You would think that after the shellacking Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin took at the polls on November 4 that Republicans would be working in earnest to recast their party. Instead, there are still individuals such as Chip Saltsman, who is vying to be the chairman of the Republican National Committee, who prefer to borrow from the Lee Atwater playbook of the 1980’s. Saltsman sent committee members a CD of holiday music with the track “Barack the Magic Negro,” a parody first aired on talk show blowhard Rush Limbaugh’s show in 2007.
The song, with lyrics put to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon,” uses an actor who mimics civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton and mocks Obama’s racial identity. The CD accompanied holiday greetings from the candidate for RNC chairperson. Saltsman is a Tennessee resident and former manager for Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign.
It’s time the Republican Party decided whether it is going to be a fringe party of white resistance or a democratically representative political party open and accepting of all Americans, no matter race, creed, gender or sexual orientation. Already one of the candidates for national party chairperson, South Carolina party chair Katon Dawson, had to resign his 12 –year membership in a whites-only country club before launching his candidacy. It seems that some within the GOP would rather be “entertained” and misinformed by the likes of Limbaugh, O’Reilly and Hannity, than determine how the party can be a more representative voice in American politics.
Despite the fascination some in the party have with racial stereotyping, the rank and file would be better served by a party that was seen as less offensive by Blacks and Latinos. The overwhelming support both communities gave the Democratic ticket should be a sign to elders in the Republican Party of the need to invest in strategies to recruit people of color. If the Republican Party insists on following the likes of a Saltsman or Dawson, it runs the risk of a permanent backseat to the Democrats, at least in the House of Representatives, as the shift this November seems to suggest. Even more bad news could be in store for the GOP after 2010 when congressional districts are redrawn; particularly as Democrats control state legislatures. If the Democrats can find a way to make further inroads in southern states, the “party of Lincoln” will also see its presidential aspirations sunk.
The very fact that there is not a single Black Republican member of Congress is illustrative of how racially entrenched the party has become. As the first Black President of the United States prepares to take office, the party of the President that saved the Union is hardly recognizable as the progressive force it once was. And that is a shame. Our nation needs a vigorous multi-party political system.
Though the Democratic Party has been more closely aligned with the interests of Black Americans for the last fifty years, Blacks would be well served to recall when Democrats carried the same set of racial baggage Republicans are hauling today. Rather than settle into a false sense of security now that Democrats have regained control of the White House and Congress, Blacks should also pay close attention to the internal battle raging within the GOP. A more moderate Republican Party would serve Black America well, by keeping certain issues on the table and making Democrats act as honest brokers rather than an overconfident majority.
It will be up to Republicans to pick who will lead their party for the next four years. Two Black candidates, former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Mike Steele and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, are in the running. We offer no endorsement of either. It will take more than the selection of a Black chairperson to turn the GOP around. This is a test for the entire party. The moderate voices of rank and file Republicans must make it clear to party leaders that the GOP will no longer invest in divisive politics. It means that party politics cannot be driven by the likes of talk radio hosts or right-wing pundits.
If there was ever an opportunity to demonstrate to Blacks and Latinos that the Republican Party desires their participation, the time is now. The defeat of Saltsman and Dawson would be a good start.