Monday, December 29, 2008

The Fork In the Road

At once rudderless and without a captain, the mega-luxury yacht that is the Republican Party has been awkwardly careening about the unending sea in recent years. Not confident in the Washington-based party leadership, rank-and-file members from state delegations have apparently scheduled a meeting on January 7th to get the party back on track. According to The, "For the first time in party history, members of the Republican National Committee have called their own unscheduled meeting without the aid of the Washington-based party apparatus."

The Committee, according to The Hill, will be meeting to give candidates for the party's chairmanship a forum to speak and to persuade members that they have found a way out of the political wilderness and can lead the party back to respectability and relevance.

The Common Man wonders what kind of Republican leadership is going to come out of this meeting. At this point, you'd think the GOP would have nowhere to go but up, after bottoming out again in national elections and failing miserably to attract independents and moderates in the November general. However, one candidate for the chairmanship is already working hard to drag his party down even further.

Chip Saltsman, former campaign head for Gov. Mike Huckabee's Presidential bid, has compiled a greatest hits CD, called "We Hate the U.S.A.", and sent it around to other committee members as a Christmas present. Among the songs on the "album" were "John Edwards' Poverty Tour," "Wright place, wrong pastor," "Love Client #9," "Ivory and Ebony" and "The Star Spanglish Banner." The big hit single, however, was "Barack the Magic Negro," which poked fun at the media coverage surrounding the President-elect and his campaign.

Saltsman has received justified criticism for the lamest mix-tape of all time, particularly from his own party. Other candidates for the position have called it irresponsible and inappropriate. Current chairman Mike Duncan, who is battling Saltsman and others for the job, aptly pointed out that "the 2008 election was a wake-up call for Republicans to reach out and bring more people into our party. I am shocked and appalled that anyone would think this is appropriate as it clearly does not move us in the right direction."

Saltsman has defended his "gift," telling CNN, "I think most people recognize political satire when they see it. I think RNC members understand that." Perhaps they do, and perhaps they don't (Republican talking heads have been quick to condemn liberal satire as inappropriate, ignorant, and mean-spirited, even when it's so freaking awesome). But what Saltsman's failed to grasp is that he is not a comedian, nor is he trying to be. Rather, he's trying to become one of the most visible and influential leaders of one the most powerful organizations in the United States. And that America's leaders are expected to maintain a higher standard of tact when it comes to what they say and do. They must leave the satire to others and behave in a manner consistent with their job (or the job they want to have). Saltsman's gaffe only highlights that he's a rank amateur with no sense of how his actions will be interpreted by potential voters.

RNC Online Communications Manager James Richardson, who also spoke out against Saltsman, said it best, "Sending a CD with those lyrics shortly after electing the first African American President – one supported by nearly 97% of the African American community – shows a serious lack of judgment, tact, and the necessary level of racial sensitivity expected of public officials."

So while Saltsman has clearly taken himself out of the running for the position, his mistake highlights the most interesting aspect of this upcoming decision for the members of the Republican Party. Will they revert back to the Limbaugh-esque name calling and reactionary attacks that Americans clearly repudiated in rejecting John McCain and supporting Barack Obama? Will they be the same old Old Angry White Male party of the 1990s? (In which case, The Common Man thinks it will be a while before Republicans find their way back.) Or will they acknowledge America's shifting politics and demographics, and choose a leader who can inspire, organize, and modernize like Obama and Dean have for the Democrats? And if they do make that tough choice, to reject the politics of the Chip Saltsmans of the party (seriously, is there even ONE decent person in the world named Chip? The Common Man thinks not) what will the Republican Party look like four years from now?

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