Some years ago, Rush Limbaugh came up with the idea of parodying 'political correctness' by intentionally using insulting, outdated or derogatory terms to poke fun at various groups. The idea was to criticize the idea that in order to avoid offending any particular group of people we had come up with race/gender/sexual orientation/disability/ethnicity-neutral terms and in some cases some institutions had even tried to ban some of the less 'politically correct' terms out of a fear that someone might be offended. And in a very narrow way, I agree with him, in that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees me the right to use any term I want to describe someone, even one that is deeply offensive to them.
However, if you say something that is designed to offend people, then you should not be surprised if they take offense at it. And being offended, you should not be surprised if they also tune out whatever else you are saying, especially in the area of partisan politics. And that brings us up to today, in which a parody of Barack Obama which originally was played on the Limbaugh show, entitled, "Barack the Magic Negro" is now being handed out as a campaign song by a candidate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, prompting the current chair, Mike Duncan to issue a statement expressing shock at the use of the song, which was part of a larger collection on CD distributed by Chip Saltsman, formerly the campaign manager of the Huckabee campaign and now a candidate for RNC chairman. The exact text of Duncan's statement reads,
"The 2008 election was a wake-up call for Republicans to reach out and bring more people into our party. I am shocked and appalled that anyone would think this is appropriate as it clearly does not move us in the right direction."
It is true that the song is just one on a collection of parodies from the Limbaugh show to appear on the CD, but then someone somewhere had to make a conscious decision to include it instead of some other parody.
And therein lies the rub. I doubt if many Republicans will listen to much that Duncan, who led the party through two consecutive historic defeats, says, but he is right. And it's not limited to just offending African-Americans (who it is safe to say have already been cemented in place for the foreseeable future as a Democratic voting bloc.) In fact, earlier this decade the GOP had at least played lip service to trying to recruit African-American candidates and working with black evangelical leaders (those most likely to be receptive to a Republican message) but this year that was gone, replaced by "Barack the Magic Negro." Well, to paraphrase Caesar, I came, I saw, and what I saw wasn't worth hanging around.
The GOP has become the anti-gay party, supporting anti-gay marriage initiatives, opposing legislation designed to stop discrimination in areas like hospital visitation, inheritance and adoption, agreeing to support hate-crimes legislation (sometimes) only if sexual orientation is not included as a hate-crime motivation (despite the fact that it ranks ahead of religion, gender or disability as an actual motivation for hate crimes) and using gay-bashing rhetoric in a number of campaigns around the country (and we haven't even gotten into the whole 'gays in the military' argument.) Of course gay people are (other than gay issues) no different in their concerns than straight people, worrying about their communities, their taxes, their kids' schools and the safety of the country. Some of them are downright conservative. But conservatives have done their best to drive gay Americans straight to the Democratic party, even to the extent that when openly gay former congressman Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) spoke at the 2004 GOP convention a number of delegates openly turned their back on him in protest.
Then while casting around for an issue to 'galvanize' their base for the 2006 election, someone in the GOP brain trust hit on illegal immigration (an issue which has been with us ever since Congress in 1923 ended the open immigration policy and slammed the Golden Door shut for good.) Most of the time illegal immigration has remained on a low simmer, and most people when they stop and think about it realize that it is the accumulated difference between the number of jobs the market requires and the number Congress assigns to the job market via artificial immigration quotas. The recent attempt to politicize the issue has backfired however, as it cost the GOP three house seats in Texas and Arizona in the 2006 election and has cost the party the support of millions of Hispanic voters-- the nation's fastest growing electorate. Remember that in 2004, just four years ago, the GOP drew the support of 44% of Hispanic voters. In the 2006 midterms Republican support dropped to about half that. John McCain did a little better with Hispanics but not good enough to prevent a major loss of support. The reason for the loss of Hispanics by the GOP is clear: immigrant bashing has become Hispanic bashing, as some Latino Americans have suffered from racial profiling and guilt-by-association. More to the point, some Republicans have convinced themselves that they are only bashing "illegal" immigrants and it shouldn't have any effect on legal residents including legal Hispanic residents. This bit of self-denial depends on the assumption that somehow there is one gene pool of 'illegal' immigrants and another which includes everyone else. That is of course absurd. Many undocumented workers, especially those who've been here for awhile, have spouses, partners, children and other relatives who are not only legal but in many cases U.S. citizens and voters. Of course family, both immediate and extended is very important in the Hispanic community. The attack on 'illegal' immigrants is an attack on families, and once you've attacked someone's family you've pretty much lost their vote.
The GOP also suffers from a gender gap. They haven't openly attacked women as a group (limiting the bashing to women who happen to be feminists,) but at the same time they've not been very successfual at addressing women's issues. And it really shows up in Congress. After the 2006 elections, there were just as many male Republican members of the house as there were male Democrats. The difference was a 50-20 edge among female house members. Beyond that, most women, even those who don't consider themselves 'feminists' recognize that if it weren't for feminists they wouldn't have the opportunities they have today. So the whole feminist-bashing attack hasn't endeared the conservative movement to women, even those who themselves would never use that word as an adjective when writing a resume.
Beyond this, younger voters, those who have grown up in a 'politically correct' environment, don't (to their credit) have any taste for the prejudices and attitudes held by some of their elders. So the whole concept of ethnic or stereotypical 'bashing' just rubs them the wrong way, even when they themselves are not on the receiving end of it. And what we've seen lately is that unlike previous generations of young voters, the current generation is involved politically and they do show up and vote.
So go ahead, Republicans. Keep the 'bashing' coming. Make my day.