Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cultural Incompetence Overtakes the Republican Party

The election of Barack Obama as 44th President of the United States is a political victory for Obama and Vice President-Elect Joe Biden, his running mate. It also represents the cultural incompetence of the Republican Party, its leading strategists, and the rejected candidacy of John McCain and Sarah Palin.

The population of the United States has never been homogenous. However, a review of news footage of Republican National Conventions over the past several election cycles quickly reveals that the Republican Party lacks even a respectable handful of non-white attendees at its quadrennial gatherings.

The Republican Party lacks any semblance of non-white involvement at its state and local levels. The Grand Ole Party points with pride to the historical fact that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and presided over the Civil War which ultimately led to the start of political freedom for black people. However, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, certainly the most respected black Republican of our time, finds his political party an uncomfortable association. Aside from Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Powell, most people are hard pressed to identify a black Republican at the national level. There are no black Republican elected federal office holders.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is of Indian ancestry. By any legitimate political measure, Governor Jindal is a rising political figure within the Republican Party. He is a fiscal conservative and a devout Catholic, having converted from Hindu while in high school. Governor Jindal graduated with honors from Brown University and is a Rhodes Scholar. He won election as U.S. Congressman from Louisiana's 1st Congressional District, and is the first Indian-American governor in U.S. history. Jindal also served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Planning and Evaluation during the Bush Administration before he left that post to mount his successful race for governor.

However, there is little evidence that the GOP has consulted Jindal about ways to attract other persons of color. Moreover, and tellingly, Jindal has been quoted as saying that he never was approached by John McCain about being a vice presidential candidate. That McCain would not even approach Jindal about being a candidate given his substantial resume, yet chose Sarah Palin (about whom more will be said later in this essay), says a great deal about McCain's ability to evaluate personnel, not to mention McCain's cultural incompetence and that of his political strategists and GOP advisors. A national political party that ignores a sitting governor of color as a potential running mate in the face of a ticket consisting of another person of color (Obama) and another Catholic (Biden) suffers from colossal political and cultural incompetence.

Because of the abortion issue, some within the GOP hoped it would be embraced by the rising Hispanic population. Hispanics now out-numbers blacks as the nation's largest non-white population. Until the presidential election of 2008, the GOP could count on support from the influential Cuban-American population in Florida, largely due to the anti-Castro positions espoused by the GOP.

However, Hispanic voters have been offended by Republican policies. Karl Rove, who counted on Hispanic voters to be part of the GOP political base for the foreseeable future, failed to realize that anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy positions would eventually alienate Hispanic voters in California, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Florida, and elsewhere. GOP leaders apparently did not notice that Hispanic voters are not politically homogenous, and that younger Hispanic voters found Republican policy positions and rhetoric off-putting, if not racist and xenophobic. Younger Cuban-Americans are as repelled by Communism as their elders, but they are hardly single-issue voters. Moreover, Republican policy positions and rhetoric are often associated with the strident faction of the GOP often identified as "religious conservatives," a largely white voter constituency to which John McCain shamelessly pandered when he selected Sarah Palin as his running mate.

McCain also pandered women voters when he selected Palin. It was interesting to observe Republican pundits and members of the news media opine that Palin would somehow induce women who supported Senator Hillary Clinton to forsake the Obama-Biden ticket in favor of McCain and Palin. Hillary Clinton is a respected figure regarding U.S. public policy. Sarah Palin was a relative unknown before McCain selected her as his running mate, and is nowhere close to Clinton on any public policy issue. Clinton is unmistakably and indisputably smart, both politically and academically. If Palin is smart, she failed to demonstrate it. McCain's pandering selection of Palin as his running mate was not only politically disastrous, but was also culturally blind.

When pandering to voters who are culturally different is the first and strongest strategy a political organization and its leadership have for attracting support, the strategy is effective only if the voters are politically uninformed and/or if they have no better choices. In 2008, the Obama-Biden ticket was embraced by well-informed voters across a wide spectrum of backgrounds, identities, and interests. By contrast, the McCain-Palin ticket exposed cultural incompetence within the GOP at every level. While the Obama campaign actively recruited and openly included younger voters from all backgrounds, the McCain campaign was run by older white men and religious fundamentalists who pandered to everyone else and built its strategy on fomenting distrust for Obama.

Republicans tried the same policies and tactics of divisiveness, distrust, and alienation in 2008 that have been their mainstay since the Richard Nixon presidency. That approach worked for Nixon in 1968 and 1972, for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, for George H.W. Bush in 1988, and worked for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. It did not work in 2008 because American voters are more culturally diverse than ever, while GOP strategists are as culturally incompetent as they were when Nixon was elected in 1968. Obama understood the meaning and implications of that incompetence and exploited it at every turn throughout the long presidential campaign. Republican political strategy ignored cultural realities, which explains why McCain-Palin campaign events looked and sounded as if they could have occurred in 1968, except for the fact that Palin was on the ticket. Somehow, none of the supposedly smart strategists within the Republican Party appreciated that Palin's selection represented tokenism at its worst, not respect for diversity.

