Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Herman Cain's "joke"

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Indecision 2012 - Herman Cain's Electrified Fence
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Herman Cain may have taken the lead in Republican polls, but he's not going to get the nomination. You know that. Even he knows that, I suspect.

In fact, I don't think he ever expected to have a chance at the nomination. But entering the campaign as that rarity, a black Republican, would boost his chances to become a political pundit at Fox "News" and other right-wing venues. His goal was to become a celebrity - and it seems to have worked.

Note that the modern Republican Party was built from their "Southern strategy" of appealing to white racists, after Democrats passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act ending state-sponsored segregation. Politically, it was wildly successful. Sure, they lost the Northeast, formerly the Republican stronghold. But they took the entire South from the Democrats. They got all those former "Dixiecrats" to switch parties.

Of course, this meant that African Americans, as well as other racial and religious minorities, overwhelmingly tend to support the Democrats. Surprise, surprise. But blacks are only about 12% of the American population. Demonizing black people - usually indirectly, since blatant racism is not politically correct these days - keeps the Republican base happy.

Yet, most Republicans indignantly deny that they're racist, even while saying very racist things. It's been my experience that Republicans are more racist in private than they'll admit in public, but even then, they often refuse to admit - or maybe don't even recognize - their racism.

The bottom line is that Republicans are eager to demonstrate their lack of racism by expressing support for Herman Cain,... at least in polls. Well, they recognize the political advantage of appearing to be more diverse. And it is just a matter of politics. Republicans generally hate diversity, but they tend to be pretty good at politics.

So they support Herman Cain in polls, but will they actually vote for him? I tend to doubt it. Admittedly, it's not as though they have any good options...

During the Bush Administration, Republicans made a concerted effort to appeal to Hispanics. Well, Hispanic Americans tend to be Catholic, with conservative views on all those hot button "culture war" issues - abortion, gay marriage, birth control, etc. - so it seemed like a natural fit.

The problem has been that the Republican base is full of bigots. And the increasing number of Hispanics in America is one of the things that gets them wound up the most. Appealing to Latinos might make sense in a strict political sense, but it's hard to do that when your political party is pretty much based - and certainly built - on bigotry.

Now Herman Cain may be an unusual Republican in some ways, but he fits right in with the rest of them in others. His "joke" - which was, obviously, not actually a joke - about an electric fence to kill illegal immigrants got applause from Republican audiences,... but not so much from Hispanics.

Here is one example:
Lauro Garza, 49, has been a Republican as long as he remembers, proudly casting his vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and sticking with the party ever since. But after hearing Herman Cain’s “joke” about killing illegal immigrants with an electric border fence, he’s seen enough.

Garza is the Texas state director for Somos Republicans, an activist group whose stated mission is to bring Latino voters into the GOP fold. On Tuesday, he announced on the group’s website that he’s cut up his Texas GOP membership card (he posted a picture) and will identify as an independent from now on.

“I’m serious,” he told TPM over the phone. “I have allegedly pro-life Republicans telling me that advocating for the murder of people crossing the border is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. We took Herman Cain’s remark very seriously because it was the second or third time he had said similar things.”

Garza dismissed Cain’s initial comments that the statement was a joke, noting that Cain subsequently said he would seriously consider an actual electrified fence as a solution to the border crisis. To Garza, the reaction of the GOP already gave away the game.

“People didn’t laugh, they cheered,” he said. “They didn’t think it was a joke. That remarks advocating the murder of innocent people and unconstitutional use of force by someone running for president were met with cheers by Republicans is outrageous.” ...

According to Garza, few Republican Latinos have stuck with the party as long as he has in the face of its rising anti-immigration fervor. He noted that Somos Republicans’ founder, Dee Dee Blase, left the GOP as well recently.

This is the problem when you've built a political party on racism, on bigotry, on fear and hatred. Appealing to white racists after the 1964 Civil Rights Act must have seemed like a brilliant political move, and indeed it was - certainly in the short-term. Republicans have dominated nationally since then, despite such complete political disasters as Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.

But mainstream Republicans who thought to use those Bible Belt racists now find that they're the Republican base. Republicans are overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly Christian, generally elderly, and full of suspicion and fear - if not actual hatred - for people who are different. As America becomes more and more diverse, that is starting to become a disadvantage. Well, you reap what you sow.

Herman Cain is a token black man in a party which wants to deny its essential nature (at least in public). Given their hysterics about Barack Obama, they might indeed vote for Cain, if they think it would be a smart political move. But I tend to doubt it, even though Cain is about as right-wing as you get.

And would it pull many black people from the Democratic Party anyway? Republicans tend to think that black people voted for Obama only because he's black. Well, that's what they would think, isn't it? What else could you expect from "those people"?

This is why Republicans are wild about Marco Rubio, their new Cuban-American senator from Florida, too. They're certain that picking him to run for vice-president will cause Hispanics to vote Republican. But as noted above, appealing to Hispanics isn't easy for a party that uses the fear of Hispanics for political purposes.

The Republican base hates diversity. They want America to be a "Christian nation," abandoning our traditional separation of church and state. They hate immigration, legal and illegal alike. They're having hysterics now that non-Hispanic white births are becoming a minority in America. The election of our first non-white president has focused their fear and their hatred as nothing else would.

Sure, as a matter of pure politics, the Republican Party would like to attract black and Hispanic votes. At the very least, they don't want to turn off even white voters by appearing to be too bigoted. But this isn't easy to do when your party was built by deliberately appealing to racists.

Politically, that "Southern strategy" was wildly successful. Cynical? Yes, of course. Wrong? Absolutely, yes. (For all its faults, I remember than the Democratic Party did put what was right for America above political expediency. That means a lot to me.) But the Southern strategy was definitely successful,... for awhile.

Now, maybe we're starting to see the downside? I hope so!

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