Lola in The New Statesman: The Republican Party’s future: evolve or die

[Originally published in The New Statesman]
If the GOP is to avoid becoming completely irrelevant, it needs to embrace people who actually understand modern America.
While President Obama’s supporters bask in re-election glory, America’s conservatives have been left asking themselves how and why their man managed to lose this election and what they can do to ensure a Republican win in 2016.  
The truth is that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why Romney lost. His failure is obvious to anyone who exists outside of the conservative bubble. People voted not just against Romney, but against his party’s values and what the Republican Party has come to stand for, particularly on social issues like race, women’s rights, gay marriage and immigration, in recent years. The question now is what the future of the party is.
When, after the 2008 election, the party took a sharp shift to the right and fully embraced the Tea Party as its “base”, it embraced ideology over pragmatism, and decided that fanaticism based on nostalgia for a (older, white, male, deeply religious, exclusive) America of yesteryear was better than keeping up with the pace of progress. 
The Tea Party – and other radicals like those in the Birther movement who have spent a great deal of time on petty issues such as demanding President Obama’s birth certificate – was allowed to become synonymous with mainstream conservatism, even though it is really a fringe group made up of a small number of people. This led to the Republican brand falling into an even sadder state than it had been after eight years of George Bush’s contentious presidency. 
Unable to accept the shifting social, cultural and demographic realities of modern America, the Republican Party clung to the idea that it could fight the direction in which the country is moving and thought little of alienating key voting blocs such as women and minorities – to its own detriment. 
These past two elections have seen a huge increase in non-white voters and increased support from women, youth and minorities that was enough to swing the vote in President Obama’s favour in 2012 as they did in 2008. Whether or not conservatives like it, these groups hold the key to the future and will only gain in power and number. In other words, they will not be ignored. 
In the post-election analysis, some have started to acknowledge this fact, with former House speaker Newt Gingrich admitting that he and others like Karl Rove were “wrong” about Romney’s prospects. We all thought we understood the historical pattern and the fact that with this level of unemployment, with this level of gasoline pricing what would happen…,” he said.  
On the Huffington Post, a Republican strategist also outlines the level of disconnect that the current party has with the country:
  • We thought young voters would not turn out at the same level as 2008. They did. In fact, they represented 19 per cent of the electorate per exit polls–as high, if not higher, than four years ago.
  • We said that Democrats would not be +6 over Republicans and if they were, Obama would win. Well, they did and he did. Again, exit polls say Democrats were +6. Romney needed the proportion of Republicans and Democrats to be even to win.
  • We thought minority turnout would be lower than 2008. It was not. In several important precincts in key states, minorities voted in numbers equal to – and in some cases better than – four years ago.
  • We thought Romney would win Independents by double digits. He won them, but by just five points.
  • We thought Romney would have a huge gender advantage among men; it was only seven points. Meanwhile, the President won women by 11 points.
  • We thought Romney would dominate on being “better able to handle the economy.” He only beat the President on this issue by a few points. Not enough.
This level of flawed thinking is stunning.
If the Republican Party is to move away from being seen as fringe and disconnected, it needs new leadership that will embrace the mainstream, acknowledge the country’s changes and face reality head on. It needs people who actually understand modern America – perhaps themselves young, brown, female. But this must go beyond mere tokenism. 
Republicans would do well to denounce the deeply unpopular Tea Party as its base and admonish the racist, misogynist, fanatics that it brings with it. It would benefit from separating itself from people like the sensationalist Donald Trump, Todd “legitimate rape” Akins (who lost his Tea Party seat in Missouri) and people of their ilk, moving away from the extreme right to a more palatable middle ground for those who may be fiscally conservative yet socially moderate or liberal. It should speak to people and ask them what they need and what they’d like to see from the party. 
Those who put millions of dollars into super PACs with very little, if any, return on investment should realize that more than money, the party needs a strong sense of purpose and vision that resonates with a wider range of Americans.
I’m no Republican, but even I have been shocked by the party’s lack of understanding about the direction of the country and their arrogance in believing that somehow they can ignore, dismiss, denigrate and insult large swathes of the voting population and still win. The Republican Party of today risks becoming irrelevant in future years if it cannot get with the programme. 
It is time for a new “base”, one that accurately reflects the direction in which America is moving. Whether or not such leadership can emerge from the Republican Party, however, remains to be seen.
It is Charles Darwin who said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” If the Republican Party is to survive, it must listen to Darwin’s words. Its current choice is to evolve or die. 

Leave confederate history in the past

Virginia governor Bob McDonnell wants to celebrate confederate history – but it is inextricably linked to slavery

There’s no shortage of events to create uproar in America. A couple of weeks ago it was caused by members of the Tea Party who seemed to forget that this is 2010, not 1965, and took to insulting black and gay congressmen while protesting in Washington. This month it has been Republican Governor Bob McDonnell’s turn to cause outrage with his declaration that April is Confederate History Month in the state of Virginia.

