Heckuva job with that rebranding, Republicans. They started 2013 hoping to rejoin modern America but ended it once again on the wrong side of history. By embracing Phil Robertson's prejudice against gays and blacks and rebuffing Pope Francis' call for economic justice, Republicans have made it clear that they would rather hold onto unchristian religious views than make the changes needed to win national elections again.
Almost a year ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal smacked his own party upside the head.
"We've got to stop being the stupid party. It's time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults," he said at the Republican National Committee's winter convention. "We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I'm here to say we've had enough of that."
Republicans quickly made it clear that they had not had enough of that. Apparently expressing views abhorrent to most Americans has become a bedrock Republican value. Jindal has since walked the "stupid party" comments back. He's walked so far back, in fact, that he has reached a time when open expressions of prejudice were not considered socially unacceptable.
In his interview with GQ, Robertson debated the comparative sexual merits of different orifices, called homosexuality a sin, and predicted that equality for homosexuality will lead directly to a broader acceptance of bestiality. That, and he remembered all the happy black folks picking cotton during segregation.
About the same time, Pope Francis criticized the "idolatry of money" and called "trickle-down" economics an "opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, [that] expresses a crude and naÃ¯ve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power."
If you think that your religion teaches you that homosexuality leads to bestiality, I question your relationship to your God and to your horse. And I don't have time to teach remedial economics to those who still believe cutting taxes for the wealthy leads to greater tax revenue, job growth, and shrinking income disparity. Homophobia and supply-side economics are political faiths with no basis in science or the Bible I studied in Sunday school.
Republicans think otherwise. Noted moral exemplar Rush Limbaugh called the Pope's views "pure Marxism." Sarah Palin, whose Nobel Prize for Economics got lost in the mail again this year, said the Pope's analysis was "kind of liberal." And Rep. Paul Ryan, who was raised on Social Security survivor benefits before he proposed turning Medicare into Groupon for Grandmas, condescendingly said, "The guy is from Argentina, they haven't had real capitalism in Argentina." Yes, he called the Pope "the guy."
Republicans have to attack the Pope's views lest anyone notice that they have just cut off long-term unemployment insurance when there are three applicants for every job. What would you rather do? Call the Pope names, or explain why you cut food stamps for 47 million Americans—that's 1 out of every 7 of us—during the worst long-term unemployment crisis since World War II?
Instead of taking a clue from a recognized churchman, Republicans treated Robertson's anatomical analysis as if it were an expression of religious doctrine. When A&E briefly suspended Robertson, Republicans treated L'Affaire Duck as if U.N. troops had barricaded church doors. They compared him to Rosa Parks and hailed Robertson "as a hero for courageously revealing his self-truth and Christian ideals."
"If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over the treatment of Phil Robertson," said Sen. Ted Cruz on his Facebook page.
And Jindal, the oracle who inveighed against stupidity at the beginning of this year that celebrated it, completed his redemption when he said, "The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with."
Robertson can say whatever he wants, and Republicans are free to say that a reality TV star—and a fried chicken franchise, for that matter—represent their religious views better than the Catholic Church. But Republicans will never rebrand their party until they become more like Pope Francis and less like Phil Robertson.
© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @JasStanford.