In the wake of the firestorm over remarks made by incumbent Representative and Senate candidate Todd Akin, most members of the GOP establishment loudly distanced themselves from him. At the same time, the platform committee was adopting his position–no abortion and no exception for rape or incest. There’s been a lively discussion about the number of Republican candidates and office holders who agree with him but have been too politically savvy to say so publicly. (Yes, Mike Pence, I’m looking at you.)
But ignorant comments about rape and contraception are beginning to look tame. There’s the candidate who recently “explained” that the AIDS virus can only be spread through homosexual encounters–never mind Africa, where the disease is almost entirely a heterosexual phenomenon.
Of course, the use of anti-gay stereotypes and rhetoric is almost a requirement for Republicans these days. Anything short of Fred Phelps-variety homophobia is unlikely to elicit a reproach from the party’s powers-that-be. Ditto anti-immigrant animus.
Race is a more delicate issue. We’ve come a distance (how far is a matter of opinion) since Nixon’s (successful) Southern strategy, and for several years, moderates and people of good will within the party tried to avoid racially inflammatory rhetoric. Those people have largely abandoned the GOP, however, and this election has seen considerable backsliding in that regard. During the primaries, Gingrich and others referred to Obama as “the food stamp President,” and Rick Santorum made his infamous remarks about “blah” people. (“Black?? I didn’t say black!!)
More recently, the Romney campaign has doubled down on a claim debunked by every reputable fact-checker–that Obama has “gutted the welfare work requirement,” and Romney himself has engaged in a little lighthearted birtherism. It’s not exactly subtle. The campaign has clearly determined that they need the votes of resentful whites–racists, to be blunt–if Romney is to have any chance of unseating Obama. If that requires playing to the fears and biases of a voting bloc described as older white men without a college education, why, full steam ahead. (For the record, I doubt that Romney is racist himself–despite the Mormon church’s unfortunate history with African-Americans. I think he wants very badly to be President and is willing to do whatever he thinks will work. His lack of integrity is so profound, it may be worse than genuine racism.)
It’s pretty clear that the GOP has written off the black vote, and the rhetoric aimed at Latinos hasn’t exactly endeared the party to the fastest growing demographic in the country. Then there are the Muslims–granted, a small minority, but one that is culturally conservative and could have been expected to be fertile ground for the party–who have been characterized by numerous Republicans as jihadists and terrorists. The recent, shameful effort by crazy lady Michelle Bachmann to target Huma Abedin, an assistant to Hillary Clinton who is married to Anthony Weiner, a Jew, as some sort of double agent is just one example.
Now we have the spectacle of Arthur Jones, 64, a Lyons, IL, insurance salesman who evidently organizes “family-friendly” neo-Nazi events around Adolf Hitler’s birthday. Jones is running in the Republican primary that will choose a candidate to run against Democratic Congressman Dan Lipinski in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District.
“As far as I’m concerned, the Holocaust is nothing more than an international extortion racket by the Jews,” Jones said. “It’s the blackest lie in history. Millions of dollars are being made by Jews telling this tale of woe and misfortune in books, movies, plays and TV.”
When I first became active in the GOP, older family members were wary. They warned me that the Republican party had long harbored anti-Semitic factions, and that history goes a long way toward explaining why so few Jews vote Republican. The party has persistently wooed the Jewish vote, mainly by being more rabidly pro-Israel than most modern Jews, but people like Jones do keep surfacing.
I expect Party “elders” will condemn Jones. But thing about the Jewish vote is this: thanks to our own history and experience, most Jews understand that we are not safe in a society that discriminates against any minority. As long as we see the GOP engaging in anti-Muslim, anti-gay, anti-black rhetoric–as long as we see Republicans as the party of old, white, heterosexual men unwilling to accord equal treatment even to their own wives and daughters–most of us just aren’t going to vote for them.
The uglier the rhetoric gets, the louder the “dog whistles” become, the clearer it becomes that the GOP has become a party willing to exacerbate some of this country’s deepest wounds and divisions if that’s what it takes to win an election. Members of minority groups understand that when people like that are in charge, no one is safe.