Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Republicans Still Don't Get It; They Don't Even Know What "It" Is

It ia right there on their website--<growthopp.gop.com/>--all 100 pages of it. Its official name in Growth and Opportunity Project of the Republican National Committee, but it is becoming much more commonly known as "the Republican Autopsy Report."  It is the brainchild of R.N.C.Chairman Reince Priebus, who first gained notoriety by wresting that position away from its previous occupant, Michael Shields, who was the first African American ever to reach that exalted rank. Priebus and I are both privileged to reside in the First Congressional District of Wisconsin, which is represented by none other than rejected vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. [How did I get so lucky as to live in such an enlightened district?] Priebus is an attorney who lives in "Pleasant Prairie," a suburb of Kenosha, which is one of the most Democratic cities in the state. I first became aware of him when he made his only try for public office against Democrat Bob Wirch, who has been a member of the Wisconsin Legislature since 1993. Priebus ran one of the most vicious campaigns in recent memory, in which some of his handlers went door-to-door impersonating Wirch people, and espousing blatantly false distortions of his opponent's record and platform. [Fortunately, a solid majority of voters in the 22nd Senatorial District saw through Priebus's curtain of deceit and slime and elected Wirch by a sizable margin.] Disturbed by the fact Democratic candidates has won four of the last six presidential election [five, if you go by popular votes] by an average yield of 327 to 211 electoral votes, and that "public perception of the Party is at record low, Chairman Priebus appointed a commission of "distinguished" Republicans to investigate the causes of that disastrous situation and "recommend a plan to further ensure Republicans are victorious in 2013, 2014, 2016 and beyond," and that will be "critical as we move forward as a party and take our message to every American."

The five person commission consisted of Henry Barbour, the nephew of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and leader of the campaign to oust  Shields as R.N.C.chairman and replace him with Priebus; Ari Fleischer, George W. Bush's erstwhile press secretary; Sally Bradshaw, who was a "top ally" of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a senior adviser to both Mitt Romney [remember him?] and the Florida Republican Party, and adviser to Hayley Barbour's political action committee; Zoraida Fonalledas, long-time national committeewoman for Puerto Rico, and Glenn McCall, a national committeeman from South Carolina and an African American. They
boast that their recommendations were based upon more than 52,00 Contacts Made, including 36,000 online surveys, 800 conference calls, 3,000 group listening sessions, 500 one-on-one phone calls, and 250 one-on-one meetings, all with various Project chairs. They also held more than 50 focus groups in Des Moines and Columbus, and conducted 2,640 surveys with "women,"[???] 2,000 with Hispanics, 100 with pollsters, 225 with consultants, 6,390 with volunteers and 600 with field staff. Their final report makes seven categories of recommendations: Messaging, Demographic Partners, Campaign Mechanics, Third Party Groups, Fundraising, Campaign Finance, and Primary Process.  

In a halfhearted mea culpa, the commissioners assert that "public perception of the Party is at an all time low", that "young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents," and that "many minorities wrongfully think that the Republicans do not like them or want them in the country." Even though the party core has remained "the Party of  Reagan, "it sounds "increasingly out of touch," and "needs to stop talking to itself," is "driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac," and that some people say that "Republicans don't care," are "scary," and "narrow-minded." The commissioners go so far as to quote Tea Party sage Dick Armey: "You can't
 call someone ugly and expect them to go to the prom with you." [Throughout, the report demonstrates an almost schizophrenic attitude toward the extreme right-wing of the party, trying to maintain their support while tacitly recognizing that most of the negative attitudes to which they refer are in reaction to the widely perceived "Tea Partyization" of the G.O.P. How can you move the party toward a more moderate middle without alienating your core constituency? How can you "reach out" to minorities, youth, the elderly, and "women" when those are the very people your most rabid supporters despise?]  Their attitude reminds me of satirical song by comedian Stan Freberg called "Take An Indian to Lunch." I don't recall all the lyrics, but the gist is "let's pretend that he is part of our regular bunch," and "let him believe that he is almost as good as we."     
The commissioners attribute part of the problem to the fact that "Democrats tend to talk about people, Republicans tend to talk about policy", and that "we need to do a better job connecting people to our policies." Coming painfully close to reality, they acknowledge that "the middle class has struggled mightily and that far too many of our  citizens live in poverty." While they continue to believe that the answer to most questions lie in "private sector economic growth," they also claim to understand that "people who are flat on their back, unemployed or disabled or in need of help...do not care if the help comes from the private sector or the government." But their job as Republicans is to champion private economic growth so people will not turn to government in the first place," to "make sure that "government works for those truly in need." and that "the government's safety net is a trampolene, not a trap." They want the G.O.P. to be the "champion of those who seek to climb the economic ladder," and to give everyone a "chance to make it in life." They profess that Republicans "need to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare," and to "speak out when a company liquidates itself and its executives receive bonuses but rank-and-file are left unemployed." They need "to do a better job talking in normal people-oriented terms and "go to communities where Republicans do not normally go to listen and and make our case," and to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and "demonstrate that we care about them, too. We have to engage them and show our sincerity." In doing so, however, "it is not just the tone that counts. Policy always matters." !!!!!!!!!! While acknowledging that they "are not a policy committee," they do assert that "we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform, "because it is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all. The "Party must "in fact and deed" be inclusive and welcoming, because if it isn't "we will limit our ability to attract young people and others, including many women, who agree with us on some but not all issues." The ultimate message, the report concludes, is that "The Grand Old Party should be synonymous with the Growth and Opportunity Party.

