Don’t be shocked if Republicans support Babeu
February 22nd, 2012
Will conservative Republicans support Sheriff Paul Babeu, now that he is out as a gay man? It’s hard to say.
Some will not. For some, Babeu’s orientation is a deal breaker, a fact that brands him as an enemy, an abomination, and inherently unworthy of public office. But a number of conservatives have already done so and I suspect more will. Some, specifically because he is gay.
Group identity politics is often born out of discrimination and abuse. Often what establishes commonality, be it as African Americans, as the gay community, or any other minority group, is in reaction to how a group is perceived or treated by others. And often, it is through finding alliance with other groups – a coalition of the mistreated, if you will – that oppressed minorities can find a voice and state their case.
But while this process is empowering, it is also limiting. Because in entering into coalition, one takes on the allies – and the enemies – of those in your coalition. And by tying one’s goals to the goals of another, then each individual is burdened with advancing every goal and convincing every argument.
And even when winning their own argument, it can seem as though one has not. To illustrate my point, let’s look at the relationship between African Americans and the Republican Party.
For a time, the Republican Party was the political home of racists who opposed equality and championed bigotry. And accusations of racism were deserved. But the case for judging a person on the content of their character, hard work, and intellect rather than on the color of their skin is powerful and over time many Republicans ceased to care about race.
But they still didn’t vote for black candidates.
Many who observed this saw it as evidence that nothing changed; Republicans are all racists, always have been, always will be. Actually, many times it was evidence of an entirely different phenomenon. African Americans, as a whole, had adopted a set of positions that made it impossible for Republicans to vote for them.
Now there is nothing inherent to the amount of melanin one has which would dictate one’s views on environmental issues, governmental protection for labor unions, tax policy, distribution of wealth and resources, or immigration policy. Even opinions about education quotas, reparation, and non-discrimination policies are not the consequences of genetic determination.
But with few exceptions, black candidates held views on a range of issues which were strongly tied to Democratic goals and with few exceptions, Republicans voted against them. And were called racists for it.
Charges of racism hurt. People don’t want to think that they hate others for no good reason – whether they do or not. And consequently, whenever an opportunity to prove to others (or themselves) that they were not motivated by racial malice, some Republicans jumped at the chance.
This is, I believe, at heart of the adoration that conservatives hold for Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice (though both are far more moderate than their admirers). While they are respected for their contributions, they are adored for being “finally someone black who thinks like I do on issues.” And there really is no better explanation for the rise of Herman Cain (before he imploded) than that Tea Party Republicans could support someone who epitomized their good ol’ boy values and simultaneously prove themselves to not be the bigots that they had been portrayed to be.
Is this tokenism? Yes, in the sense that the candidate is advanced in part due to their race. Surely breaking assumptions about Republicans and race contributed significantly to the selection of George W. Bush’s cabinet. But it is not tokenism in the sense that the candidate was unqualified or would have no power and be merely a puppet. JC Watts rose to the position of House Republican Conference Chair and few suggested that either Powell or Rice were not competent or were merely mouthpieces for others.
I am not trying to suggest that there is not continued discomfort between the Republican Party and African Americans. Party leadership is often unwilling to take the necessary steps to appeal to black voters – or candidates- and sometimes appears hesitant to even consider which views are more consistent with the party’s stated ideals. And at times there seems to be a willingness to pander to those many racists still within the party ranks rather than shame them for the dishonorable nature of their positions.
Eventually, race will cease to be partisan. But that will not be before Republicans are willing to oppose bigotry within their ranks and develop concern about how their policies impact subpopulations nor until African Americans let go of affiliations that position them to be in conflict with that party’s perspectives. It has started (and sadly and ironically is currently being helped by shared anti-gay activism) but it has quite a ways to go.
Which brings me back to Paul Babeu.
The Republican Party is home to many homophobes. There are a good many people in that party who would toss out the window the content of one’s character, hard work, and intellect and base their vote solely on sexual orientation. If Ellen Degeneres’ being a lesbian makes her unqualified to push JC Penny products, then there’s no way they would vote for “one of them.”
But there is a mostly-invisible but quite large segment of the Republican Party who chafe at being called bigot and homophobe and would leap at the opportunity to prove their detractors wrong. They may poll as opposed to marriage equality, but some would still vote for a gay person who shared their views on environmental issues, governmental protection for labor unions, tax policy, distribution of wealth and resources, and immigration policy. And they would so precisely because this person was gay, not despite that fact.
I can’t judge at present just how large that group is. Anti-gays are vocal and visible and also quick to claim to represent far more than they do. And polling seems to be specific issue driven leaving Republican gay support in the very broad range of about 75% on military service to about 25% on marriage.
Additionally, Babeu may not be the guy for “see I don’t hate gays” Republicans to rally around. His district may be so very conservative that those type of Republicans are in short supply. That his accuser is a Mexican immigrant could either hurt him or help him but the accusations of political abuse might make him less palatable than a squeaky clean conservative gay man. On the other hand, having illegal immigrant advocacy groups like Respect-Respeto attack him and being the target of the New Times will only increase his standing among many Republicans in Arizona.
So I don’t really think he’ll win his primary. But I’ll not be too surprised if Paul Babeu does far better than conventional wisdom dictates or if he receives more than a little “I never would have expected it from him” conservative support.