The more things change...In a few days, President Obama will give his fifth State of the Union Address to Congress. Viewing it will be a country eager to put the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression behind it. While the president lays out his vision on everything from creating more jobs to tackling the nation’s deficit, reforming our broken immigration laws and modest gun-safety measures, it’s likely that his opponents will simply dust off old talking points by reclothing them.
By: Donna Brazile, Syndicated Columnist
In a few days, President Obama will give his fifth State of the Union Address to Congress. Viewing it will be a country eager to put the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression behind it. While the president lays out his vision on everything from creating more jobs to tackling the nation’s deficit, reforming our broken immigration laws and modest gun-safety measures, it’s likely that his opponents will simply dust off old talking points by reclothing them.
Eric Cantor, the No. 2 leader in the House of Representatives, is seeking to rebrand the entire Republican Party, perhaps heeding former President George H.W. Bush’s call for a “kinder, gentler” nation. The odds are Cantor is rebranding at the behest of the Republican establishment rather than its ultra-conservative tea-party wing, which Cantor has also courted in the past.
Cantor has often played “bad cop” to Speaker John Boehner’s “good cop.” (Recall the debt limit talks when he replaced Boehner and earned a rebuke from Obama.)
He is, by all accounts, a family man, a good husband, a good father, a good neighbor and a dedicated, ambitious public servant.
But Cantor has enough of a hard edge that National Journal political writer Jill Lawrence observed “Cantor (is) known for sharp elbows and higher ambitions.” Ron Fournier, an editor with the Journal, watched Cantor interact this week with Mekhi Scott, a 1-year-old at The Preparatory School for the District of Columbia.
As Fournier tells it, Cantor picked up a plastic dinosaur and, imitating a dinosaur, let out a growl. The child jumped, then smiled. Fournier reports, “Watching this ... I realize just how hard it’s going to be for the GOP to rebrand itself after the 2012 election debacle. Republican leaders are a bit like Mekhi’s plastic dinosaurs: Even when they’re cute, they can be scary. ...
“Will people buy the softer side of Cantor?” Fournier asks. “The question is an important one.”
Indeed, Cantor is not the only member of the Republican Party leadership attempting to repackage the party’s message.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is taking the party’s lead on immigration and will officially deliver its rebuttal to President Obama’s address to the nation. Meanwhile, Republican guru Karl Rove has announced a multimillion-dollar media offensive designed to do battle with tea party candidates in Republican primaries. Fox News, ever in step with the Republican leadership, purged itself of sharply partisan commentators Sarah Palin and Dick Morris.
The Republican “Hispanic Leadership Network,” co-chaired by Jeb Bush, is working to change the party’s public language on immigration. It sent congressional Republicans a memo urging them to be “tonally sensitive” when talking about immigration: “Do acknowledge that ‘Our current immigration system is broken and we need to fix it.’ ... Don’t begin with ‘We are against amnesty.’ ... When addressing securing our borders ... Don’t use phrases like ‘send them all back’, ‘electric fence,’ (or) ‘build a wall along the entire border.’”
It’s always good when people seek to reform themselves, including Democrats. I applaud Jeb Bush’s efforts to introduce civility to public discussion about immigration. Yet, reform is about soul-searching, re-evaluation and genuine change. Alas, there’s not too much about genuine change in all these efforts.
At the 2013 Republican retreat, held in Williamsburg, Va., just before the inauguration, it was widely reported that congressional Republicans agreed that their policies were fine, but they needed to change their “message.”
Cantor apparently has been chosen to take the lead. He is tweaking policy around the edges, and is using a softer, gentler approach. But nothing has basically, fundamentally, changed.
When will the Republican establishment engage in real reform? They need to move to the center-right, at least, and to open the party to becoming more tolerant of the diversity taking shape in our society. New clothing on the same old policies won’t work. It didn’t work for Democrats, either, until Bill Clinton came along and sounded the change the party needed to hear. For now, we all agree the Republicans need a restart, a rebranding, and almost everything else that begins with “re,” except reactionaries.
Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist and a political commentator.
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