Watching the GOP scramble to rebrand their party’s image following President Obama’s election has been a fascinating development in American politics. But nothing has been quite as interesting as the GOP’s new website, launched yesterday, aptly found at GOP.com. In a dramatic push to make the Party appear more inclusive, the site depicts a wide range of “Faces of the GOP”—not surprisingly composed primarily of women and racial minorities.
RNC Chairman Michael Steele runs his own blog on the site, originally titled “What Up,” but later changed to “Change the Game” following ridicule from folks on the Left. Steele used his first blog post to laud the Internet’s mobilizing potential and prompt readers with the age-old question, “What makes you a Republican?” Judging from the Party’s current organizational schizophrenia, I can only imagine the range of responses Steele’s going to get.
Still, Steele’s efforts are admirable, if a little suspect. He really is committed to “changing the game,” making the GOP more inclusive in an era of multiculturalism and diversity. And GOP.com is a much better effort than Steele’s last push to attract more diversity to the Republican Party. When asked a few months back how he plans to bring more minorities to the GOP, Steele replied, “My plan is to say, ‘Ya’ll come.’” A member of the audience then shouted, “I’ll bring the collard greens,” to which Steele added, “I got the fried chicken and potato salad.” There’s no fried chicken recipes at GOP.com, but there certainly are many pictures of black faces sprinkled throughout the website. Dropping the racial stereotypes in favor of symbolic inclusion is, at the very least, a step forward for the GOP.
That said, it’s an understatement to interpret the site as a feigned, superficial attempt to promote racial diversity within a Party that still supports policies of racial inequality. It feels forced, to say the least. The fact that the website lacks a Spanish language conversion option only adds credence to its symbolic—rather than material, substantive, or tangible—purpose. We are talking about a Party with a long, storied history of racialized politics, after all. You know, the same Party that coined the term “welfare queens,” used Willie Horton for political advantage, and sent around emails depicting President Obama as a witch doctor with a bone through his nose. Yeah, that shining Party of racial inclusion.
It is at GOP.com that we truly see race, politics, and racial politics collide and intersect. Steele—the first black Chairman of the RNC—is desperately trying to respond to America’s changing demographics, pandering to a slice of the electorate that, at least in part, affected the outcome of last November’s historic election. That folks (often from the Left) are questioning Steele’s blackness only emphasizes the infusion of race in American politics. And it’s not just “racial politics” at play—you know, politicians catering to different racial groups—but an example of how race and racial considerations inform political messages and campaigns. Race is omnipresent in American politics, just as it is omnipresent in American culture. The content of GOP.com illustrates the political imperative of racial inclusion, but it’s difficult to imagine how the Party can reconcile this lofty goal with the politics of white resentment that has historically formed the Party’s base. Factor in Steele’s racial identity, and the RNC emerges as a social laboratory of racial dynamics, balancing multiculturalism with implicit racism and operating within the context of our nation’s first multi-racial President. Symbolic gesture or not, GOP.com is a window into a layered world of race and politics.
It’s unclear how Americans, minority or otherwise, will react to GOP.com. There are, indeed, plenty of racial minorities that believe in limited government, states’ rights, and many other aspects of the Republican Party’s platform. But I imagine it’s hard to get on board with a Party that fans the flames of racial resentment for political gain. Will GOP.com “change the game?” Maybe, but it will be an uphill battle for the RNC. Unfortunately for Steele, a few black and brown faces on a website—the same site that beckons minorities by asking “What Up?!”—can’t exactly make up for decades of racial animus and exclusionary policies. The RNC’s racial conundrum may ultimately prove too difficult to overcome.