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Mean and Angry versus Angry yet Determined

A Commentary By Debra J. Saunders

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Republican National Committee has an African-American chairman, Michael Steele, and still the GOP manages to come across as racially insensitive, as well as just plain insensitive. That's no easy feat.

Last week, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former RNC chairman, resurrected the confederacy issue after CNN anchor Candy Crowley asked Barbour if he thought it was a mistake for Virginia's Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell to designate April as Confederate History Month, without referencing the evils of slavery.

Barbour responded that it was not a mistake -- he said the issue didn't amount to "diddly" -- because Mississippi's overwhelmingly Democratic legislature has approved similar proclamations.

Two problems.

One: It's rarely a CNN story when Democrats support the confederacy, and when it is a story, it's a sign that party leaders are reaching out to moderates, not that they are insensitive. (Remember when former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean he wanted to be "the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks?")

Two: Voters are looking for a party that looks to a bright future, not a glorious past, especially when it is inglorious to descendants of slaves.

Granted, CNN spends too much time reporting on what Republicans are saying, instead of on what Democrats (who hold the reins of power) are doing.

I would like to take issue with Crowley's remark about the GOP's image as the party of "mean old white guys." But that's hard when the other big Republican who made news this month is Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., because he behaved like a gentleman.

At a recent town meeting, Coburn said that while he disagreed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she is still a "nice lady." Jeers followed.

Coburn had to explain, "Just because somebody disagrees with you doesn't mean they're not a good person."

Coburn also suggested that attendees not limit their news consumption to Fox News. Ergo, he spent last week being grilled by conservative pundits, especially on Fox News. Sheesh.

I wonder if Coburn, a courtly doctor when not in Washington, had become fed up with the sense of entitlement evident among vocal activists who seem to believe that because they showed up for a town hall meeting, the speaker -- no matter how many years that speaker has taken heat for the conservative politics that they have just begun to champion -- has an obligation to be noisy and nasty to entertain them. And there's no winning. For some of these folks, you can never be negative enough.

Coburn spokesman John Hart pointed out that, while largely unreported, the town hall audience applauded Coburn's remarks in favor of civility.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is working on a document outlining a positive Republican agenda.

"We can go out and we can just be negative about everything, and we can win seats," McCarthy told me. "But we will never be able to win a majority and govern (according to) our principles, if we don't tell the public what we're for."

Or as McCarthy noted, "You don't have to be angry to be a Republican. You can be hopeful."

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