As a guest on Rev Al Sharpton’s radio show last week, I listened to caller after caller express their view on commemorating confederate history. Unsurprisingly it is a sore point (to put it mildly) for the many African-Americans whose roots lie in the south. It shouldn’t just be a sore point to African-Americans though – the confederacy was a stain on America’s history. It’s truly a wonder that any American would feel comfortable commemorating something which was the source of so much suffering for others and that created a legacy of deeply entrenched inequality that could be said to be at the root of many of the continued issues that America faces today.

In 1861, just weeks after Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas seceded from the union, Alexander Stephens, the vice-president of the confederacy delivered a speech which became known as the Cornerstone Speech. In it, he said: “[The] foundations [of the new government] are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” Even though McDonnell has now recognised slavery as part of Confederate History Month, the above statement alone should be enough to make him ponder deeply on the merits of commemorating anything from which such assertions came.

States like Virginia only fought so hard for their independence from the union in the civil war because they wished to continue to enslave millions of black people and to maintain the white supremacy that Stephens talked about in the Cornerstorne Speech. Furthermore, not only did confederate states secede from the union in order to protect their interests as slave owners, but their actions were also considered treason and illegal in the eyes of the rest of the union. And all that is the “sacrifice” that is apparently worth commemorating?

A man who called into Rev Sharpton’s show last week said: “What surprises me [about the reinstating of Confederate History Month] is that anyone’s surprised that this is still happening.” His view was that, African-American president or not, in many parts of America there are still people who cling to the notion that America was better in the old days, in the days before black people had the opportunity to do anything, much less become president. It is a shame that these can find allies in people like McDonnell.

While there are clearly progressive, forward-thinking Americans, it has also become clear that there are a number of Americans who are clinging to a very unsavory version of the past. The ugliness that has reared its head from those people since President Obama’s election has also been nothing short of spectacular and nothing short of depressing. It is truly a strange and sorry thing to see.

It is time for all people, Governor McDonnell included, to start looking ahead to the future. The past is gone, and celebrating the olden days in this way is a fruitless exercise which only courts controversy and creates deeper divisions. Politicians who practise divisive tactics like this should not be allowed to remain in office. Society simply has no need for this.

Forget confederate history. It is time for politicians of this kind to be history.

GOP, step away from the Tea Party

After the racist and homophobic insults used at a rally against healthcare reform, Republicans should denounce the Tea Party
Supporters of the Tea Party movement hold a sign outside the US Capitol
 Tea Party protesters hold a sign outside the US Capitol as they demonstrate against the health care bill. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Over the past year, the Tea Party movement has grown to the point where it can get a great deal of press attention and exposure. While that may be a good thing for the Tea Party, it is proving to be not necessarily so for the Republican party, which has jumped onto the Tea Party bandwagon.

Some Republicans may have become affiliated with the Tea Party movement in the hope of aligning themselves with an invigorated and energetic grassroots conservative movement. Instead, Republicans are now finding themselves in alignment with a movement in which some members feel that it is OK to shout out racist and homophobic insults (including the N-word) and spit at Congressmen as happened this weekend when the Tea Party protested against healthcare reform on Capitol Hill.

Despite the weekend’s shocking behaviour – one Congressman and civil rights leader, John Lewis, said he had not experienced such attackssince the 1960s – Republicans, particularly GOP chairman Michael Steele, spent the weekend defending and rationalising those Tea Party goers’ actions. This is dangerous ground for the Republican party.

There are some benefits of getting involved in a movement that is not clearly defined. The Tea Party was originally framed in the media as an umbrella movement for a bunch of disgruntled Conservatives, whatever their discontent may be. On that level, the Tea Party presented an opportunity for Republicans to gain some leverage.

The flip side is that a movement with no specific cause attracts all sorts of people with all sorts of agendas, which can put the GOP in a tricky position, and potentially turn important voters against them. The idea of what a “conservative” or “Republican” is continues to be shaped and distorted by a minority of people on the fringes who get the most attention. This does nothing to attract new supporters or independents and it may indeed turn off existing, more moderate Republican supporters. This is not a good strategy for the 2010 elections – unless that is, the GOP is looking to portray itself as a very rightwing, almost extremist party.

The obstructionist attitude may have worked while healthcare reform was still going through Congress, but with its passing, it is likely that public sentiment may continue to warm in the president’s direction. The fringe elements of the Tea Party will only start to look more and more repulsive which would only harm the Republicans, making them look even more narrow and one-dimensional.

“Appealing to the base” seems to be a key concern of Republicans, but if the base is the type of people who were at the rally this weekend and Republicans do not denounce that type of behaviour, the Tea Party may start to be of more harm to the Republicans than good. Yet, this all leads back to the question that was raised after Barack Obama’s election, which is what the GOP actually stands for. Right now, it looks like the Tea Party is getting to say who the Republicans are. And that’s a type of tea that many people might not want to drink come election time.