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A truism often repeated by Republicans in the wake of the recent elections is that they must do a better job appealing to Latino voters in coming years. This opinion surfaced before the election, too, but now it is clearer than ever to the party faithful. Conservatives recognize that their hard-line positions against immigration have earned them few friends in the Latino community (and in the Asian-American community, which columnist David Brooks says is a growing voting bloc the GOP must contend with, too). And yet, I have heard conservatives say on several occasions—most recently in a heated discussion between Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter the day after the election—that Latinos should, or will ultimately find the GOP appealing, because at bottom they are a hard-working people.
For his part, Hannity concluded that the election was a defeat for hard working Americans; Obama prevailed because he held a hand out to all those who don’t work hard—or won’t work hard, especially now that they have continued government assistance to rely on. The Obama platform, Hannity claimed, appealed to the inner adolescent in us—the inner slacker who wants everything handed to us on a platter. The GOP, meanwhile, took a harder, more responsible—more adult stance—and paid for their courage.
The Republicans are the Party of Hard Work: this is their self-fancied image. During the campaign, Mitt Romney backtracked considerably on his controversial statement that 47% of the electorate are free-loaders who don’t work hard—who mooch off the rest of us—and comprise a burden of dependence that the rest have to carry around like a mill-stone.
And yet, after the election this much disavowed ‘47% doctrine’ surged forth with a vengeance, revealing that it was no minor complaint or fringe opinion on the right, but rather, a mainstream conservative view all along: the country is divided between those who work hard, and those who don’t—and the GOP is the mature party that appeals to the former. So long as Latinos are a hard working people, they’ll come around to the GOP sooner or later.
This view is horribly misguided—or worse. It’s insulting to suggest that the Democratic wing is comprised of folk who have flocked there because they don’t want to or like to work hard—because they’re lazy, indolent, incompetent slackers. Where do conservatives get this conceit that they are the hard workers among us—indeed, the only ones, on the backs of whom everyone else is getting a free ride? It’s willful ignorance to cling to this pretense; it requires not looking at others, really assessing their lives, and seeing how people work and toil in different ways, under vastly different circumstances, but struggle nonetheless. Are there free-loaders among the Democrats’ ranks? Sure—but a recent study revealed that Republican leaning districts rely more on government support than their Democratic counterparts (“With Tax Comments, Romney wades into a Conservative Rift,” NY Times, 9/19/12). The characterization that Democrats are lazy moochers, and Republicans hard working Americans is too facile.
I might add that there is also a strong whiff of bigotry behind this view of things. Again harping on the lack of Latino support for Romney, a recent NY Post editorial stated that “Most Latinos are fundamentally conservative, in the sense of traditional values; the various Hispanic communities are church- and family-oriented. And Latinos are not afraid of hard work. In short, they would seem to be a natural fit for the GOP.” (NY Post, 11/8/12) The suggestion is clear: Latinos will come around to the GOP because they are a race of inherently industrious people. This of course implies the opposite, namely that there are races who are not naturally inclined to work hard—races that are inherently lazy—a common refrain from more shameful periods of American history. The inherently lazy races naturally vote for the Democrats’ handouts; the GOP does not want those races. In that case, Mitt was right: why even try for their vote? Republicans cannot lament how they lost the African American vote resoundingly, since their polemics elicit a racist code, intentionally or not.
In general though, conservatives do themselves no favors painting electoral divisions in such broad brushstrokes. When the GOP declares itself the party of hard work, and its opponents the opposite, this is to shun an honest and careful—and ultimately, productive—appraisal of the reasons they lost this presidential election. Echoing Sean Hannity, I might say the conservative narrative is equally tempting in its simplicity: it’s a refreshingly self-congratulatory outlook for those on the right. But it’s an overly simplistic view of things, which blatantly disregards complexity—and difference. I daresay this over-simplification likely played a role in driving voters away from the conservative narrative this time around. So long as Republicans cling to it, they will likely fall short in the polls.
Firmin DeBrabander is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art.