WASHINGTON, July 8, 2013 — The latest fad in grassroots Republican circles is cheering for the underdog outsider who takes on an incumbent Republican lawmaker standing accused of having “gone Washington” and being a member of that most elusive and ignoble of cabals: the Establishment.
In 2010, it happened to Dick Lugar. It happened to Bob Bennett. It happened to Lisa Murkowski.
This pro-underdog outsider rhetoric would be less groan-inducing if those engaged in it were consistent about it. They are not. Now that Erika Harold is the underdog outsider in Illinois, local Republican leaders are coming after her with their sharpest knives.
Harold is a young, telegenic, Harvard Law-graduate and former Miss America who would be the first African-American Republican woman in Congress ever. And a steady trickle of Republican insiders in the district are bad-mouthing her in the press.
Baffled and puzzled that she is running is how several acquitted themselves in National Review. The arrogance of seeing some people as entitled to a seat and others as not is, itself, breathtaking.
As blogger Crystal Wright of Conservative Black Chick writes in “The Audacity of Black Republican Erika Harold and Why Some GOP Need to Shut Up,” there is a simple answer here. “Why is Erika Harold running? Because she can.”
The Illinois GOP has only itself to blame for its persistent overlooking of the minority talent within its ranks. Jonathan Last in the Weekly Standard nails it when he writes, “the real mystery about Harold isn’t why she’s challenging Davis. It’s why the Illinois GOP didn’t find a way to harness her talents and ambition when she came home five years ago.”
It is a tragedy that the Illinois GOP overlooked Harold for five years, but there are dozens of Erika Harolds nationwide that the GOP overlooks every year. They run, are ignored, and lose, and the party invests little energy in finding roles for them after the election.
The case of Erika Harold illustrates a large blind spot in arguments by people like Don Lemon and Bill O’Reilly, that if minorities would just get educated and not be litterbugs, everything would be A-okay.
They fail to appreciate that the highest and hardest glass ceilings in our culture are not cracked by the prestige of a degree, clocking the most billable hours or raking in the biggest commissions. What the case of the Illinois GOP shows us in politics equally infects business, education, law, and medicine. Being the best is not enough, especially for minorities.
Last’s own commentary in the same piece helps make that point. He writes of meeting Harold, “she wasn’t beautiful … [she is] a very attractive woman … But I was expecting Helen of Troy, or at least Heidi Klum. And she wasn’t that. Also, she was short.”
Men should comment with great care and reticence on the appearance of anyone, but especially of professional women given the still rampant problem of sexual harassment.
When President Obama commented on the appearance of Kamala Harris, he at least had the decency and basic manners to make it a compliment, however clumsy, not a putdown.
From Hottentot Venus to Henrietta Lacks to a Psychology Today article declaring that black women were less attractive, we are steeped in a cultural devaluation of the bodies of women of color. There is a multi-million dollar plastic surgery and cosmetics industry devoted to making women of color look more European. They straighten hair, remove epicanthal folds and give Middle Eastern women narrower noses. Last’s comments about Harold are, in that context, toxic to the whole nation.
Much, much worse was county GOP chair Jim Allen, who called Harold a “streetwalker” with “pimps” and advised her to seek “some law firm that needs to meet their quota for minority hires.” How vile.
The GOP would do well to trade trade a ton of outreach for one ounce less of Jim Allen and his views in the party.
Little known, of course, is that Republicans invented affirmative action through Nixon’s Philadelphia Plan and his black aide, Art Fletcher. Fletcher, a Republican, was the father of affirmative action.
Nixon and Fletcher understood the GOP does not need outreach, it needs output.
To this end, the Republican Party currently has a 50/50 gender quota for party leadership. Each state must elect one man and one woman to the National Committee, which governs the party. And state Republican Party bylaws require that chairmen and vice-chairmen be of opposite genders.
Therefore, as the RNC’s newly-christened Growing Republican Opportunities for Women (GROW) Initiative was just launched this Tuesday. Its chairs, Representatives Ann Wagner and Renee Ellmers, should begin by applying the 50/50 representation rule we already apply to the RNC and state parties to candidate recruitment for state legislature, house, senate, and governors’ races, and similar quotas for minority candidate recruitment, funding and winning.
Output trumps outreach every time.
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