WASHINGTON, November 9, 2012 – Despite pre-election rhetoric saying the nation leans toward the conservative, and despite the vocal supporters of Mitt Romney, the country’s conservatism was not enough to secure Romney’s win in Tuesday’s presidential elections.
This week, as the GOP leadership licked its salted wounds, Republicans are beginning to reflect on what lessons could be learned from the loss to President Obama. It was the first time ever that a sitting president won reelection by a slimmer margin than in he won his first term, and the first time in almost a century winning in an improving, yet downturn economy with unemployment pushing 8 percent.
During this soul-searching, we should all hope that there will be some reflection and reconsideration of the rhetoric and language used by the GOP during the campaign.
Think about minimizing a newborn infant’s existence and referring to it as an “anchor baby,” as if it were conceived not because it was wanted and loved, but for the sole purpose of helping its parents establish roots in the country and obtain government benefits.
The Republicans opposed cuts to the military and even favored a substantial expansion of its funding, yet supported Draconian cuts that would reduce formula subsidies for babies of poor mothers, cut Head Start enrollment, reduce support for educational programming like Sesame Street, and cut Pell Grants for college kids.
While promoting pro-life messages, Republican candidates rationalized rape and suggested that women must, not simply should, carry to term products of rape.
These messages signaled to groups including blacks and Hispanics, women, and young people that the GOP doesn’t have their best interests at heart, even if that isn’t really true.
That is how they have interpreted the language and rhetoric.
This presidential election cycle was all about “get out the vote.” The party that brought out its base in the largest numbers won. What happened along the way is that the Republican party clung to toxic, and sometimes antagonistic, language that many considered offensive. Democrat Clair McCaskill was poised to lose her Missouri Senate Seat until Republican Todd Akin suggested that women’s bodies naturally abort the product of rape. McCaskill went away with a clear and resounding victory Tuesday. Similarly, Richard Murdouck lost his bid after rejecting abortion even in cases of rape.
Democrats relied on a scare tactic to galvanize African Americans and minorities and get them to the polls. They launched a disinformation campaign, saying the changes in voter ID, early voting and voter registration laws in Republican controlled states were similar to poll taxes and other oppressive methods used in the 1960s to disenfranchise black voters.
It worked. African Americans showed up statistically in higher numbers than in 2008 in some states and voted early in significantly larger numbers this election cycle than before. That was part of a clear strategy to secure votes as soon as possible and to head off any problems that could occur for them on Election Day.
Republicans had a chance to curtail some of the negative impressions and to be more open and welcoming to minorities, but they chose not to seize that opportunity. During primary season, GOP presidential candidates seriously talked about installing electronic fences to zapp possible border crossers from Mexico. They referred to immigrants as carriers of disease and vectors of crime. It’s no wonder that party supporters felt free to release their own sometimes xeonophobic, sometimes sexist, and sometimes racist notions of “others” based on stereotypes.
Read the comment sections of various sites and you’re likely to see black Obama supporters called “racist,” single welfare moms dismissed as parasites who probably gave birth to numerous children from different fathers and are leeching the system dry. The reference to Obama as the “food stamp president” and demands from characters like Donald Trump for his college transcripts were equally insulting.
The 70 percent of African Americans who are not on welfare, the married woman who has private insurance but may have an uninsured daughter in college, and the American-born Latina all see this language and hate it. Although the vitriol may not refer to them, it refers to people who look like them, or applies to people they know, or even applies to their children.
There’s no doubt that social media, news sites, and blog commenting boards have connected people who would never have otherwise communicate with one another. Social media have helped large on-line communities form, but they’ve also made the inner discussions of those communities open to other people who don’t share their views. When supporters of one party use hateful language, they publicly soil the party’s image and energize the opposition to show up at the polls help keep the party’s candidates out of office.
None of that is good for the big tent’s party’s chances of having a future in national politics.
Disappointed Republicans shouldn’t say that Mitt Romney lost because “lazy, shiftless, government-dependent, blacks want free stuff.” The language is insulting, even if it were in some cases true. Blacks alone could not re-elect Obama. Others were also disgusted by that rhetoric and would have rejected just about any candidate the Republicans offered.
This week, Tea Party darling Herman Cain called for the Tea Party to abandon the Republican party. Libertarians are frustrated and leaving the party in droves. It’s time to refocus and regroup.
Wanton use of distasteful, scapegoating language is bad for the GOP’s future in national politics. The party is becoming the home of angry, bitter people who see only danger and threats around them and who have given up on the joy and promise of America. The Republicans of the Bush and Reagan era didn’t have this problem.
The demographics of the United States are changing. Unless the party changes with them and its leaders start appealing to the hopes of 47% of the electorate rather than dismissing them as trash, it will remain marginalized in the future and will gradually shrink in size and influence.
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