The House GOP: Last bastion of the country club
November 30, 2012By Dick Polman
Let's do a pop quiz with the week's most telling statistic. On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner identified the Republicans who will chair the 19 major House committees. Care to guess how many of those chairpeople are white males?
You guessed it: 19.
That's right folks. At a time when America is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever before, at a time when professional women have more clout than ever before, in the aftermath of a national election when minority voters pounded the GOP as never before, and in a postmortem season when sane Republicans are urging outreach to women and minorities as never before, the House GOP has opted to emulate a country club locker room circa 1955.
Actually, the party didn't have much choice. Committee chairpeople - correction, chairmen - are chosen according to seniority, and, as we well know, the Republican pipeline is clogged with long-serving white men. Diversity is a reality in 21st century America, but inside the bubble, it's still a new phenomenon. Whereas white men in the 2013 House Democratic caucus will be outnumbered by women and minorities, white men will constitute 88 percent of the Republican membership.
Assuming that the House GOP even has the will to diversify in future elections, it will be many years before its committee leaders mirror the face of contemporary America. Indeed, its 2013 lineup is actually a step in reverse. The 2012 Foreign Affairs Committee was helmed by a Latina, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, but she had to relinquish the reins because the chairs are term-limited.
Hey, wait a second: Paul Ryan was also supposed to step down as chairman of the Budget Committee, because he too was term-limited. But he was allowed to circumvent the House rules and remain at the helm. I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that it doesn't look good for the House GOP to boot the Latina - and exempt the white guy who, while teamed with Mitt Romney, lost his home town by a whopping 25 points.
Symbolism matters. An all-white-male lineup, in the GOP's sole Washington power realm, sends an exclusionary message to the fastest-growing segments of the electorate. Glen Bolger, a respected Republican pollster who has just finished crunching the election numbers, warns on his firm's blog that the party has maxed out with white people: "We have to do better as a party with Hispanics....To have a chance, Republicans have to appeal to Hispanics. It’s simple math, but it’s hard to do."
You bet it's hard to do, especially when the party's House wing rings in the new year by going 19 for 19.
Speaking of crunching the numbers:
On the day after the election, I was hugely entertained by the emails I received from the armchair analysts who hate President Obama but don't know jack about politics. As expected, they labored to minimize his win: "He got nine million fewer votes than he got in 2008!" and "Big deal, he only beat Romney by a percentage point or two." Somehow, their narrow knowledge base didn't allow for the fact that the counting of ballots goes on for weeks.
The latest count shows that Obama's margin over Romney has actually widened during the past three weeks. It now stands at 3.55 percent. That's one point higher than what President Bush got in 2004 (and Bush publicly ballyhooed his 2.5 percent as proof that he'd won a mandate). Currently, Obama has tallied four million fewer votes than he got in 2008. Presumably, the armchair haters will now scrub their previous rallying cry - "nine million!" - and focus instead on "four million!" but rest assured that when historians look back on Obama's tenure, they will marvel at how an African-American saddled with the worst economy in generations still managed to retain 94 percent of the record vote total he racked up in 2008.
Moreover, Obama campaigned successfully on the proposition that the richest Americans should pay higher taxes - a stance that remains popular in the post-election polls. No wonder he's playing offense with the House GOP, seeking to control the flow of play. His 2010 irresolution was so two years ago.
One of the most overlooked stories of election day was Puerto Rico's referendum on statehood. Sixty one percent voted to become America's 51st state. But there are all kinds of caveats, as I explain in my newspaper column today.
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