If you watched any part of last night’s opening session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC, you were offered a unique opportunity to see the stark differences between our two largest political parties.
And you didn’t even have to turn the sound on.
Watching as the cameras panned across the filled arena was like seeing the history of our country writ large: faces of every imaginable color and type created a collage of inclusion, a tangible sense that the Democratic Party cares about everyone, wants to be part of everyone’s lives.
Not so the GOP. Though the Republican convention planners went out of their way to stress inclusion by inviting people like Marco Rubio and Mia Love to speak at length, it was clear that one could see, through that same long-view lens, that the crowd in Tampa was starkly uniform. The GOP simply hasn’t managed to craft a message that interests people of color (or, it should also be noted, people of various sexual orientations, or people who believe in science, or people who…. well, you get the idea).
In a recent interview with Ali Velshi of CNN’s Your Money, former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman—one of several current party members outcast for his views—commented on exactly this point:
This is not to say, however, that either party is entirely uniform in its beliefs, regardless of the color or orientation of those holding them. Twenty-seven percent of the GOP, for example, is pro-choice, while thirty-two percent of Democrats are pro-life. About one-quarter of self-identified Republicans are in favor of gay marriage, while the Democrats have fifty-nine percent approving. So while the numbers bear out the conventional wisdom, they also argue that the parties are anything but heterogeneous. But it’s the party platforms, the party leadership, which speaks for each party, and there’s no question that the Democrats have a message of inclusion and the Republicans do not.
Perhaps I wouldn’t feel so personally offended (as a Republican) if it were simply left at that. The Democrats, after all, go out of their way to emphasize that inclusion as part of their overall strategy: it’s their base, after all. The Republicans, built on a different foundation, perhaps don’t need the message of inclusivity to get out their voters. However, the GOP now tilts in the direction of blatant hypocrisy.
On a recent episode of Stephen Colbert’s always-funny Colbert Report, the host groped for a collective noun to describe the minority representatives at the Tampa convention. "Gaggle" didn’t’ work: that one is already used for geese. Neither did "pride." He finally settled on "token." “A ‘token’ of minorities!” he giggled, and the audience giggled along with him.
What Colbert satirically emphasized is unfortunately true: the GOP panders to the minority voter: while Mia Love stands up and gives an impassioned speech (and suffers the cruelty of racial epithets as a result), Mitt Romney continues to poll at zero percent among African Americans. Meanwhile, one of the most vocal and (arguably) successful Republican leaders in recent times, Michael Steele (former head of the Republican National Committee) has, like Governor Huntsman, been cast into the darkness for saying and doing things that weren’t in complete lock-step with the GOP’s unwritten manifesto (which, in this case, meant disagreeing with—and then offering a weak-kneed apology to—Rush Limbaugh).
And then there’s the whole “RINO” thing, that four-letter epithet that classifies many of us in the party (myself included) as Republicans In Name Only.
So it’s not just that the GOP fails the test of inclusivity; they’ve taken it further in recent years: they’ve become the Party of Purge.
For all the rhetoric, the spin, and (as I’ve said before) the Pinocchio moments that litter the GOP talking points, none seems as egregious to me as this blatant dissonance, this desire to pretend inclusivity while purging from the party those that actually believe in it.
The irony, as I see it, is that the upper class (and, yes, there is one and likely always will be) needs the middle class, needs the growing diversity that marks the most important demographic national shift since the immigration waves of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These are the slices of our population that drive wealth: they build businesses, they educate children, they earn paychecks. They spend money.
In capitalist terms, we call that a market. The GOP, caught up in its own tea-inspired downward spiral, just doesn’t seem to get it. Supporting diversity is good business. Say what you want about the party’s belief in income, wealth, “job creators,” or social issues, it just doesn’t make any sense for them not to want a robustly diverse party.
It’s just one more thing the GOP needs to figure out, and fast, or it won’t be long before this lack of inclusion becomes just one more policy mistake that drives the GOP further to the fringes.