One wonders whether anyone among Republican strategists now engaged in hand-wringing, navel-gazing, and fault-finding about the political losses suffered during the 2008 elections will identify cultural incompetence as one of the most powerful factors for the current plight of that political party. I doubt it. Few, if any, of the GOP presidential contenders are known for being culturally sensitive. The GOP does not listen to Colin Powell. Like President Bush, the GOP pimped Powell's cultural competence and political acumen, while it questioned his relevance, until he endorsed President-Elect Obama. One doubts that Powell has been invited since then to counsel GOP strategists about how to navigate out of the cultural and political wilderness in which they find themselves. As my father would often say, that would be too much like right.

What President-Elect Obama said of McCain's campaign team during the campaign was true about strategists within the Republican Party as a whole. They were out of touch, out of date, and running out of time. On November 4, 2008, time ran out. Now the cultural incompetents are going out of power. George W. Bush should henceforth be remembered as Cultural Incompetent in Chief. Karl Rove, his political architect, chief handler, and the person once hailed by GOP strategists and political pundits as a political genius, should be remembered as a cultural moron.

Cultural incompetence led Bush and Company to invade Iraq and mire the United States in a military morass that will overshadow the tragic experience in Vietnam. Cultural incompetence partly explains their callous insensitivity while Hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf Coast and their casual behavior while New Orleans drowned. Cultural incompetence partly explains Bush Administration "war on terrorism" and "enemy combatant" policies that even the U.S. Supreme Court (an institution not at all known for demonstrating cultural competence) consistently rejected. Incompetence, cultural and otherwise, eventually results in failure.

The Grand Ole Party is merely the Party of old, but hardly grand, cultural incompetence. That affliction produced a political bankruptcy every bit as unpleasant as current U.S. economic and military problems which also result, to some extent, from cultural incompetence. It is doubtful that GOP strategists recognize their affliction. It is also unlikely that they are humble and honest enough to admit their condition, let alone undergo treatment for it.


MichaelSpencer said...

"Cultural incompetence" works both ways, judge. I spent more than a year being the only white employee in the janitorial department of a West Side Chicago hospital. I made friends, but I could never "get inside." There was always a barrier that I could not get through, no matter how hard I tried.

I voted Republican because of one overriding concern: I think it is horribly wrong to kill babies. That's how the Carthaginian god Baal was worshipped. The ritual involved a golden bull and sacrificial infants, who were placed in the arms of the idol and lifted to its maw, where the newborn was dropped into the furnace in the belly of the beast.

Making the effort to come together, being rejected, and then being told I'm "culturally incompetent" or some other code-word for racist simply because I voted against an infamously pro-abortion candidate - well, add that up and tell me how you'd feel.

Add to that the complete absence of censure for black expressions of hatred toward white people - e.g. Rev. Wright and a host of others - and you get the unmistakable message that all white people are evil and must atone. Well, I'm not evil. And any dubious benefit I may have gotten by being the son of a white man who never finished grade school because he had to support his widowed mother and younger siblings is more than cancelled out by advantages that wealthy and influential blacks are now able to bestow on their own children. Have I atoned enough, judge? Will someone at least give me the total so I can tell when the bill is paid?

The racial issues in this country are as well resolved as the black leadership will allow them to be. This is a good thing that could be made better by a little effort at mutual good will by everyone involved. But there are other social issues that divide this country that are likely never to be healed.

People are afraid to express their thoughts now because thoughtcrimes and intimidation abound. Our public colleges and universities are not places of inquiry where the freedom to think is respected, but instead have become government-sponsored indoctrination centers. Don't believe me? Then go to a university dressed as a Marine recruiter, or wearing a pro-life tee-shirt, or attempt a reasoned debate on whether or not homosexuality is immoral.

Our law has been warped beyond description by an activist judiciary that believed the elites knew better than the people. Although the Constitution is completely silent with respect to privacy, the Supreme Court found an “inchoate right” to “privacy” that “emanated” from “penumbras” of various constitutional articles and amendments. All of that in a case where the issue was whether the State of Connecticut could regulate the sale of contraceptives. And those concepts led directly to the proscription on state bans on abortion in Roe v. Wade.

When a legal argument gets that complicated, it's because someone is being snookered. Here, it is the American people, who look on in awe as the high court dispenses incomprehensible wisdom. And taffy.

The purpose of the Constitution is to assign limited powers to the federal government. The Bill of Rights was added to further limit government’s power to restrict the individual, notably in the areas of speech, assembly, religion, ownership of weapons, and a free press. All other powers were reserved to the individual States.

So the States should be allowed, if they wish, to forbid or allow the sale of condoms, prohibit or permit abortion, proscribe or endorse homosexuality, and make all of the other myriad moral rules that a polity imposes through legislation based on the wishes of a majority of its citizens. The idea was that people would gravitate to States where the majority held values similar to their own. Want to live with porno and prostitutes? Go to Nevada. Want to live where knee-length skirts are mandatory attire for women? Go to Utah. Want to live where abortion is legal? Go to New York or any of the many other States that permitted abortion before Roe. Now, that's real choice. That's freedom.

