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Mike Duncan's Silence and The Republican Party of Exclusion

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This morning, NPR's Steve Inskeep interviewed the chairman of the Republican party, Mike Duncan, who is trying to hold on to his chairmanship despite the massive GOP loss in November. The most interesting part of the interview wasn't anything Duncan said.

Rather, it was Duncan's long silence when asked about the perception of the GOP as the party of exclusion. His silence spoke louder than anything that he had said in terms of how incapable the Republican Party still is of recognizing what it did wrong and what it needs to do in order to gain Americans' trust.

Listen to the interview here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98116257

The comment that stumped Duncan came from Jerry of Sister, OR, toward the end of the 5-minute interview. Jerry's comment was simply that "The Republican party needs to distance itself from the religious right." Duncan had a quick, formulaic response: "We embrace lots of different people. . . We think that our values resonate better with the American people." No explanation of how it can be that they were voted out of office when their values "resonate" better was given.

Inskeep kept asking. He asked as anyone listening to Duncan would: "Is there then an assumption that this person has that is mistaken?" Silence. Inskeep was forced to pose the question again: "Is there an assumption that this person has that is wrong about the way the Republican party is set up?" Silence. Finally, Duncan responded, "The Republican party is a party of big tent. We welcome people of different ideas and different philosophies in the Republican party."

Now these statements run contrary to the strategy employed by McCain/Palin ticket during the general election. Presidential tickets typically are representatives of the party, so I am sure that I am not wrong in thinking the McCain/Palin ticket's election strategy also reflected the Republican Party's beliefs. Then how can we forget the infamous statement by Palin: "[Obama] is a man who sees America not like you and I see America."

She went even further. She was happy to be in the "pro-America" part of the country, well, as opposed to the not so pro-America parts of the country. The theme of "us" vs. "them" was used again and again at their campaign rallies.

And who exactly was "us"? One obvious place to look for this "us" would be the Republican Party Convention. And who did we see there? Who was this "us"? I saw mostly old white folks in stiff suits swooning at every crack of the whip that Sarah Palin so skillfully employed. And how about the rabid crowd in a rabid frenzy at Palin rallies who shouted "kill him!" and "off with his head"?

Now, it boggles my mind how the Republican Party can still be wondering how it lost the Hispanic vote. Isn't that obvious? It is obvious to me, and I am sure it is obvious to many others, especially Hispanic voters. Most Hispanics count themselves as members of a minority group, so then is it any wonder that they voted for Barack Obama?

Given the venom and frenzy, given the anti-immigrant, anti-"them" sentiments at the McCain/Palin rallies, is it a wonder that Hispanic voters simply could not see themselves voting for McCain/Palin? How would they in their self-interest vote for the ticket that tells them they are not "us"?

Perhaps Duncan really is ignorant. He really does not know that the Republican Party has become a party of exclusion. However, why would he fall "silent" when asked if this particular perception was somehow a "mistaken" one? But it was also obvious, even on the radio waves, that he was searching for the right words because, as Duncan himself said during the interview, the Republicans just "need to articulate ideas better" and "to stimulate new ways of thinking, new words."

But this reveals only one thing: they are incapable of recognizing mistakes. It is not that they are ignorant, they are in total denial.

That is why Bobby Jindal and Anh Cao are being heralded as the saviors of the Republicans. Because they see nothing fundamentally wrong with their party, only with its packaging. Hence the false belief: repackage the same old ideas with new, different faces, and the Party will be revived. It refuses to see their loss as a defeat of their ideas. Duncan's silence was only an indication of this refusal to see, this deep-seeded denial.

The November election made it clear. In the perception of many voters, the Republican Party is no longer a party that "embrace[s] lot of different people" or whose "values resonate better with the American people." If it were, Republicans would have won easily. Their values didn't resonate. And saying so does not make it true.

So between the long, painful silence from Duncan today during the NPR interview and what he did actually say, I really don't see how the Republican Party will re-establish itself any time soon. It may be a long, long time.