During his virgin White House briefing today, new press spokesman Tony Snow reverted to his Fox News roots with his casual use of a racial slur. But in referring to a thorny question regarding President Bush's illegal NSA domestic spying programs as a "tar baby," Snow is just the latest conservative to show why the Republican outreach effort to African-Americans seems doomed to fail.
Consider, for example, President Bush's own campaign to woo black voters during his calamitous campaign to sell Social Security privatization. Addressing a town hall meeting with African-American guests in January 2005, Bush was quick to turn to racial stereotypes:
"Another interesting idea...is a personal savings account...which can't be used to bet on the lottery, or a dice game, or the track."
"Secondly, the interesting -- there's a -- African American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people."
Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman also displayed a staggering lack of sensitivity and common sense while addressing a primarily African-American audience. During a July 2005 speech to the NAACP, he confused victim and villain in the dragging death of James Byrd, one of the worst hate crimes in recent history. Mehlman described Byrd as "was a racist killer in east Texas, who the president brought to justice." Mehlman's error was sadly ironic, as it was Bush's bizarre, smirking comment about the Byrd case and hate crime legislation during his second debate with Al Gore in 2000 ("The three men who murdered James Byrd, guess what's going to happen to them? They're going to be put to death") that unnerved so many American voters.
In the states, the Republican Party isn't doing anything to help itself rise above single-digit support among black voters. GOP leading lights such as Senators George Allen, Trent Lott and Jim Demint, as well as Governors Matt Blunt and Haley Barbour publicly wax nostalgic about Confederate symbols, figures and values. Meanwhile, in Sonny Perdue's Georgia, Republican State Legislator Sue Burmeister led to the successful effort to impose a modern-day poll tax with a new voter ID program. The program was necessary to stop voter fraud, Burmeister explained, because when black voters in her black precincts "are not paid to vote, they don't go to the polls."
Conservative race-baiting, of course, is not limited to African-Americans. Just days ago, Snow's one-time Fox News colleague John Gibson appealed to white Americans to have more children to forestall a Hispanic demographic deluge. "Do your duty. Make more babies," Gibson asked of his viewers, because otherwise "twenty-five years and the majority of the population is Hispanic."
All in all, Tony Snow's first White House press briefing was par for the course when it comes to today's Republican Party and race relations. I can't wait for Snow's comments on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.