The effect of the made-up personal rights that the Supreme Court granted to individuals, such as privacy-cum-abortion, was to impose the values of the urban elites on the entire nation. Abortion, homosexual rights, and other such controversial issues would not intrude on the national debate had the Supreme Court not engaged in a ridiculous extension of federal (and judicial) power by forbidding the individual States to decide these issues for themselves.

Imagine living in a State where the majority was free to decide questions of public policy and morals on their own, limited only by the express provisions of federal constitution. Then imagine living in a nation composed of such States. Federal elections would center on issues of true national importance, like defense, trade, and taxation, rather than being a continual and increasingly acrimonious struggle over social issues that should be decided locally. What a change that would make in the national debate!

We have lost a chunk of our freedom every time an arrogant Supreme Court decided it knew better than the commoners and discovered a new federally-protected individual right. And, given the results of this election, there are sure to be plenty of new “rights” discovered that will divide us further and distract our attention from issues of true national importance, like whether or not we want to adopt socialism as the foundation of our national economy.

And anyone who disagrees is a cultural incompetent. No pressure.

Wendell Griffen said...

It appears that you misapprehend the meaning of cultural competence. Cultural competence neither demands unanimity nor negates the freedom to disagree. Rather, cultural competence, like competence in any other area, involves having the skill to navigate the diverse cultural terrain that is part and parcel of the human experience, including the skill to navigate differences in thought, religious faith and practice, ethnicity, national origin, age, generational practices, sexual orientation, etc.

A person who can drive competently is not someone who can drive only on back roads, but must be able to drive city streets as well. My premise about the Republican Party is that the 2008 presidential election result is a referendum on its inability to navigate the cultural diversity of the American electorate.

Like it or not, America is not a homogenous society. One may object to the freedom of a woman to elect to have an abortion, the freedom of persons of the same gender to engage in consensual sex acts, whether undocumented immigrants should receive social services, whether the nation should end its military presence in Iraq, and other disputed issues of public policy for moral, religious, public policy, and other legitimate reasons. However, a national political organization that demonstrates its hostility toward including persons of divergent views on these and other subjects lacks the skill (competence) to engage with and appeal to U.S. voters in the 21st Century.

Finally, you mistakenly equate cultural incompetence with racism when you write that "being told I'm 'culturally incompetent' or some other code-word for racist simply because I voted against an infamously pro-abortion candidate ..." Racism is an altogether different reality from cultural incompetence. I did not suggest that the Republican Party is racist. I emphatically asserted, however, that cultural incompetence (lack of skill in effectively navigating cultural diversity and its often self-asserted and celebrated image of non-inclusiveness) contributed to its electoral defeat in the 2008 presidential election. Those who are threatened by differences of opinion, thought, and policy position are at a decided disadvantage in a multi-cultural environment, just as those who are comfortable driving only on two-lane roads are threatened by driving along interstate highways and in urban areas.

Cultural competence involves the ability to embrace diversity, and even to thrive in a diverse environment. Contrary to your concluding statement, it is not the fact of disagreement that renders a person or organization culturally incompetent. Rather, it is the incapacity to function effectively in a diverse environment where disagreement is an ever-present reality.

Unless and until the Republican Party learns to effectively navigate the diverse cultural realities of the 21st Century, it will increasingly operate at a political disadvantage. That disadvantage is more likely, rather than less so, so long as the GOP remains ideologically dominated by and electorally dependent on voters who would prefer to view diversity in political thought, religious faith and practice, and personal conduct as illegitimate.

McCain and Palin, the chosen GOP candidates so much as affirmed that principles of the Good Samaritan lesson and basic progressive taxation are "socialist." That and other arguments was theirs to make, but the electoral verdict demonstrated that in basing their campaign on politics of alienation, distrust of diversity, and aversion toward diversity, McCain and Palin were culturally incapable of appealing to 21st Century American voters. Their tactics and message would have worked forty years ago, and worked as late as 2004. Due to changing demographics, a much more sophisticated opponent (Obama), and a voters more interested in aspirations for sound judgment and inclusiveness rather than the politics and rhetoric of distrust and divsion, the McCain-Palin candidacy failed in 2008.

If the GOP hopes to improve its standing with American voters, it must become culturally competent. Grumbling about doing so will only prolong the electoral failures.

Thanks for your comments.

Let's Be Civil said...

I applaude you for standing up for your convictions by voting for the candidates that you believe will uphold the law as you would like to see it and for saying what you believe to be true in your post to this blog. That you live in a country that gives you that CHOICE and freedom to speak is a blessing. But those privileges are extended to all American citizens, not just you. You may want to ask yourself why would you want to see the ability to choose taken away from someone else because they don't hold the same religious or moral beliefs as you do. Or why you'd want to see people form less diverse and more homogenous cultures based on what the state laws permit. Is that so that you can only live among people who think and act just like you?