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.