People in Glass Houses Shouldn’t Throw Stones

By Brentin Mock Apr 01, 2014

Around this time last year, the Republican Party was finally coming to terms with why they lost the presidential election in 2012. They first claimed voter fraud was the culprit for Mitt Romney’s loss. But after some soul-searching they came to the realization that they were just really bad at connecting with voters of color. The party released an "autopsy report" of what went wrong in 2012 candidate and listed failed "minority outreach" as a primary cause of death. 

This year is supposed to be the time when they show America that they’ve learned from their mistakes. With an important mid-term congressional election season on our hands, 2014 is the year where the Republican Party is expected to show and prove how much they’ve evolved on race. The Democratic Party has already seized upon the one-year anniversary of the Republican autopsy by declaring the Republican rebranding a failure. 

Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida wrote in The Huffington Post that the GOP "is a year older and not a bit wiser." That might be true, but things aren’t looking so bright for the Democratic Party either, a year-and-change after their big 2012 win. After all, Wasserman wrote this just a couple of weeks after her party experienced a crushing defeat in a congressional special election held in her own Florida backyard.

With that in mind, her op-ed read like a kid making fun of a student who got left back a grade, but only as coverup for the fact that she flunked her first major exam. The real issue Wasserman might want to concern herself with is whether the Democratic Party has evolved at all on its own outreach to people of color.   

Both parties are worth sizing up on this matter, but first, let’s see if Democrats had a point in their autopsy of the GOP autopsy. The case, as laid out by Wasserman, isn’t that convincing. Wrote the DNC chair: 

In the past year, we’ve heard Republican leaders and operatives call a female candidate an "empty dress," talk about women’s "libidos," and — once again — try to downplay abuse. We’ve heard them use derogatory terms to describe Latino immigrants, use insulting stereotypes for African-Americans and our president, and support outright discrimination against LGBT Americans.

Probably the most blatant and recent example of this was when Rep. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s pick for vice president in 2012, sent a racial dog whistle out about "inner-city" men being too lazy to work. That was pretty bad. Can Obama’s party claim the high ground here, though? MSNBC news show host Melissa Harris-Perry has already called them out this, writing last week in The Nation, "After all, [Ryan’s] comments have been the mainstream view of the Democratic Party for decades."

It was the Democratic President Bill Clinton, and a whole lot of Dems in Congress, who created the laws that pushed millions of people of color off of welfare rolls in the 1990s — #facts.

Also this:

"{E]specially in this high-growth environment, where are you going to get people to work to clean our hotel rooms or do our landscaping? … we don’t need to put those employers in the position of hiring undocumented and illegal workers." 

That was the Democratic candidate Alex Sink talking about Latinos, not a Republican.

The Democrats are correct about Republicans obstructing legislative progress on immigration reform and raising the middle wage. Republicans also keep shooting themselves through serial votes to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act — enough times that Obamacare could file a restraining order on them at this point. 

But, the Democrats have been holding up progress on a few items themselves. It wasn’t just Republicans that voted to block the much-respected attorney Debo Adegbile for head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division. Democrats helped make that happen. And while the GOP is definitely responsible for shutting the government down last fall, quite a few Democrats in the House joined that melee. 

One way that Republicans claimed that their minority outreach would be serious was by getting behind more candidates of color. I interviewed a few of those candidates in December. Two of them, Katrina Pierson of Texas and David Williams III of Illinois, were defeated in Republican primaries this month. Another black Republican candidate, Erika Harold, also lost in Illinois. (Williams was been calling me almost every week with stories about how he thought his fellow Republicans were purposely trying to sabotage his campaign.) 

To the Democrats credit, they helped get Cory Booker elected to the Senate last fall. But that will not make us forget that when Senate Republicans proposed legislation to kick people with past felony convictions off of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) last summer, Democrats went along with it in the first instance.

All goes to show that instead of dancing on the Republican’s supposed grave, perhaps Democrats might want to make sure they’re not digging themselves a hole in the process.