While Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young immediately apologized last week after using a racial slur to describe Hispanic migrant workers, the comment is just the latest in what seems an unending series of unthinking, and sometimes untrue statements made by members of the Republican Party and a big reason why Republicans will have a hard time changing the negative public perception that these days is so often associated with them.
Other GOP leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner and GOP National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus immediately condemned Young's remarks, but the perception of Republicans as elitist, out of touch and intolerant of anyone who they perceive as different has been growing for years, so any additional misstep is just adding fuel to the fire.
Young's remarks come at an especially bad time because many party leaders are working hard to change the negative perceptions. They are working especially hard to attract minority voters, and many influential Republicans in Congress are revising their long-held stand on immigration reform in an effort to come to some compromise solution to the problem of illegal immigrants.
There's an old saying that actions speak louder than words, and right now the Republican Party needs to be leading the charge on immigration reform and pushing the more reluctant members of their group toward working with Democrats to find reasonable solutions. Extremists who have crippled the party in recent years need to be put in their place if people are going to accept Priebus' claim that Young's remarks "emphatically do not represent the beliefs of the Republican Party."
The general perception, as evidenced by the last election, is that many believe Young's remarks to be an accurate reflection of the GOP stand.
Everyone makes mistakes. On its own, Young's comment and quick apology should suffice, and he should be allowed to make amends through his future actions. Taken as a whole, however, with comments and actions of other leading Republicans in recent months, the statement further damages the GOP's efforts to change its image. In that regard, the actions of the party in the coming months will demonstrate on their own where the party is headed.