In many conversations with middle-of-the-road and liberal friends, I’ve talked until I’m blue in the face about identifying myself and the organization I work for as conservative rather than Republican. This doesn’t stop them from saying “But you guys had eight years to fix things” any time I bring up the conservative viewpoint or solution to an issue. We have to accept that to a lot of people outside of the movement, conservative and Republican will always be synonymous. In fact, when I was 18 years-old I didn’t know the difference, so I’ll always have a tattoo of the Republican elephant on my right shoulder.
Republican or conservative, being aware of the public’s image of us can be used to our advantage – or to our demise.
The recent National Federation of Young Republicans election is the perfect example of how conservatives must be aware of our relationship with the media and how they’ll portray us. It doesn’t mean we give in on our principles, but that it’s ok to use the media to cultivate an image that will bring more people to our side. While the Young Republicans have never been on my radar (all of my political experience has been outside of party organizations), it won’t be long before people start lumping me in with their newly-elected chair, Audra Shay.
Last week, someone commented on Shay’s Facebook wall “obama bin lauden is the new terrorist....muslim is on there side .....need to take this country back from all these mad coons.......and illegals.” Shay responded, “You tell em Eric! lol.”
Liberal (or Democratic – two can play this game!) websites reported on Shay and her friend’s tasteless comments. Prior to the election, a Gawker blogger wrote, “And she will still probably win her campaign for chairwoman of the Young Republicans. None of these crazy comments disqualifies her from leading them, because this is already what old Republicans say, openly, on TV and on the radio, all the time. So, good luck, Audra Shay. You certainly do represent the future of the Republican party!”
Shay’s election fits perfectly into the image the media has cultivated for Republicans and conservatives – old, racist men. Some people are also having a laugh over a 38 year-old chair of the “Young” Republicans. Well, at least she’s a woman. God help us if she also wears pearls.
The lesson is that Shay and those who supported her should have been aware of how language (even “lol”) and image will be portrayed when a Republican seeks a leadership role. If you wish to be the public face of a right-leaning organization, everything is fair game, however unfair it may be. The fact that her opponents would search Facebook for ammunition isn’t new. The crack research team with Countdown with Keith Olbermann routinely delves into Facebook profiles for material. While it has always been a dream of mine to be labeled a “Worst Person in the World” by Olbermann, I’d rather it be for something that makes him look ridiculous rather than for something that makes me look ridiculous.
Another recent political episode that has caused the media to regurgitate their stereotypes about conservatives and Republicans is the resignation of Governor Sarah Palin. As moderates, conservatives and Republicans quibbled over what her resignation meant for her future, the media served up another helping of “in-fighting on the Right” and “GOP eating their own.” It pains me to say that in this instance, the media is right.
A handful of people on the right attacked Palin personally and received deserved criticism from Palin’s devout supporters. Others, like myself, criticized her strategy and wondered aloud among friends what it meant for her political future. There was no criticism of her beliefs, only criticism of her strategy. I was surprised at how intolerant some conservatives were of anyone that wasn’t proclaiming Palin’s political genius. First off, I’m certainly no critic of Palin. She was the reason I took time off work and stood out in the rain handing out sample ballots on election day. It was me against at least eight Obama volunteers.
The truth is that some conservatives are “eating their own,” but it’s not those criticizing Palin’s decision to resign. It’s those who have been so quick to dismiss the conservatives that say it would have been better for the movement (and her future aspirations, whatever they may be) if she served out her term. It’s perfectly ok for conservatives and Republicans to disagree on strategy. Let’s just take the hateful name-calling (like “moderate” – that s the worst!) out of it so that we aren’t giving the media the red meat they want.
For better or worse, people will consider Palin a “quitter.” As another prominent conservative woman leader, Clare Boothe Luce, said, “If I fail, no one will say, ‘She doesn't have what it takes.’ They will say, ‘Women don't have what it takes.’”
We have to operate in the current media reality. Despite well-meaning intentions, mundane comments and mischaracterizations can dominate coverage and change people’s opinions.
Just before Michael Steele lost the Maryland Senate race I was talking to a middle-aged man in a bar in Bowie about politics. He said that he wasn’t voting for Steele because Steele’s sister used to be married to Mike Tyson. He said when she endorsed her brother it reminded him that she’s “not too smart.” Maryland households were inundated with campaign commer cials and discussions from each side prior to the election. But in this bar in Bowie, Mike Tyson knocked out Michael Steele.