Michael Steele knows the Republican Party is fighting for more than the next election. They are battling for the loyalty of tomorrow's voters, the kids who will come to the ballot box a decade or more from now.
He is right about that. Events have forced a re-evaluation of many of the perceived failures of the administration of Jimmy Carter. He was a stronger and more prescient executive than was commonly seen by even most of us who voted for him as he lost to Ronald Reagan in 1980. But many of those who were coming to even the dimmest political awareness in the 1970s grew up to be reliable Republicans. They were taught early on to associate Democrats with economic flubbery and failure in international security.
Today's children, seeing parents recover from President Bush, are likely to grow up as Democrats. So Steele wants to recast the Republican image to achieve greater appeal in what he calls "urban-suburban hip-hop settings". His self-conscious use of terms unfamiliar to many older adults has provoked some comment. He is against "bling bling" in stimulus efforts. He offers "some slum love out to my buddy," Bobby Jindal, who he says "is doing a friggin' awesome job in his state."
I dimly recall a sitcom I saw in my nearly forgotten youth. The title and plot escape me, but the scene was one of a middle class suburban professional in a casual sweater arguing outside of his comfortable house with a couple of hipsters. This was in pre-hippie days. As they reject his uncool values, he verbally pushes back. "Hey, I'm with it," he protests. "I'm hep."
Michelle Bachman, hosting part of the recent CPAC conservative fest, got into the spirit of the effort to appeal to America's future voters. "Michael Steele, you be da man!" She then repeated, for emphasis, "You be da man!"
The GOP is rapidly becoming a regional party of racially resentful white men. A few Republican office holders seem to want to stop the downward spiral with actual rethinking of values and worldview. But they are becoming more afraid of their own volatile base than of the general electorate. If the message must stay the same, what is left?
Steele gambles that wrapping the grand old message in a hipper, cooler, younger language will do the trick. Sometimes a conservative associate becomes daring enough to join in with what fringe whites imagine black folks to be. A sort of minstrel show without, thankfully, blackface.
Will young kids grow up remembering a sincere effort to communicate in language they understand? Maybe. I suspect the image they carry will be an out of tune attempt to be cool, combined with intolerance and ignorance.
I'm hep. Hear me rap. Farm out! Right arm! Outta State! You be da man!
Your very cool turn.
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