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Some Commentators Just Don't Want Republicans to Successfully Win Over Minority Voters
By Scott Gillette

 sgillette@politicalusa.com

12/5/2000

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 knows this.

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 opponents.

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 Black agenda.

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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