Controversy reigns once again among the political
punditocracy! A brief review of the issue at hand is in order.
In Paul Begala's column, "Banana
Republicans", Begala described how Michael Barnicle's TV
commentary that showed how each county in the United States voted: the
heavily-populated coasts and portions of the northern Midwest went to
Gore, while the rest of the "Heartland" went almost
exclusively to Bush. Barnicle argued that the divide pitted
"Wal-Mart versus Martha Stewart", and "family values
versus a sense of entitlement." Begala responded to this
observation with the following passage:
Yes, Barnicle is right when he notes that
tens of millions of good people in Middle America voted Republican.
But if you look closely at that map you see a more complex picture.
You see the state where James Byrd was lynch-dragged behind a pickup
truck until his body came apart- it's red. You see the state where
Matthew Shepard was crucified on a split-rail fence for the crime of
being gay- it's red. You see the state where right-wing extremists
blew up a federal office building and murdered scores of federal
employees- it's red. The state where the army private who was thought
to be gay was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat, and the state
where neo-Nazi skinheads murdered two African-Americans because of
their skin color, and the state where Bob Jones University spews its
anti-catholic bigotry; they're all red too.
Begala went on to point out that these states
also passed gun control measures and rejected school vouchers, and
also failed to bring certain conservative leaders back to office, so
Middle America is a complicated place after all: "it's not all
just red and blue - or black and white."
Peggy Noonan referred to the above passage of
Begala as well in an OpinionJournal.com piece, and said that this
remark reflects the pure hatred that "animates Clinton-Gore
thinking regarding their opponents." Noonan also offered that
this mindset provided the justification many Democrats need in order
to win the disputed presidential election by any means necessary.
"Really, if republicans are so bad it's probably good to steal
elections from them, don't you think?"
Begala responded by calling Noonan "a
pretentious and tendentious writer who made her fame and fortune first
by taking credit for Ronald Reagan's public utterances…"
(Ouch.) Then he listed all of the conservative pundits who referred to
his argument, and complained that he was "mugged", because
the context of his passage was taken out of context. "The
rhetorical device I employed was the straw man: an argument that is
stated only to be rejected." Begala added later on that his
problem was too "subtle" when making his point.
Although this conflict could be viewed as a
personal squabble carried on in print, it is important to come to some
kind of conclusion in order to bring into focus how the Republican
Party is portrayed by its loyal opponents.
I would acknowledge that Begala did say that many
good people voted for Bush. But at the same time, after reading his
column several times over, I cannot see how the passage about the
"red" states was a "straw man's argument";
instead, it was the foundation of his argument that the results in
flyover country could be seen in another context, which was that
states which voted for Bush were marred by intolerance, violence, and
extremism. Moreover, there is simply no reason to believe that he
wrote this passage in a less than serious light.
Besides suffering from cognitive dissonance, Begala never explained to his readers what the implications for why these unspeakable acts happened in states where Bush won the popular vote. Begala could not be accused of being "subtle", as he was leaving it entirely up the reader to draw his own conclusions. By so doing, Begala could only mean that the states that voted for Bush were by nature tainted by bigotry; after all, why else would they vote Republican? Indeed, Begala's gravest sin is smearing his political opponents by inference, and then failing to own up to his own words when publicly confronted.
I think that Begala believes that the Republican
Party is tainted by intolerance; otherwise, why would he write such a
passage in the first place? However, he doesn't want to live with the
consequences of making such an argument openly, or he recognizes in
less passionate moments that his comments were unfair to too many
people to be made. After all, the examples that concerned murderous
crimes, all of the states involved have sought to prosecute the
perpetrator when possible to the fullest extent of the law. Begala
Yet even when making the case that he was being
misunderstood and "mugged", Begala said, "Middle
America helped Democrats gain seats in the House, the Senate, and the
state legislatures - hardly the stuff of bigotry." But what about
when Republicans make political gains during a certain year? Does that
demonstrate bigotry? Furthermore, why are the hate crimes that Begala
describe only relevant in the context in a Bush victory? Clearly, he
has decided that the Republicans are the party of intolerance, and he
should make that argument whenever possible.
I wish Begala had saved everyone some time and
said flatly that Republicans are the party of bigots. This is an
argument often made indirectly or openly to different degrees by the
political left. Although this argument is often without merit,
Republicans are left with the burden that 90% of the voting black
population voted for the Democratic Party this year, and have a solid
grip on the votes of other minorities, women and gays.
For those who are infuriated with this type of
commentary, I say with regret, "Get used to it." There will
always be commentators who will judge the Republican record with
minority voters harshly no matter what Republicans do. If the
Republicans fail to even try to win over minority voters, critics will
proclaim that this acknowledges that republicans don't think their
ideas can appeal to minority voters. Yet if the Republicans make every
effort to reach out to minority voters, then they will be accused of
being insincere and unable to make inroads. The Paul Begalas have no
interest in seeing the Republicans court minority voters successfully,
so they will look at any effort to court minorities with disdain, and
will seek to score cheap political points by demonizing their
The only thing republicans can do is to win over
minority voters of all stripes one at a time, without concern for
appearances. Most committed members of the Republican Party want their
philosophy to appeal to a larger sector the American population, and
shrewd political operatives in the Republican recognize that the
party's long-term electoral prospects depend upon the party's ability
to broaden its base. The results of this election only reaffirm the
need for Republicans to do just that. After all, if Bush had won just
20% of the black vote in Florida instead of 10%, there would have been
no controversy about this election today.
In will be a long and winding road. The
Republican Party may be out of the step with certain aspects of
multiculturalism, as the party is designed to appeal to ideas and
individual principles, as opposed to issues of cultural identity. But
stressing ideas of universal appeal can also be viewed as the party's
strength. Moreover, the GOP may have to take its licks while making
effort to court minority voters. Yet the risks of such a strategy pale
in comparison to the rewards of creating a “Big Tent” party.
The Democratic stronghold on many minority voters
is broad, but it is not deep and is more tenuous as it seems. Cedric
Muhammad of Blackelectorate.com makes the following observation about
the political system and its impact upon the black population:
With the system biased toward the Republican
and Democratic parties, politicians and interest groups become more
concerned with the access to power, the resources of an entrenched
party machine, and the patronage that accompanies loyalty to a
political party, than they are with truly representing an agenda that
is by, of and for the people. That is the problem in the Black
community today. Black leadership, recognizing that the deck is
stacked in favor of the two parties, year-after-year throws its hand
in with the Democratic Party because "they have a chance to
win" and not because the Democrats are willing to represent a
The Republican Party is poised to be the party that represents an agenda of economic opportunity for the black communities currently left out of the current prosperity. This is the right path to take, regardless of what certain political commentators are likely to say. This would be better for other minorities as well, as two parties would have to compete in representing their specific agendas, instead of relying on one party by default. The specifics of an agenda of economic opportunity, and its potential impact on minority voters and the political landscape deserve another column at a later date.
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© Scott Gillette, 2000
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