I’m sure you know the story about the guy who goes to the doctor and says, “My brother thinks he’s a chicken.” The doctor says, “Why don’t you have him committed?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.” I think that story relates to Republicans’ increasing difficulty winning elections. Yes, I know: 2010 and 2014. But they only do well in these off year elections because no one shows up. Slowly, the entire Republican base is dying off and the Democratic base is growing up and, hopefully, starting to take voting more seriously. But I don’t think this is all about bigotry as many claim. I think it is about eggs.
EJ Dionne wrote an interesting article recently in The Washington Post, Can the GOP Learn From California? It is about how California went from a swing state just a couple of decades ago to one of the bluest of states. According to the article, this is all about bigotry — especially the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 so loved by then governor Pete Wilson. But I really wonder about that. Californians have never really had a problem with bigotry. After all, Proposition 187 won by an overwhelming majority: 59-41. And Reagan and Bush Sr both won the state.
I think that the bigger problem is just that the Republicans are incompetent. People everywhere are willing to vote for racists if they think the racists will do right by them. Remember: Bush won the state using the infamous Willie Horton ad. And Prop 187 was six years after that. The problem is that Republicans have gotten a reputation for not being good at their jobs. And they aren’t! Even worse: they don’t seem to care about being good at their jobs. And they don’t! I’m sure the only California Republican Congressmen you’ve ever heard of are Kevin McCarthy and Darrell Issa. McCarthy — who represents Bakersfield — is against any action at all on global warming. If there is one thing that legislators from California should care about, it is global warming. But McCarthy just cares about drilling more oil. And Issa, of course, is just a freak — and a flat out climate change denier. These are not serious men. They are ideologues who are dedicated to the interests of the rich.
I’m not suggesting that the bigotry of the Republican Party doesn’t hurt it. The lesson of Lee Atwater’s “Nigger, nigger, nigger” comment is that bigotry changes over time. And it is becoming more and more clear modern bigots need to come up with even more subtle dog whistles. Of course, a big problem is that the Republicans have gone backwards and allowed rather direct bigotry to creep back into their lexicon. And it isn’t so much that the voters of America disagree or, in any event, have a problem with it as a practical matter. But they do have a problem with being associated with it. The point of dog whistles is that they provide plausible deniability. Being in favor of deporting honor students in the name of the “rule of law” just doesn’t provide much cover.
If Republicans could actually deliver the goods, they could overcome this. But Obama beat Romney in 2012 by a shocking margin of 60-37. And I think Romney’s anti-immigrant stance has been way overstated. He was for self-deportation. That was a dog whistle to the immigrant community, “I’m not going to do dick!” But it was kind of hard to take Romney’s economic policies seriously when they are the same as the ones Republicans were pushing in 1980. Then, the top marginal tax rate was 70%. When Romney was running, it was 35%. In the meantime, average Americans had seen no improvement in their lives. But yet another tax cut for the rich was going to help?
Another problem with the focus on Republican bigotry is that it is pretty much all they have. Look at the states that Romney won. It’s a map of the deep south and those other states where the racists have gone and the Klan still lives:
How long are those states going to vote Republican if the party doesn’t constantly assure the voters that as bad as its policies are, at least it will always proclaim the white race supreme? Not long. And the idea that the Republican Party could change its image is ridiculous. Even the most outspoken Republicans for change only want to do the bare minimum — and to hold their noses while they do it. If the Republicans really want to start winning elections outside of huge economic downturns, they should start governing like they actually thought it was a worthwhile endeavor. Until then, they won’t deliver the eggs.