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.