Whether it is What Not to Wear on TLC or it is a random passer-by being plucked out of oblivion to enjoy a surprise makeover on Kathy Lee and Hoda's fourth hour of the Today Show, America loves a good makeover. They are fun, exciting, and they are obviously prime-time-television-worthy. And, for the most part, they are seemingly effortless. There are a team of professionals with makeup brushes stuffed in what looks like a tool belt tied around their waists -- they mean business -- ready to reveal a prettier, glossier version of you. It's fun, right? Well, it's fun until we start talking about making over the far right. Then it just gets messy.
It took two semi-blistering presidential elections and a loss of seats in the 2012 congressional races for the tea party (I refuse to capitalize that) to figure out that they are not exactly "representative" of America. They realized that they, too, are in need of a prime-time-television-worthy makeover. The problem is no one is buying it.
Let me make what is probably an obvious confession by this point: I am a Democrat; but I am a southern, moderate democrat. I am not a left-wing, left coast, tree-hugging, peace-sign-wearing hippie. I am a high school government teacher from a rural town in the South. I am an advocate for the environment but I admit to being an inconsistent recycler; I do enjoy visiting the much less humid state of California but I like sweet tea too much to relocate there; I fancy Fashion Week catwalks too much to be a hippie, and I drew peace signs in my notebooks in middle school, but I don't recall actually wearing any. Not that there is anything wrong with falling into these categories -- I just want to be clear about my not-so-out-there perspective on the faux-GOP-makeover.
Following the 2012 election, there have been all sorts of questions raised about the state of the GOP. How will they reinvent themselves? What policy concessions are they willing to make to reach more voters? Are there enough makeup brushes in a tool belt to pretty this up? Okay, that last one was my question, but you get the idea. The problem with the far right facelift is this: In their 2012 election reflection, the tea party blamed America for changing instead of blaming themselves for being unwilling to change.
Granted, any time a party loses a presidential race, the re-messaging, re-marketing, and re-branding begins. Neither party is immune to the need to appeal to voters in the name of survival. The Republicans knew that following Clinton's presidency, the way to win was to market George W. Bush as the family man and the anti-Clinton candidate, since he was running against Clinton's vice president. Then, when Bush ran as an incumbent against now Secretary of State John Kerry, he was re-marketed as the cowboy-boot-wearing-tough-guy-from-Texas as a contrast to the Northeastern, windsurfing, married-into-wealth democratic candidate.
Both attempts to appeal to the electorate worked. I would imagine that there will be an anti-Obama marketing element in the next election simply because presidents seem to wear out their welcome after eight years. Time will tell. In any case, messaging and marketing are key to any political race. One-word slogans or even a simple symbol come to define a candidate: Maverick, Hope, Change... and that's just 2008. But how do you repackage racism, sexism, and bigotry? Do you tell homosexuals that you misunderstood the meaning of "equal treatment under the law?" Sorry, guys. We just realized that sexuality probably should not have a bearing on equality. Do you tell women that you take back the "personhood bills" that would effectively outlaw contraception? Hey girl, we actually do believe you have the right to family planning now. Do you deconstruct the wall on the southern border of the "melting pot?" Hey folks, come on over! And vote Republican while you're here.
Forgive my sarcasm, but you get the point. The GOP cannot patch up years and years of marginalizing minorities with a "Forget We Said That" campaign. The far right cannot all of a sudden genuinely like, respect, and advocate for minorities after the policies they have put forth over the last decade. This is not a case where the far right is trying to repackage a tough talking cowboy from Texas. The issues that the right wing of the GOP face run much deeper than a makeover campaign.
Now, I clearly understand that not all Republicans are racist, sexist bigots. I am surrounded by respectable, moderate republicans (and frankly, I feel for them having to carry the weight of the tea party in recent elections). I am speaking of the extreme "legitimate rape" and "let's put an electric fence on top of the border wall" Republicans. The ones that need to go -- even Karl Rove says so.
But even after the GOP realized that they lack "minority appeal" in the 2012 mid-term election, they still neglected to elect any women or minorities from their party to congressional leadership positions. Sure, they had a colorful array of speakers at the RNC -- and like a makeover -- it looked good on prime time television. But speakers can be tokens; leaders have substance. Perhaps one of the most telling signs was when the camera panned to the audience. The sea of delegates sitting in the seats at the RNC fit the Republican stereotype of 2012 -- the same stereotype they are trying to stifle -- only because they realized it cost them their second presidential election in a row.
It is no coincidence that the audience at the RNC appeared to be mainly white, middle-aged or older, males. That did not happen by chance. Nor did it happen because of a "we need to get more votes" marketing campaign from the democrats. It happened because, in 2008 and 2012, minorities and women felt that they were better represented by the Democratic Party.
Personally speaking, that is a genuine feeling based on policy initiatives, not one manufactured by a political marketing team. The GOP even realizes that because, following the 2012 election, they went on a retreat to figure out how to get women and minorities to like them.
Makeovers are about a superficial alternation of the surface -- a new shade of lipstick to bring out your smile, or a pop of color to freshen up your complexion. However, this new, fresh look does not change you; it simply makes you look different. No amount of superficial change will alter the structure of a person. The GOP's issues are not superficial, they are structural. The problem is not that the tea party candidates say the wrong things -- the problem is that they say what they mean. Until the far-right wing has a genuine change of heart concerning their view of Hispanics, women, minorities, homosexuals, etc., the Republican Party as a whole will have a hard time outgrowing its need for political lipstick. Until the GOP can neutralize the far-right wing of its party that is unable to have a change of heart concerning minorities, it will lose its ability to genuinely treat and speak of Americans as just that -- Americans.
Marginalizing minorities and women no longer makes you the American elite; it makes you the political minority. Oh, the irony.
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