agree with Meghan McCain that for the Republican Party to survive, it must evolve.  But evolution does not mean simply parading the two or three token minorities who have ascended within the Party.  In several interviews, various GOP mouthpieces touted Marco Rubio and Susana Martinez as evidence of Republican diversity.  The problem, though, is that those were the only two names that kept popping up in every interview I saw.  If these are the only two people that Republicans can name to prove diversity, then the party can’t be all that diverse.  And having these members on hand also should not be enough to satisfy voters.  If Republicans hope to survive, they truly need to adjust their stance on a number of issues; I’m just not confident they will be able to do that in the next two to four years, especially when so many of the GOP’s current frontrunners have built their political careers with the support of the extreme right and the recent comments of Senator Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner have implied that it will be obstruction-as-usual after the Inauguration.

I’m not sure how the GOP plans to survive with this continued outlook; perhaps they foresee more gains in the midterm elections of 2014, but if the current voting base remains invigorated, I believe they stand to lose far more than they will ever gain with this strategy.  They have to realize we are all here in the country now; it’s not just the Grand Old Patriarchy anymore, dictating to everyone else what will and won’t be done.  They no longer have the authority to disinvite us from our own country just because they don’t like us or fear we won’t get along with them.


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