GOP road to recovery should start with civility

Post-election, Republican analysts are attempting to determine "what went wrong" by interpreting voting patterns based on skin color, gender and income, very accessible statistics. Yet, news coverage reveals an electorate expressing a profound moral weariness with campaign rhetoric and expenses.

In this past Sunday's edition of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, referred to the Republican Party as "a discredited brand with a shrinking base out of touch with the values that seem to be moving very quickly in this country." Here's why I agree.


Beginning with the Moral Majority and then the tea party, Republicans crafted their message with extraordinary simplicity and Pictionary-like logic. Dumbing down to their constituency, Republican strategists have sustained a clear battle cry: If you are moral and if you are patriotic, then you vote Republican; and by default, if you vote Democratic, then you are neither moral nor patriotic. Or, as in Pictionary Politics, a photo of Republican Mitt Romney represents the definition of morality and patriotism. Such were the roots of vitriolic language and thinking, and in this election we saw the escalation of offensive posturing actually disenfranchise some of its own party members.

Most discouraging, we saw Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rally his troops in 2008 with a single priority: block any and all legislation proposed by Democrats to ensure President Barack Obama's failure and ultimate defeat. Weren't we all under the impression that there were domestic and international crises that were more immediate priorities, even higher priorities than job security for Mr. McConnell and his allies? Mr. Obama's first term as president triggered a four-year period when Republicans refused to take the moral high ground by working on behalf of the country.


In Sarasota, Fla., a sign tacked on to a commercial high-rise read, "Anybody but Obama." Really? Anybody?

More mean-spiritedness came not surprisingly from charming commentator Rush Limbaugh. This megaphonic verbally assaulted a law student supporting Obamacare for birth control coverage, referring to her as "promiscuous."

And as a final example, the unbridled anger and contempt came through even from Tagg Romney, Mitt Romney's oldest son, who went on record saying he wanted to take a swing at Mr. Obama during the presidential debates. Should that response be characterized as American?

Candidates have long embraced verbal assaults and inaccuracies as essential tools for campaign battle and for years voters were resigned to this tactic as a norm. In recent years, it appeared that Republican voters were ignited and delighted by the attacks, looking for blood in the ring. At the same time, Democrats were criticized for their meek response. Their civility, a probable offshoot of their platform of inclusiveness, often made candidates appear unqualified, not tough enough to lead.

This election season, however, was different. The Obama machine responded with a ferocity equal to Romney's and ultimately prevailed.

Still, voters in both parties were sickened by the fortune spent on the presidential campaign, the $100 million self-funded campaign of Linda McMahon in Connecticut, and the country-wide tab of $6 billion for all campaigns. No one with true moral fiber and a stinging sensitivity to those struggling in this economy can argue that the money couldn't have been better spent by investing in jobs.

Mr. Romney remarked that although he lost the election, his campaign sparked the beginning of a national movement. He wasn't any clearer than that. If there truly is a new movement, hopefully it signifies that Republicans are ready to get to work for something other than re-election. They can no longer tout family values because what's at greater stake is community values. Republicans can't simply focus on courting women, Hispanics and gays. They need to back off on dismissing and denigrating the value of those people who are not like-minded.

Barbara Barnow, Ellicott City