February 20, 2013

Why The Republican Party’s Color-Washing Campaign Won’t Work

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Good news for non-white folks with political aspirations: you are in high demand right now. Unlike ever before, Washington’s door is wide open for ambitious young politicos, preferably ones with crowd-pleasing charisma and a chicly ambiguous ethnic background. One caveat (a minor detail, really): you have to be willing to publicly flex your political muscle in support of the Republican party’s agenda, which (in case you’ve paid zero attention in recent years) includes a long ass list of ever-escalating anti-everyone-but-straight-rich-white-dudes points.

“Wait, huh, what?” says everyone.

Coming out of an utterly painful-to-watch likeability meltdown in 2012, the Republican Party is attempting to dig out of the dog days of public disapproval via a campaign to introduce a little, um, color into their party. The basis of this PR strategy is easy enough to understand: how better to start undoing the GOP’s unlikeable image as a bunch of stodgy, self-serving, rich white dudes than by getting some non-whites and non-dudes on their team, and better yet, putting them in prominent positions?

So that’s what they’re doing, from tapping Latino Senator Marco Rubio to deliver the Republican retort to the State of the Union Address, to backing Tim Scott (an African-American and an evangelical Tea Partier?! A 2013 GOP total dreamboat) to fill an empty South Carolina Senate seat. And next week will see the launch of a non-profit directed at helping groom minority Conservatives. The assumption is that by strategically infusing their party with ethnic variety, the GOP can re-gain favor among minorities — including women and the LGBTQ community — without having to actually change their policies. This is just the beginning of where their assumptions start to work against them, and beyond that, to serve as a re-affirmation of the condescension and degradation that typifies the current Republican Party.

It’s almost adorable how shallow and shortsighted of a re-branding game plan this is. Didn’t anyone at the brainstorming meeting go a step further into thinking about how parading around a handful of “diverse” show ponies would be effectively as insulting — if not more so — than anything the GOP has done? It’s the Washington version of “I’m not racist because I have a black friend,” or “I’m not sexist because I have a wife.” No, guys, you can absolutely still be racist if you have black friends, and by even saying that, you’re disproving it.

The GOP isn’t as concerned with moderating its increasingly extreme ideologies as it is with diversifying the skin tones of the people backing their messages. This is offensive primarily for two reasons: 1) This move towards greater ethnic range in the GOP isn’t the organic product of a shift in practice or thinking, or a legitimate embracing of these “diverse” candidates based on their actual political and intellectual merit. The fact that the GOP can’t just pursue the best men and women for the job, and have some of them naturally be non-white, shows that the thinking within the party hasn’t changed. They aren’t embracing racial diversity as a consequence of sincerely giving more equal consideration to more people, but rather as a marketing strategy. These people are being selected solely because their skin color, which is basically just as degrading as being excluded because of it. 2) Attempting to appeal to minority constituents based on the assumption that they vote solely on racial affinity is as condescending as it gets.

It’s worth clarifying that the GOP opening the door for political ascension based on color is not some sort of Capitol Hill version of Affirmative Action. The goal here isn’t to bolster underserved demographics of political representation by deliberately giving them prominent positions within the party. The goal is to bolster the party by exploiting candidates of color. Which — shitty as it is — begs the question: should we really care if the GOP’s motivation for diversifying is selfish and offensive, if the end result is a less homogenous party, which is still essentially a good thing? Well, yes. We should absolutely care. Public approval of the GOP’s “color-washing” campaign will only serve to permit them to continue backing the same anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-poor, anti-minority positions that resulted in their need to drum up some positive PR in the first place. Hearing these positions touted by, say, a Latino representative is definitely a weird change of pace, but it doesn’t mean that the GOP itself is walking a different walk. In fact, it only offers further evidence of one of the most oft-criticized mindsets of extreme conservatives, that minority populations are numbers to be won, rather than people to be served.

If the GOP truly wants to endear themselves to women and minorities, a good start would be to stop trying to use them as media-friendly pawns in a misguided (at best) PR campaign. If they aspire to reverse the tides of widespread alienation that reached a head in 2012, they’ll have to engage in genuine, fundamental curtailment of their radical conservative ideologies and realize that those are what holds them back, not their whiteness. TC Mark

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