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Pitts: A new GOP, or just a cosmetic touchup?

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Maybe the party is finally over.

Meaning not simply the Grand Old Party, but more specifically the bacchanal of the bizarre and carnival of crazy to which it has lately devolved. So obvious has this devolution become that even Republican stalwarts have been heard to decry the parody of a party the GOP has become.

Except now we see signs suggesting maybe a corner has been turned.

There was, for example, that surprising bipartisan consensus on immigration reform, which one would have thought about as likely as a Ted Nugent concert on the White House lawn. And Politico reports Karl Rove has started a super PAC whose mission is to keep the more ... ahem, colorful candidates from winning Republican primaries. Politico also quotes what it calls a high-profile strategist who said party leaders are now trying to “marginalize the cranks, haters and bigots” they until recently portrayed as courageous truth-tellers.

There’s more. Fox “News,” for many years the communications arm of the GOP, just ditched two of its fieriest firebrands: Dick Morris and Sarah Palin, who, like Linus in the pumpkin patch, kept assuring true believers of the Great Pumpkin of a Mitt Romney victory.

This comes as Fox, though it still has numbers CNN would kill for, sees its ratings fall to a 12-year low among a key demographic. A new Public Policy Polling survey finds trust in Fox at the lowest level in the short (four years) history of the survey.

Then there is Bobby Jindal.

The Louisiana governor, widely considered a rising star of the GOP, has, since the election, been preaching with evangelistic zeal that Republicans must “stop being the stupid party,” which could be a reference to Herman Cain, presumably still poring over a map looking for “U-beki-beki-beki-becki-stan-stan;” or to Michele Bachmann, perhaps still searching out terrorists in the office of the secretary of state. Or to any of a series of GOP candidates who made statements on rape so spectacularly ignorant they would stun even the men in those dusty places where wives are bought like cattle.

So yes, signs are plentiful that something is afoot among the Republicans. But what does it mean?

One might hope it signifies the party’s decision to abandon its alternate universe, offer reasonable alternatives to those voters not convinced that any one party or ideology has all the answers. One might hope it means an orderly retreat from the hard edge of coded racism, gay bashing, Mexican electrocuting, anti-intellectualism and fact avoidance that has been passed off as wisdom in recent years. One might hope it means a return of grown-ups, pragmatism, reason – and reasonableness.

One might hope.

But one might be well-advised to gird that hope with wariness, given that this is the same party whose leaders, as reported on PBS’ “Frontline,” held a meeting in 2009 and chose obstructionism as a political strategy. Note that, even while repeating his “stupid party” admonition at a GOP meeting in Charlotte, N.C., last month, Jindal assured his audience this did not mean rethinking or even moderating the party’s hardcore – and frankly, out of touch – stands on issues such as abortion and marriage equality.

No, he explained, he’s talking about changing the packaging – not what’s in it. Putting lipstick on the proverbial pig, in other words.

That will inevitably disappoint those longing for a new GOP. One hopes the party’s soul-searching eventually leads it to understand the need for evolution. It should not – and does not need to – become simply a pale imitation of the other party. But it also should not – and better not – settle for being simply a prettied-up version of the extremist outlier it has become.

Because you know what you call a pig with lipstick on? A pig with lipstick on.

• Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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