Wednesday, December 6, 2000



Posted By on Wed, Dec 6, 2000 at 4:00 AM

One of the regrettable aspects of the protracted post-election showdown between Democrats and Republicans over the identity of our next president has been the utter predictability of the partisan antagonists’ rhetoric, which reflects almost word for word what is available nonstop on the TV cable shows.

An antidote of sorts to all this was an open letter e-mailed by Shelby County Republican Joseph Keene to assorted partymates. At the present fractured (and fragmented) moment, it is worth quoting at some length:

“...Here in Shelby County, Germantown is a nice city, but its voters won’t carry our party to victory in county elections. Outreach into the city is not an option for us any longer.

“We saw what happened on election day and the day after -- Al Gore beat [George W.] Bush in the popular vote. Bush is the legitimate winner of the presidency because of the electoral college, but we can’t depend on this glitch in the electoral college forever, can we?

“I get tired of seeing some of my fellow Bush supporters bring up this USA Today map showing a sea of red and claiming that Bush won most of the country. Perhaps Bush won in area, but not in votes. Last I checked, it’s ‘one man, one vote,’ not ‘one square mile, one vote.’ My fellow Bush supporters bring up the fact that Bush won 78 percent of all counties in the United States.

“So what? It’s not ‘one county, one vote,’ either. I think it’s great that some rancher in Wyoming who owns hundreds of acres of land would vote Republican. But in a piece of land equivalent to the size of a western ranch, several thousands of Democrat-leaning voters live in the wealthy Lincoln Park area of Chicago.

“We won the Presidential election fairly and Constitutionally, even though we achieved less than the popular vote nationally. We have a lot of things to be proud of, especially here in Al Gore’s alleged home state of Tennessee. We sent the nation a message that Al Gore is NOT one of us.

“I’m proud of Tom Leatherwood’s victory in the Shelby County Register’s race, but would he have won had there not been a Commercial Appeal-endorsed Otis Jackson on the ballot splitting Democrat votes from John Freeman? I doubt it, since most of Jackson’s support came fron heavily Democrat precincts. I’m proud that [U.S. Senator] Bill Frist handily carried the county, but he would have had more trouble here if he had a credible opponent. Bush lost Shelby County by 49,000 votes.

“What can we do to broaden our party? Plenty. First of all, DeSoto County (MS) isn’t becoming the most Republican county in Mississippi for no reason. Republicans are moving from Shelby County, Tennessee, to take advantage of lower tax burdens. And the emigration to DeSoto is substantial, according to an article I read in the local fishwrap.

“This means that our Republican leaders in this county must act and govern like Republicans to keep Republicans here. Instead, we’ve seen nothing but more taxes, especially the property tax. When that property tax goes up, folks, DeSoto looks like a better place to live.

“Secondly, the local GOP (especially in Shelby County) must be more proactive in bringing new voters into the party. We need to be visible at city events, especially. We have no midtown or downtown presence at all, and I didn’t recall a Bush office in either location, whereas the Gore forces held one in midtown and one in east Memphis.

“At the Cooper-Young Festival, I remember seeing a Democrat booth, a Green Party booth, but not a Republican one. At the Taste of Midtown event, I remember seeing the exact same thing. A recent NAACP event was held shortly before the election, and while the GOP representatives were invited, none showed up (and predictably, talk show host Mike Fleming and other conservatives got on the air to complain that it was a partisan event, when it was the GOP that caused it to be a partisan event by their absence).

“We can’t sit back and smugly expect that ‘the voters will wake up and support us’ because ‘the truth is on OUR side’ or count on this mythical ‘silent majority.’ That’s lazy and complacent thinking. We have to make our case to the undecided and Democrat constituencies. And given the political climate, we have to make our case in 30-second sound bites.

“When Al Gore got up in front of an African-American audience, he criticized Bush’s plan to appoint ‘strict Constitutional constructionists’ to the federal bench by implying that such a jurist would also interpret the section about black Americans only counting as 3/5 of a person. In an ad campaign worthy of Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels, an anti-Bush ad implied that he was somehow responsible for the dragging murder of James Byrd. It all boggles the mind because Bush isn’t a racist by any stretch of the imagination, and I know the GOP here in Shelby County Tennessee isn’t either.

“But did we make that case to the African-American voters who are already used to GOP neglect? We have a great philosophy about government -- less government, more freedom, more opportunity, better education. Why can’t we market it? Why can’t we come up with the sound bites? Why can’t we make it seem as though we care more about the community than our tax returns? “Part of it is that we allow the Democrats to define us, when we should really be more aggressive with the sound bites, define the Democrats first, and define the debate terms. Bush did a great job of that after his convention, but got knocked off course about the time of the ‘RATS’ ad.

“Yes, we won the Presidency fair and square. We have a lot to be proud of here in Tennessee. But the fact is that nationally we lost the popular vote, even though we won in terms of square miles and number of counties and other measures that simply don’t mean squat. If we are going to ever become a majority party, we have to reach out to minority voters and other demographic groups we lost, properly market our vision, and perpetually keep the Democrats on the defensive.

“I say we should start that here at home. That’s my gripe. I am discouraged that Republican party leaders at all levels don’t seem to do enough to broaden the party. Does anyone else share this concern? Or are we happy with the GOP being the suburban party?”

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