Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Olympia Snowe Wrong--GOP Reaching for Diversity

In response to Arlen Specter switching from the Republicans to the Democrats, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe wrote an op-ed for the New York Times criticizing the Republican Party for its lack of diversity:

When Senator Jeffords became an independent in 2001, I said it was a sad day for the Republicans, but it would be even sadder if we failed to confront and learn from the devaluation of diversity within the party that contributed to his defection . . .

In that same vein, I am reminded of a briefing by a prominent Republican pollster after the 2004 election. He was asked what voter groups Republicans might be able to win over. He responded: women in general, married women with children, Hispanics, the middle class in general, and independents.

How well have we done as a party with these groups? Unfortunately, the answer is obvious from the results of the last two elections. We should be reaching out to these
segments of our population — not de facto ceding them to the opposing party.

The problem with Snowe's analysis is that thinking of diversity in such a conventional manner causes her to miss the current dynamic in the Republican Party. Generally, Americans think of diversity in terms of a specific language of race, gender, sexual orientation, and class. In race, white is the norm and African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans are diversity. With gender, it's a male "norm" and female "diversity." In terms of sexual orientation, heterosexuals are the norm and gay men and lesbians are diversity and middle-class people are the norm and poor people the diversity. This kind of social language is ground into people through all kinds of the media and public education. By the time American students start attending colleges like the one I teach at, most of them have adopted some version of diversity language as a second nature.

This kind of view is continuously and rightly criticized for defining the "norm" as white, male, heterosexual, and middle-class. But it's also hard to get away from. Like every college professor I know, I criticize diversity language and still end up relying on it all the same.

But the conventional language of diversity clearly does not apply to the current situation in the Republican Party. The Republican Party is becoming more diverse despite not fitting within contemporary diversity frameworks. I don't remember seeing a lot of African-Americans or Hispanics among the crowds at the recent Tea Party events. But the Tea Parties were still very diverse affairs with one world conspiracy theorists, Ayn Randians, survivalists, laissez faire purists, anti-immigration activists, libertarians, white racists, the far reaches of the anti-abortion right, and other kinds of groups in attendance. All these strands of white, right-wing sentiment are highly distinct in relation to each other as well as "mainstream" politics. The people who hold these views also highly conscious of that distinctiveness and they also have been very marginalized in American politics and American society to a certain extent. What's happening within the post-Bush Republicans is that Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, and Fox News are reaching out to these constituencies and bringing them into the Republican Party orbit. Unlike Olympia Snowe, I think they're making the Republican Party a significantly more diverse party in the process.

Still, reaching out to these groups is a strategy for losing lots of elections and declining as a party. In fact, the conventional language of diversity locates "diversity" in much larger groups than the groups to which the Republicans are directing their appeals. Women are 52% of the population and vote at higher rates than males. Independents constitute almost 30% percent of the voting public. Hispanics and African-Americans are both about 13% of the population. To the contrary, the strands of right-wing thought represented at the Tea Party rallies are much smaller populations. In fact, I doubt that all the groups who appeared at the Tea Party rallies would equal the Jewish or Muslim populations at about 3%.

The Republican Party is not shrinking because it's not trying to broaden its appeal, it's shrinking because it's broadening it's appeal to such small groups. In the wake of their 2006 and 2008 defeats, the Republicans have reaffirmed their commitment to conservative orthodoxy and are seeking growth by integrating smaller, heretofore marginalized categories of right-wingers into the party apparatus. In other words, they're more committed to the identity politics of the right than winning elections in any but the safest Republican areas.

If Olympia Snowe is going to keep thinking in terms of the conventional discourse of "diversity," she's either going to have to accept increasing marginalization within the Republican Party or leave the party.

1 comment:

Reaganite Republican Resistance said...

This cynical, self-serving move had absolutely nothing to do with values, policy, or any high-minded thinking of any kind- though President Obama surely would like for you to think that.

Everybody knows he did it because he was down 21% in the polls leading-up to the GOP primary for his seat- and Joey Pluggs made a deal with him, he already admitted as such. The sad truth is that this hack has spent three decades in the Senate, while accomplishing little.

And Barack and him have a lot in common- as unprincipled political opportunists, I’m sure they’ll get along just great.

Just a little over a month ago, the Senator said in an interview that he wouldn’t switch parties due to the importance of checks and balances.

And back in 2001, Sen. Arlen Specter, then a Republican, proposed a rule forbidding party switches… he was upset when Vt Sen. Jim Jeffords’ left the GOP to become an independent.

Who knows what the truth is with this guy, you’ll never get it from him.

With all due respect, Senator- don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out. Nobody on our side’s going to miss you.