The GOP better listen to Colin Powell

January 14, 2013

Colin Powell spoke truth to the Republican establishment when he said yesterday on “Meet the Press”  that “[t]here is a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party.”

The former secretary of state under President George W. Bush who endorsed President Obama twice was asked by moderator David Gregory whether the Republican Party left him or has he left it. Unashamedly declaring himself “still a Republican,” the retired four-star general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, “I think the Republican Party is having an identity problem.”

If the GOP hopes to pull itself out of the political quicksand in which it finds itself, the party better heed his counsel, especially his blunt assessment of how it neither can simply ignore the demographic changes underway in the country nor denigrate the people at the forefront of those changes.

In recent years there’s been a significant shift to the right, and we have seen what that shift has produced: two losing presidential campaigns. I think what the Republican Party needs to do now is take a very hard look at itself and understand that the country has changed. The country is changing demographically. And if the Republican Party does not change along with that demographic, they’re going to be in trouble….

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And so when we see that in one more generation that the minorities of America — African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans — are going to be the majority of the country, we can’t go around saying, “We don’t want to have a solid immigration policy.” “We’re going to dismiss the 47 percent.” “We are going to make it hard for these minorities to vote as they did in the last election.”

There is also a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party. What do I mean by that? I mean by that is they still sort of look down on minorities. How can I evidence that? When I see a former governor say that the President is “shuckin’ and jivin’,” that’s a racial-era slave term. When I see another former governor after the president’s first debate where he didn’t do very well say that the president was lazy. He didn’t say he was slow. He was tired. He didn’t do well. He said he was lazy. Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans, but to those of us who are African Americans, the second word is shiftless and then there’s a third word that goes along with that. The birther, the whole birther movement. Why do senior Republican leaders tolerate this kind of discussion within the party?

This was music to my ears, especially Powell’s “lazy, shiftless” riff. This was a direct reference to race-baiting buffoon John Sununu. And for those of you not in the know the third word he was polite enough not to utter was the N-word. Republicans have spent decades turning off many African Americans not only with policies viewed as harmful but also with language that is offensive and racist. It’s about time someone of stature in the GOP called out the party for its self-destructive ways.  

Since the election, I’ve written about how Republicans have left votes on the table. Latinos, gay men and lesbians and African Americans have indicated in various polls that if the GOP moderated its rhetoric and policy positions in some areas, the party could compete with the Democrats for their votes. Republicans and their party’s prospects for survival don’t stand a chance if they continue to ignore Powell.

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Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.
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