Rebutting Towery: Republicans have an image problem, not a Reagan problem
by Barbara Donnelly Lane
Columnist
November 11, 2012 12:20 AM | 1597 views | 6 6 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On the day after the election, at a luncheon in Cobb County, political consultant Matt Towery looked for lessons to be learned. He noted that the Republican Party is going to have to increase the size of its footprint if it’s going to remain relevant. Republicans must figure out how to show they are inclusive to widen the base.

On this point, Towery is absolutely right, but I do not think he has focused enough on the problems associated with poor Republican imaging. This, I believe, is a driving factor in conservative decline.

For good or bad, we live in a world that constructs identities through surface impressions and sound bites. People accept distortions of even moderate Republicans because the whole brand is tarnished.

Just consider how Mitt Romney, an accomplished and generous human being — the son of one of the staunchest supporters of the Civil Rights Movement — was deftly turned into a top hat wearing caricature speaking in racially “coded” language.

In fact, on the night of the election, a university professor told me Romney represents everything he detests in our society. Understanding that academia — even academia in Georgia — is steeped in New York Times thinking and views the world through what I see as a horribly limited prism that propagates what I believe is an extremely narrow intellectual vision, I found this a most curious statement.

Mitt Romney obviously adores his family. He’s a responsible father who has cared for a loving wife in sickness as well as health. When in positions of power, he has demonstrated that he does not care about color or creed or gender. He has merely asked for hard work.

Do these values as exhibited through an examinable record sound sinister?

Whether or not one agreed with Romney’s platform, he wanted a vibrant economy so that all Americans could own the dignity that comes with self-determination. On social issues, despite clamors to the contrary, he is steadfastly moderate. While privileged as a child, his prime role model was a self-made man who engendered a spirit of fair treatment for all as well as the audacity of ambition to want more for America’s minority children.

There are many things in our society to hate: the frivolity of Honey Boo Boo, failing public schools, the fact that Paris Hilton’s dog once “wrote” a book that people bought. But Romney’s ideological moorings are not made of the stuff one “detests.”

And this is the thing. That college professor isn’t stupid. I even like him. Why does he have such a visceral dislike for what he thinks Republicans symbolize? Why do the majority of his students seem to feel that Republicans are little more than a collection of racist misogynists who want women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen?

I can’t answer that question for the professor, but I have a couple of theories when it comes to the students.

In a graduate course that has been heavily tilted toward 20th century American politics, we have read a consistent narrative that the party of Lincoln has a history of appealing to racists al a Strom Thurmond, Jessie Helms, and an infamous “Southern Strategy” that supposedly goes after the white segregationist vote.

There is never discussion in any class of how Democrats have a much deeper history of appealing to racists al a Robert Byrd, Al Gore Sr., and the infamous Jim Crowe, one-party system they erected, which definitely kept the South trapped in nineteenth-century depravity until the Civil Rights Movement.

Students know very little about the role Republicans have played in pushing for equal rights. (For goodness’ sake, Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican!) They are never asked to consider how one can agitate for change while remaining grounded in tradition because they are never presented a conservative’s viewpoints as seen by a conservative.

Second, pop culture is all-powerful and should not be ignored. Liberal values are couched as “good” on television while conservatives are not. Watch just one episode of “The New Normal” — a fairly funny sitcom — and you’ll see what I mean.

So when Matt Towery also posits it’s time for Republicans to stop wanting to channel Ronald Reagan, I say he is completely wrong.

While certainly a political pragmatist, Reagan never discarded core vales. Rather, he sold his ideas to the public. He did not allow himself to be defined by the Liberal machine. He controlled the conversation.

There are many lessons to be learned by this recent loss. However, as we rebuild, I would humbly put forth Republicans have an image problem. Not a Reagan one.

Barbara Donnelly Lane lives in east Cobb and blogs on the MDJonline.com web site.
Comments
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Concerned Citizen
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November 12, 2012
The election says so much more than Mitt Romney had to say about those voters who are becoming more and more dependent upon the government. It also speaks volumes about where many of the voters obtain their information about candidates. The substance of the voters' information about candidates is sadly lacking. I asked a 7th grader this week who Abraham Lincoln was, and he didn't know. Both my husband and I have advanced degrees and have taught school. It depresses me to think of educators who fail to present both sides of arguments and who fail to produce knowledgeable students who can think beyond what the talk shows say.
otter357
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November 12, 2012
Its not an image problem, its a substance problem.

We don't want want the republican party stands for.

But keep trying to twist images so they can be sold. Fewer and fewer people will buy. Your party is a horrible party that advocates horrible policy.
Kevin Foley
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November 11, 2012
Sorry, Ms. Lane, but there was nothing coded about Romney's "47%" comments. His attitude, inadvertently revealed to the public, torpedoed his campaign.

Ann Coulter makes the same specious argument about Democrats being the real racists. In fact, the South went Democratic after the Civil War in protest to Lincoln. But the was nothing "democratic" about the Dixiecrats you mention.

You are right. The GOP has an image problem when Ted Nugent and Michelle Bachmann are the face of the party. See my column about moderation if you want to find out what Republicans need to do to become relevant again.

Devlin Adams
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November 11, 2012
I read your column, Foley. You make a couple of good points but miss the mark completely in all the rest of the column.

As to the 47% remark, why don't you cut Romney the same amount of slack you wanted us to cut Obama for his "You didn't build that, somebody else did it for you " remark?

Your double standards are getting a bit tireseome.
anonymous
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November 12, 2012
Foley wants to ignore who was hosing down and turning the dogs loose on the negroes in the 60s and stopping them from going to school and burying some of them under earthen dams. He also wants to ignore who was getting violent in Mass. in the 70s when bussing (i.e. making the white folks go to school with the black folks) was thrust on those ever so tolerant Mass Liberals by the Fed courts. Of course, the fact that LBJ could not get his democrat brothers to support the civil rights act...that has to be ignored as well. That they ALL had Ds beside their names...ignored. Specious? Absolutely not.

For the libs it is very important to keep the realities of the democrat history on the down low...it is hard to keep the black folks on the new plantation of the liberal democrats, once they learn that their masters are none other than the whiny liberal democrats.

BTW, does "Foley" by chance mean "clueless fool" in Polish?

Marie in Marietta
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November 11, 2012
Amen sister!

In a graduate course that has been heavily tilted toward 20th century American politics, we have read a consistent narrative that the party of Lincoln has a history of appealing to racists al a Strom Thurmond, Jessie Helms, and an infamous “Southern Strategy” that supposedly goes after the white segregationist vote.

There is never discussion in any class of how Democrats have a much deeper history of appealing to racists al a Robert Byrd, Al Gore Sr., and the infamous Jim Crowe, one-party system they erected, which definitely kept the South trapped in nineteenth-century depravity until the Civil Rights Movement.

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