Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Sister Souljah, for you...

...youngsters out there, was a recording artist in the 1990s. She:

...became infamous for her statements about the 1992 Los Angeles riots. In an interview conducted May 13, 1992, she was quoted in the Washington Post as saying, "If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?"

The quotation was later reproduced in the media, and she was widely criticized. Presidential candidate Bill Clinton publicly criticized that statement—and Jesse Jackson for allowing her to be on his Rainbow Coalition—thus the Sister Souljah moment was created.

Thomas Edsall asks in his column this morning, "Can Jeb Bush Defy the Tea Party and Win?" 

(If you're in a hurry I'll save you some time: the answer is "no.")

Edsall writes (all emphasis mine):

Can Jeb Bush win the Republican presidential nomination while defying the most ideologically committed wing of his party?

Bill Clinton did this successfully in 1992, when he staked out conservative stands opposed by the liberal wing of his party — the so-called Sister Souljah strategy, designed to distance himself from the dogma of the left generally and from Jesse Jackson specifically.

Clinton defied liberals when he backed the death penalty and called for an end to long-term welfare. Most famously, in June 1992 Clinton attacked Jesse Jackson at a Rainbow Coalition event for giving the podium to the rap singer Sister Souljah, whom Clinton compared to the white supremacist David Duke. 

Clinton issued his public rebuke to Souljah and Jackson in part as a signal that he would focus on stemming the outflow of whites from the Democratic Party.

In a roughly similar way, Bush has decided to confront his party’s right wing on issues of immigration, the Common Core and same-sex marriage.  

David Karol, a political scientist at the University of Maryland and the author of “Party Position Change in American Politics: Coalition Management,” suggested in an email that Republicans might not be ready for a challenge to party ideology.

Karol notes that Clinton’s situation in 1992 was different. Democrats “had been crushed in three successive presidential elections. A large segment of the party elite accepted that real change was necessary.” As a result, “a lot of the groundwork had been laid by the time Clinton ran as a ‘New Democrat.’ ”

Despite President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 victories, Republican fear of defeat is not at the same level. “The G.O.P.’s success in Congressional elections tends to reinforce the view of many that they can win in 2016 without making major changes,” Karol wrote.

And he's right. Think about Mitt Romney's campaign in 2012. Can you cite one example of the GOP nominee telling a Republican audience something they didn't want to hear? Me, neither.

As for Mr. Edsall's examples of immigration, education and marriage equality, I'm not overly impressed. When I see a serious Republican candidate have a "Sister Souljah moment" in front of the NRA or a pro-life group, then I'll sit up and take notice. (Or how about just telling some crowd of older white people that, while you may disagree with President Obama on this or that issue, he's really a well-meaning, patriotic American. Ha!)

Until then, I'm with Mr. Karol: Republicans just aren't ready to adapt. Or win at the national level.

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