Race and Beyond: A New Strategy for the Republican Party
SOURCE: AP/ Elise Amendola
Eric Garland is a writer, and the Starbucks not too far from his suburban St. Louis home is his office—a bustling place where he taps out a daily eponymous blog before settling down for serious writing.
On the Friday after Election Day, as he noodled over the just-completed presidential campaigns, Garland typed out what he thought was a lighthearted blog entry. He titled it “Letter to a future Republican strategist regarding white people.”
Garland starts off:
To whom it may concern regarding the United States federal elections of 2014, 2016 and beyond:
Allow me to introduce myself to you, the existing (or aspiring!) strategist for the Republican Party. My name is Eric Arnold Garland and I am a White Man. Boy, am I ever – you need sunglasses just to look at my photo!
If I read the news correctly, I fit a profile that is of extreme importance to the GOP, as I embody the archetype that fits your narrative of Real Americans …
How can I put this gently? My wife and I are not sensitive to your messaging, nor did we vote for the candidates you proposed for us this past Tuesday. [italic lettering for emphasis is his, not mine]
B-b-but, what? Aren’t we investors, hard-workin’ white folk surrounded by same in a manicured cul-de-sac, scared by a vision of economic collapse amidst the takers in a land of fewer givers? Didn’t Mitt Romney’s strong family, wealth, leadership history and chiseled chin give us the uncontrollable urge to high-five him into the White House?
May I explain why not, purely for your education, such that you might be interested in winning an election on the national level at some point in the future? It bears pointing out that I should be your Low Hanging Fruit, the easy vote to get as opposed to, say, African-Americans, Latinos, or Asians—and you’re not even speaking well to me. The reasons why ought to concern you deeply.
As a Card-Carrying White Male I love expressing my opinion irrespective of whether people care to hear it, so let’s get started.
From there, Garland excoriated failed Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for assuming that white people like Garland and his family naturally shared his extreme political views on science, climate, health care, war, deficits and debt, and gay marriage. Garland disagreed with Gov. Romney on all counts. As such, he was hardly likely to vote for him or any future Republican candidate in some sort of racial solidarity if their policies didn’t square with his political views. He questioned whether future generations of white voters would too.
It was supposed to be a playful nudge-to-the-ribs entry that only the dozen or so people who ever noticed his blog would see and laugh at along with him. To emphasize the personal and emotional connection, Garland posted a picture of his family with the blog “to punctuate how painfully Caucasian we look.” Then, just for fun, he tossed in some gratuitous profanity—a sort of Anglo-Saxony spice to make his point all the more frat-boy, locker-room laughable.
“I didn’t expect this to go out to any more than five or six people,” Garland told me. “So, yeah, there’s some potty language in there because I was just riffing. But this wasn’t like one of my books; it wasn’t for wide distribution or publication, it was just for me and my friends.”
But Garland’s blog entry blew up big time. “I posted it at 9:58 a.m. and four hours later, when I looked, 400 people had ‘liked’ it on my Facebook page,” he said, noting that was an unusually high reaction to anything he’d written and also a harbinger of things to come. “Later that night, I noticed I had 7,000 visitors to my website. The next morning, when the server crashed, I said to my wife, something’s really sideways here.”
By the time I caught up with him late last week, Garland’s article was in hot circulation on Facebook and Twitter. I discovered him after more than 20 of my own Facebook friends independently passed along his blog post. My conversation with Garland was sandwiched among the press of demands from MSNBC producers, news reporters, and a growing legion of cyberfans, all wanting to discuss his blog.
“This just exploded,” he said, obviously delighted. “I’ve never had a reaction to anything I’ve written like this.”
Little wonder. Garland’s article went viral because of his musings on how Gov. Romney’s failed campaign exposed the racial fault lines in presidential politics. Almost immediately after the campaign ended, Republican strategists turned on their candidate and the party’s image.
Al Cardenas, head of the American Conservative Union and a stalwart GOP defender, told Politico, “Our party needs to realize that it’s too old and too white and too male and it needs to figure out how to catch up with the demographics of the country before it’s too late.”
Essentially, Garland said the same thing, striking the momentary zeitgeist with more earthy language.
“It’s not that white people aren’t talking about race, it’s just they’ve internalized that you can’t come right out and say what you’re thinking about race,” he told me. “That’s why you have the dog-whistle and people like Newt Gingrich talking about food stamps.”
For most of his professional life, Garland owned his own Washington, D.C.-based consulting business that allowed him to meet with corporate leaders and government officials, sharing his view on how they should think about the future. But he’s steered far, far away from politics in his work. Too controversial, he told me.
“I have avoided political discussion in my professional work,” he said. “It’s always been the verboten topic, the elephant in the room. Often when work and politics come up, people see how your mind works and that’s not good for business with some of the folks I have to deal with. Best to leave that subject at the door.”
Garland grew up in Vermont—“the whitest state in the nation,” he said—and tended to vote for moderate Republicans like former Sen. Jim Jeffords and former Gov. Jim Douglas. “They were rational and well-thought-out individuals,” he said.
Nowadays, his political leanings tilt toward libertarian candidates. He sheepishly admitted to voting this year for former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who served as a Republican but ran for president in 2012 as the Libertarian Party nominee.
But during this election cycle, as Garland worked on a book about small towns and economic development, he noticed that a lot of white people that he met and talked with were not in tune with the extremist positions embraced by extreme conservatives.
“As I talked to my friends about their political and military mindsets—and I have to be honest, these were white people, all of them were white people—I was going, dude, man, what’s with all these white people in the upper-middle class who think they’re [doomed] if Obama is reelected,” he said. “What are they missing?”
So for the first time in his short blogging career—he’s only had the blog for about a year or so—he decided to say something about the just-completed presidential campaigns. Doing so proved to be the most popular and controversial thing he’s ever written.
“That’s the really cool and the most unexpected thing about all this,” he said. “I’ve heard from a few people on the far-left extreme and the far-right extreme in reaction to what I wrote. But the overwhelming majority of the emails and postings about it have been moderate. I call it the rise of the moderates and it suggests that people agree with me more than not.
“I think I’ve tapped into something really good and wholesome,” he said. “And when was the last time that happened in politics?”
Sam Fulwood III is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Director of the CAP Leadership Institute. His work with the Center’s Progress 2050 project examines the impact of policies on the nation when there will be no clear racial or ethnic majority by the year 2050.
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