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Pitts: 'War on whites' a fight GOP can't win

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014 8:38 p.m. CDT

At this point, you really have to wonder: Is it still news when a Republican says something asinine?

On the off chance it is, let us spend a few moments pondering the strange case of Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, who said last week that the Democratic Party is waging a “War on Whites.”

Yeah, he actually said that. You can look it up if you want.

Brooks was responding to radio talk show host Laura Ingraham, who had asked him to comment on a remark from National Journal columnist Ron Fournier to the effect that the GOP cannot continue to be competitive in national elections if it continues to alienate voters of color. This is a truth so self-evident as to have been adopted by the GOP itself in its “autopsy” report after the 2012 election.

Yet here is what Brooks said in response: “This is a part of the war on whites that is being launched by the Democratic Party. And the way in which they’re launching this war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else. It’s a part of the strategy that Barack Obama implemented in 2008, continued in 2012, where he divides us all on race, on sex, greed, envy, class warfare, all those kinds of things.”

“A War on Whites.” Yet it’s President Barack Obama who is guilty of racially inflammatory rhetoric?

Brooks’ words so alarmed Ingraham that she suggested his rhetoric was “a little out there.” This woman belches fire on all things conservative; for her to suggest you’ve gone too far is like Charlie Sheen telling you to cut back on hookers and cigarettes.

But Brooks doubled down, repeating the claim in an interview with a website, AL.com: “What the Democrats are doing with their dividing America by race is they are waging a war on whites and I find that repugnant.”

OK, so let’s say the obvious first. There’s something surreal and absurd about this lecture, coming as it does from a member of the party that invented the Southern strategy and birtherism and whose voters were last seen standing at the border screaming at terrified Guatemalan kids.

But it’s not the ridiculousness of Brooks’ words that should be of greatest concern. You see, Fournier is right. If something does not arrest its present trajectory, the GOP seems destined to shrink into a regional party with appeal only to older white voters. It will be irrelevant in a nation where white voters will soon cease to be a majority– no group will be a majority – and appeals to racial and cultural resentments have less power to sway elections.

That should concern the GOP brain trust. It should concern us all. As a practical matter, this country has only two political parties; if one ceases to be competitive, we become a de facto single party system. That is not democracy. No ideology has a monopoly on good ideas. So America needs a healthy Republican Party.

Yet for every Rand Paul trying – albeit in a fumbling and deeply flawed manner – to reach constituencies the party has written off and driven off, or to engage on issues it has disregarded, there seem to be five Mo Brookses doubling down on the politics of resentment and fear.

His party needs to realize once and for all that day is done. It is critical for the GOP to wean itself from the cowardly belief that simply to discuss race and culture, to acknowledge disparity in treatment and outcomes, to put forward ways of addressing those things, constitutes “playing the race card” or “race-baiting” or fighting a “war on whites.”

That idea was always wrongheaded and dumb. Very soon it will become electorally untenable as well. So the GOP must learn to speak a language it has shunned to people it has ignored.

Because its biggest threat is not the Democratic Party but demographic reality. And right now, that reality is winning, hands down.

• 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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