The commissioner's overarching recommendation in their "Demographic Partners" section is the formation of a Growth And Opportunity Inclusion Council, which should meet a minimum of four times a year for training, exchange of ideas, and effectiveness assessment. It should conduct "grass roots educational programs," identify, prepare and promote a diversified and talented pool of future candidates and leaders, and convene "focus groups with non-Republican ethnic groups in an effort to gain insight into the real and perceived issues affecting their communities."  It should design a "surrogate program to train and prepare ethnic conservatives for media presentations," to educate Republican candidates "on the particular culture, aspirations, positions, positions on issues, contributions to the country, etc. of the demographic group they are trying to reach."  They also recommend that the R.N.C. hire a "faith-based outreach director to focus on engaging faith-based organizations and communities with the Republican Party." They stress the urgency of "reaching out" to Hispanics, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, African Americans, Youth [?], and Women [?], all of whom apparently are terra incognito to most Republicans. [Women, too?] Most of the specific recommendations seem to be variations on a template of how to deal with "exotic" peoples. They recommend hiring communications and political directors,carefully craft a tone that takes into consideration the unique perspective of the targeted group, make "real Republicans" aware of the way to treat them" with tolerance and respect, hire field staff within each group, build a nationwide data base of leaders, promote staff and candidates within the Party, engage their faith-based communities, encourage individual Republicans to participate in cultural organizations "so that these organization's leadership is no longer dominated by Democrat-leaning individuals," and develop an extensive network of each group's political operatives.

If the commissioners seem to regard "non-Republicans" as a different species, they also appear to view social media, and communications technology in general, as some kind of incomprehensible alien language. [I must confess to feeling a certain sense of empathy with them about that, but I am fortunate to have many people in my life who can translate for me.] It is clear from the report that the authors attribute Obama's victory primarily to the Democrat's far greater savvy about communications technology and "grass roots" organizing. They passionately believe that it was the "media," and not the "message," that prevailed. For example, they make much of the fact that the Obama campaign asked voters what information they needed to make their decision and provided that knowledge to their volunteers, that Obama's media research and buying staff was 5 to 15 times larger than Romney's, and that campaign workers should be sure to include their contact's cell phone numbers and email addresses in their data bases. They also recommend that the R.N.C. "design, fund, and implement an aggressive early and absentee voting program, and that they should recruit and hire a chief technology and digital officer, as well as "train campaign managers and candidates in basic media terminology and media budgeting/management."  
Throughout, the report is a bewildering hodgepodge of  superficial technical jargon and business new speak.       

Although the "nuts and bolts" of the Autopsy's are too detailed to rehearse here, [You should read it for yourself.] it suffers from at least two major internal contradictions. One is its ambivalent attitude toward the relationship between the R.N. C. and state Republican parties, especially in the allocation of responsibility for implementing the recommendations of the report. It even admits that "the GOP today is a tale of two parties": a "gubernatorial wing" that is growing and successful, and the "federal wing," that is "increasingly marginalizing itself." It exults that Republicans holds almost as many governorships than it had during the glorious 1920s. [And just how did that turn out?]  It praises Republican governors as "reformers in chief," who "continue to deliver on conservative promises of reducing the size of government while making people's lives better," regularly "win a larger share of the minority vote than GOP presidential candidates," and "demonstrate an appeal that goes beyond the base of the Party." In all fairness, they make a sincere effort to beef up the role of state parties and to assign them specific tasks in "campaign mechanics," including candidate recruitment, voter contact and registration, vendor selection, polling, media buying and placement, fundraising, and finance. But, understandably, it also gives the R.N.C. ultimate oversight power in all of those areas, all but guaranteeing that considerable conflict will emerge in day to day operations. Exacerbating that tension is the fact that the members of the commission are, almost by definition, mainstream Republicans nervous about the Tea Party orientation of several state parties. They are obviously well aware that the seemingly endless debates and primaries of 2012 pushed Romney farther to the right than they wanted him to go, and drastically shortened his campaign time once he finally received the official nomination. Consequently, they strongly advocate reducing the number of debates and compressing the primary season to a few months early in the election year. By May, at the latest, they want an official Republican presidential candidate who can then try to heal the deep divisions and ruptures that the debates and primaries inevitably exacerbate. Republican Representatives and Senators are also concerned about being "primaried" by extremist candidates who accuse them of being too moderate and who are likely to lose in a general election.

Even more problematic are the report's recommendations for trying to maximize the party's appeal to racial and ethnic minorities, young people, and women. This seems to totally contradict the party's strategy in 2012, which was to disenfranchise as many of those same people as possible through requiring photo IDs, complicating the procedures for registration and voting, shortening the hours and moving the location of polling stations, gerrymandering districts, curtailing early and absentee voting, and various other devises, both legal and surreptitious. [See my post of September 27, 2012 and " The Truth About Voter Fraud" by the Brennan Center for Justice of the New York University School of Law.] Many of those laws are still on the books in various states;
and are only temporarily stayed by injunctions and other legal maneuvers. The most sweeping one of all is the case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court [Shelby County, Alabama v.Holder]  which would strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, thereby removing the requirement that several states infamous for their suppression of African American voters have to clear any changes in their electoral laws with the Department of Justice. Voter suppression is all part of their wider program to repeal all of the progressive gains of the past century, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the Voting Rights Act itself. The ultra right wingers are also trying to get rid of all the regulatory and environment protection laws and leave most Americans to the tender mercies of "the Market," one that is almost completely manipulated by multinational corporations beyond the control of any national government.

So despite all the "mea culpas" and pledges to be more inclusive and more technologically savvy,  it is obvious that even the most moderate of Republicans still don't "Get It." And what is the "It" that they do not "Get"? We"ll give them a hint: It is not the "Media." 



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