The ongoing storm swirling around the GOP and Congressman Todd Akin may be focused on rape and abortion, but they center on an ever-growing cultural divide between their life experiences and much of modern-day America’s.
If life in America today could be more like it was for the Cunninghams and their friends on Happy Days, the Republican Party would find that several high-profile political races over the past couple of years would have been easier to win, including the now-tumultuous US Senate race in Missouri. The issues of campaigning, messaging, and connecting with voters that some within the GOP continue to have as a result of the emerging Republican brand would be resolved as quickly as the Fonz could knock on the ol’ jukebox and change an ill-sounding tune.
Unfortunately for many Republicans, American life outside of most politically-gerrymandered constituencies – and, more often than not, outside of their circle of experiences – is increasingly becoming a lot less like those fictional days of the iconic sitcom that depicted White America’s youth of the 1950s. Instead, our nation has become more like the complex society mixing race, corruption, crime, and circumstance that Denzel Washington portrayed in an Academy Award-winning performance. As a result, more Republicans find many of their good ideas lost in the myriad of firestorms that come from a dearth of cultural and life experiences.
Congressman Todd Akin’s statement on legitimate rape is at the center of a firestorm that threatens to whittle away the opportunity for the GOP to win a vulnerable US Senate seat in the fall. However, the controversy and its genuine outrage from both sides of the aisle may finally lead the Republican Party to take a real look at how (or if ) it views and embraces the complexity of modern-day America.
It is an oft-repeated statement, but one that continues to resound loudly in each sound wave of blow-back that Republicans face whenever a situation like the Akin matter comes to the forefront: Republicans would have less problems on the campaign trail and in vote tallies if they have more diversity in their ranks.
For the most part, the issue of diversity for the Republican Party centers on race and culture. Like the Happy Days perspective that is often poorly (and often wrongly) blended into the “take back America” theme, the GOP has a problem finding good examples of racial and cultural diversity in its leadership, influence, and bridge-building efforts. Urban-based conservatives and modern-day American women are often trivialized or overlooked as potential faces of the 21st century Republican. These are issues that are well-documented factors that cause Republicans problems in the media, in outreach efforts, and in elections. Yet, these are not the only matters of embracing diversity that come back to harm the Republicans and stagnate the national conversation.
Before the controversy, Congressman Akin was perhaps best known as a God-fearing family man from a Republican district. Much of his life has been cocooned by his experiences as a well-to-do, Christian conservative politician that had served in office for decades. Would his statement on legitimate rape perhaps have been muted if Mr. Akin (much like many of our Republican kindred) had more impactful personal and professional experiences that would have provided more insight into the horrors of rape?
What if – like me – one of his best friends from his days as a student was the victim of a rape by a boyfriend? Would Mr. Akin have been more inclined to disregard the notion of “legitimate rape” versus some sort of illegitimate rape, as if a woman’s granted permission to enter a relationship with a man is grounds for entering her body whenever that man deems prudent? What if – like me and others that do not come from the ongoing Happy Days meme of America – Mr. Akin watched this friend carry the baby to term out of love for an innocent child and her belief for pro-life stances (since her body did not effectively “shut that whole thing down”), only to be castigated as a whore – often by church-going Americans – for having the child? What if Mr. Akin – and many Republicans – interacted more at the grassroots level on issues such as domestic violence in order to get a better understanding of the complexities and challenges that women face going through rape? Even as a pro-life Christian conservative (which I am proudly), Mr. Akin would have been able to find the God-given senses of wisdom and compassion to articulate his position more effectively. He might have also proven himself to be a leader that could address such situations with his faith uncompromised and his proficiency as a positive difference-maker heightened. Instead, his deficiency in being a well-rounded social conservative weakened his influence as both a tenured politician and a well-intended Christian.
Yet, this is not a problem that is capsulated in the Akin candidacy, a political misstep that now prompts conservatives to ask for his resignation from the Senate race. It is merely a symptom to a problem that reaches most corners of the conservative political movement of today.
Diversity is not an initiative whose purpose is to look inclusive in the media or to avoid being called racists or sellouts in the blogosphere. It is intended to provide more insight, more experiences, and more opportunities. Its usefulness rests on guiding and leading modern-day America with the intellectual, political, and moral resources necessary to address and resolve as many issues as possible. Some issues such as pregnancy as a result of marital rape or date rape will never be completely resolved. They are complex. They are tragic. They are legitimate. Yet, urban issues and social dilemmas that continue to rip our nation apart at the seams cannot be adequately addressed and resolved without a cogent connection to the heart of these matters. As long as the Republican Party is less inclined to learn about these issues in a very real way – through active interaction by way of diversity in the truest sense – Republicans have a harder time convincing voters that there is a way to come back from the edge of the abyss and return to our nation’s glory days.
The Republican Party continues to practice its brand of Christian conservatism that preaches solely to its church choir. With the opportunity to lead a diverse America in need of a change in leadership immediately, it has instead chosen to promote its vision of change of better days ahead for a struggling modern-day America through the prism of a faux social reality of the 1950s. As long as the Republican viewpoint on complex social issues continues to be characterized by the Joanie Loves Chachi view of the ups and downs of American life, we will continue to endure unenlightened, condescending, and potentially harmful acts on the part of well-intended conservatives – all because our leadership style as a movement is more inclined to speak to the sterile Happy Days idol of America’s past rather than insightfully take on the complexity of American society today.
LENNY MCALLISTER is a senior contributor to Politic 365 featured on several national and international outlet including CNN, Current TV “The Young Turks”, and Sirius-XM Radio. Catch Lenny on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation this past weekend for more analysis on the GOP presidential ticket. His new book, “Spoken Thoughts of an Amalgamated Advocate in Today’s America” is now available electronically on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon.com . Catch Lenny’s The McAllister Minute on The American Urban Radio Network this week.