Over the last week the Republican Party has managed to take all of the positive attention gained from the selection of Michael Steele as its first Black chairperson and flush it down the toilet with their politically motivated opposition to the economic recovery legislation under consideration. At a time of extreme urgency in our nation, as 600,000 more Americans are reported to have lost their jobs last month, Republicans have decided to try to score political points rather than put the interest of our nation first. The drama playing out on Capitol Hill is proof positive that Republican leadership is out of touch with the American public.
It would be one thing if Republicans claimed that they were shut out of the process by their Democratic colleagues, or that the President was turning a deaf ear to their concerns. President Obama has, at this early stage of his administration, extended himself in a bipartisan fashion unlike any President we can recall. There can be no claim from Republicans that this White House has been inaccessible. In the spirit of his historic campaign for the presidency, Mr. Obama has ended “business as usual’ in how policy is formulated and has sought to build consensus through dialogue, not third-party attacks or trashing the opposition from his bully pulpit. At a minimum he should be commended for the civility of his approach.
Republicans, on the other hand, apparently did not get the message from their defeat at the polls in November. Rather than embrace the positive mood of the country toward our new President, evident in his high public approval ratings, the GOP has opted instead to offer the same prescriptions that the electorate has roundly rejected. Just the image of Senator John McCain, the symbol of the Republican’s November debacle, leading the charge against President Obama’s plan points to a party that is delusional. In an environment where the public is clamoring for change, the Republican Party is providing more of the same, rehashed ideas that have been roundly rejected and proven ineffective in changing conditions for most Americans.
If the Republican Party believes that it can expand its base by operating in this manner it is mistaken. The exact opposite is bound to happen. Given that they have opposed provisions in the stimulus package that would be specifically beneficial to Blacks and Latinos; the party has once again cast its lot as a party of white resistance no matter if their new leader is a Black man. Their arguments against many of the spending provisions, including school construction, are old and petty in the face of so many Americans losing their jobs. Where they could have taken the high road and moved in a spirit of cooperation with the new President, the Republican Party has chosen to fire up the base and burn the nation.
At some point it will dawn upon more sensible elements within the Republican Party that the conservative base is writing the party’s epitaph – Right for all the Wrong Reasons – and that absent a complete implosion by the Democrats, the GOP stands little chance at pulling people of color into its orbit. Every step is a misstep in reimaging Lincoln’s party at the very moment it should use the occasion of the 16th President’s two hundredth birthday to commit to a more inclusive vision. Instead, it has dipped into its old bag of tricks and pulled out the same old stunts that serve only to divide the nation.
There is the very real possibility that the economic recovery bill, formally the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, will be passed with only a handful of Republicans voting in its favor. If that becomes the case the American public, including those Republican voters standing on unemployment lines, would be well served to return the favor when midterm elections come around in two years. Historically, the party in power in the White House loses House seats after the first two years but the Republican Party is giving Democrats an opportunity to run the table in 2011.
Our community needs jobs and jobs now. The time for political gamesmanship is over. Black voters should not forget how Republicans chose politics over substance at a time when Black unemployment is 12.6 percent, and 14.1 percent and 36.5 percent for Black men and teenagers respectively. Michael Steele’s hole just got a little deeper.