Are Republicans Just Too Mean?

Jim Geraghty is a really smart and insightful guy, but I have to respectfully disagree with the theme of his latest column.

So why are Republicans so much less popular than their ideas? A ubiquitous accusation from their Democratic rivals, echoed by an allied media, is that Republicans lack empathy to the point of displaying sheer meanness. With Obama running up huge margins among various demographics – African-Americans, Hispanics, women, young people – the argument is that the GOP increasingly represents an aging, white, bitter, and angry rump of the electorate, lashing out nastily at a world changing too fast for them.
For the sake of argument, let us contemplate why an unaffiliated voter might think Republicans are mean.

The “47 percent”: In Romney’s infamous “47 percent” remarks, the worst line was, “My job is not to worry about those people – I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

…The Sandra Fluke “slut” argument: When Democrats spotlighted Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke for her conviction that employers should be required to provide insurance that covers birth control, it was hard to imagine a more self-destructive reaction than Rush Limbaugh’s initial one…

…Gay marriage and sexual taboos: It seems to be a knee-jerk, not-really-in-jest comparison when some conservatives discuss the issue of gay marriage: If two men or two women can get married, why not a man and an animal? GOP congressional candidate Bob Guida made the offhand comparison in New Hampshire in 2010; in October 2012, an Illinois state representative made similar remarks at a tea-party rally.

…Abortion and rape: Of all the facets of the abortion debate, the most difficult ones for pro-lifers are the cases of rape or incest or where the life or health of the mother is at stake (a small percentage of all abortions). Many self-described pro-lifers are justifiably hesitant to legally require a woman who has been raped to bring the child of her attacker to term.

Todd Akin and then Richard Mourdock confirmed every wavering woman’s suspicion of pro-life conservatives when the former suggested that he understood nothing about the biology of human reproduction and when the latter contended that rape-generated pregnancy “is something that God intended to happen.”

…Perhaps the most vivid example of that comes from Ann Coulter, who has insisted that it’s acceptable to use the term “raghead” in discussions of the Muslim world. She used it at the 2005 Conservative Political Action Conference, and the next year a Muslim-American conservative begged her to stop: “It kind of turns a lot of Muslim Americans off, and it’s kind of hard to recruit them.” She replied, “I made a few jokes, and they killed 3,000 Americans – fair trade.”

…Did Romney lose the election because of these long-ago controversies? No, but each time someone associated with the Right blurts out something like this, it adds a little fuel to the fire of the argument that Republicans don’t respect, understand, or welcome minorities.

In each one of these cases, the GOP and the Right have to think hard about whether this is the hill they want to die on. If you’re a wishy-washy, not-that-tuned-in, relatively apolitical voter, how do these controversies make you feel about Republicans?

Certainly, the media employ double standards in their decisions about which cases of meanness and nastiness are most newsworthy, and we cannot expect a movement made up of millions of people to avoid uttering repellent comments. But for some conservatives, at least every once in a while, those labels “mean” and “nasty” are well earned.

Is it true that Republicans sometimes say mean things? Sure. Is it true that some of these hurt a bit? Absolutely. Although Richard Mourdock may have lost anyway, at a minimum, Todd Akin would have probably won his race if not for his dumb and offensive. Additionally, I’d even agree that language matters and that we should try to be careful not to offend people needlessly.

That being said, politics is a mean business and people on both sides of the aisle say mean things practically every day. In fact, I’d argue that a great deal of the Democrats’ strategy is based around saying very mean and untrue things about Republicans. It’s mean to accuse people of being racists if it’s not true. It’s mean to accuse people of wanting old people to die or hating blacks, women, gay Americans or Hispanics when it’s not true. Democrats do this incessantly.

Now, the point of that is not so much to argue that Democrats are considerably meaner than Republicans, although they are; it’s to note that if the voters were really all that turned off by “meanness,” it would impact the Democrats just as much as the Republicans, if not moreso.

Even if that weren’t true, which it is, what would we do about it? It’s a pretty safe bet that both prominent people on the Right and on the Left are going to say things that are controversial, mean and will offend certain people. Then what? 99.9% of the time — nothing happens — which should tell you something about how much of an impact it makes on the public overall.

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