February 3

Commentary: Platform shows Iowa Republicans just don’t get the need to be inclusive

The party is inhospitable to all but white evangelicals who oppose abortion and think being gay is a choice.

By Rekha Basu

DES MOINES, Iowa — The chairman of the Iowa Republican Party was forced recently to apologize for a graphic posted on its Facebook page that suggested charges of racism are invariably concocted to smear innocent white people. It was removed, as was the site manager who posted it, after it garnered outrage on The Daily Beast.

about the author

Rekha Basu is a columnist for The Des Moines (Iowa) Register.

Headlined “Is someone a racist?” the Jan. 24 post reflects a claim growing popular with opponents of diversity, affirmative action and other efforts at inclusion, triggered in part by the election of a black president: that the real racism is against white people.

“Are they white?” asks the post. If no, “they are not racist.” If yes, “do you like them?” If no, “they are racist.” It concludes, “If you think this flowchart isn’t funny, then this flowchart is racist.”

It’s a stretch to call it funny, the main purpose being to rally white Republicans around a shared grievance. The shocker is that anyone charged with helping create the party’s public face would so completely overlook the feelings of nonwhite constituencies.

But the Iowa Republican Party has a problem with minorities. It is inhospitable to anyone but white evangelical Christians who oppose abortion and think being gay is a “lifestyle” choice.

Those attitudes are enshrined in its platform, which devotes much type to promoting the welfare of the unborn, but not one line to rooting out prejudice. On the contrary, it calls for a repeal of state and federal hate crimes legislation, saying such laws “attempt to criminalize the reasonable actions of persons who oppose the granting of special status or privileges to defined classes of people.”

It opposes teaching multiculturalism, and objects to public school open-enrollment policies to ensure proportional representation of minority students.

The platform also rejects teaching “homosexual behavior” as normal, opposes school clubs such as Gay Straight Alliances that affirm gay students, and demands that people running for office, or voting, prove their citizenship – a solution in search of a problem.

What happens in Iowa matters for the rest of the country. By having the first caucuses, the parties here have disproportionate sway in selecting presidential nominees. Republican strategist David Kochel, who helped orchestrate Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in Iowa, accused the state party of “isolation, arrogance and atrophy.” The 2016 prospective candidates now winning Republican favorable polls – Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum – all fit the party’s mold.

State party chairman A.J. Spiker and his Facebook page manager, Shane Vander Hart, apologized to those who “were offended” by the post on racism. Yet neither refuted its point of view, promoted party inclusiveness or acknowledged racism works both ways. Nothing was offered that would make people of color think they might actually find a home there.

“My intent was to make light of how the race card is often played in American politics,” wrote Vander Hart, a conservative blogger, going on to say the message was “distracting to our mission of electing Republicans,” and had caused Spiker problems. He also said the incident prompted him to teach his children “to be careful about what we post on social media.” So much for treating minorities with dignity and respect.

What’s so insidious about the post is that it overlooks the ongoing daily insults and civil rights violations people still face. Tell the Waterloo, Iowa, plant worker that there was no racism when his white supervisor, saying he had a “surprise” for him, led the only black employee to a back room where he had hoisted a forklift and attached a life-size gallows and noose – and laughed. That happened in this century.

Tell the nation’s myriad interracial families they imagined the insult when a massive backlash against black and interracial families followed a Cheerios commercial featuring a mixed-race couple and child. Tell us the Ku Klux Klan’s currently recruiting in Iowa is imaginary, too.

The Iowa Republican Party’s lack of ideological and demographic diversity is, of course, manna to the Democratic Party, which hopes to pick up the rejected constituencies and to reap advantages when ultra-conservative candidates who couldn’t win in a general election get nominated. The Iowa Republican Party brass should take this latest disgrace as a wake-up call to pull their heads out of the sand – or drive their party and their national leadership role into complete irrelevancy.

— McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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