Republicans: Go Into the Crevasse

Regardless of why liberals feel the need to run campaigns and legislate based on segregated demographics, that the newly minted GOP representative eschews political arrangements based on little more than skin color or where her parents emigrated from is refreshing.

-CDR, “Kudos J-Rod

It’s being celebrated by conservatives that WI State Rep. Jessie Rodriguez rolled over when 27-year-old Black and Latino Caucus chair Rep. Mandela Barnes did not offer her an invitation into the group. This is a mistake.

Republican politics make for practical solutions, but never for reaching out to swing voters and beating Democrats in the market of popular opinion. Surrounded by viral tweets and instant videos, when the mantra of the individual is entirely self-centered, failure to out-shout the opposition will only mean a future of political defeats.

That conservatism inherently excludes women or minorities is a farce; conservatives choose not to celebrate biological attributes, instead favoring the best ideas and contributors to the movement and to the country regardless of an individual’s genetic makeup.

In this custom, Rep. Jessie Rodriguez rejected the opportunity to join the Black and Latino Caucus. It’s been reported this group is also set to include representatives whose home districts are mostly minorities. The catch is these members won’t have voting rights, which is actual, textbook racial discrimination.

One Capitol staffer suggested to me that, had Rep. Rodriguez ostentatiously infiltrated the clic, it would effectively shut down; it would no longer function uninhibited and without fail as a unified voice of lefty progressivism on racial politics in Wisconsin — silenced white members notwithstanding. Had she made a real public play at joining, there’s also the possibility her membership would have been blocked, exposing the group’s anti-conservative bigotry.

A reasonable participant in conservative politics, not to mention the soothing coos of reason coming from gut, would say, “But you can’t win on the issue! The media wouldn’t cover it, even if J-Rod had made a play to join the group. As a minority conservative, she’s marginalized and made to be irrelevant! Let’s focus on the issues that matter.”

“Who. Loves. Pizza?!”

Since the Johnson Administration, perhaps excepting the Reagan Epoch, Democrats have controlled the frame of discourse.

In the movie Thank You for Smoking, there’s a scene where lobbyist Nick Naylor teaches his son, Joey, about the subtleties of rhetoric, using the examples of ice cream:

Nick: Okay, let’s say that you’re defending chocolate and I’m defending vanilla. Now, if I were to say to you, “Vanilla’s the best flavor ice cream,” you’d say?

Joey: No, chocolate is.

Nick: Exactly. But you can’t win that argument. So, I’ll ask you, “So you think chocolate is the end-all and be-all of ice cream, do you?”

Joey: It’s the best ice cream; I wouldn’t order any other.

Nick: Oh. So it’s all chocolate for you, is it?

Joey: Yes, chocolate is all I need.

Nick: Well, I need more than chocolate. And for that matter, I need more than vanilla. I believe that we need freedom and choice when it comes to our ice cream, and that, Joey Naylor, that is the definition of liberty.

Joey: But that’s not what we’re talking about.

Nick: Ah, but that’s what I’m talking about.

Too often, the left wins the argument because they’re able to shape the frame of discussion. It’s the same reason that standing on a chair and yelling Racism! shuts down a discourse before it gets rolling: Being able to identify this makes arguing with anyone a lot easier. The “Ah, but that’s what I’m talking about” strategy distracts from real conversation, especially when the opponent’s argument centers on unbridled emotion.

But sometimes, “Ah, but that’s what I’m talking about” is complete nonsense. For a chuckle, that kind of rhetoric was successfully parodied in an episode of 30 Rock:

Here, Regina Bookman, played by Queen Latifah, is a race-card playing US Representative accusing NBC of racism, whose speechifying often devolves into inane catchphrases and sluglines, an affliction of almost any nationally-elected official today. On a superficial level, it’s funny that she gets applause when asking the room who likes pizza, but the scene unwittingly exposes liberal politics as pandering. Substitute “Who likes pizza?!” for “Who wants a free cell phone?!” and you get Michelle Dowery.

Progressive racial politics go unchallenged because they lack challengers in the public sphere, when even whispering at dissension or disagreement is cause for being called a racist. Rep. Rodriguez would have been in a unique position to be that voice, and easily swat away any ludicrous character attacks. There may be more worthy fights to have, especially in terms of job growth and entitlements and spending in Wisconsin, but these other social causes that continuously rise to the top do so because conservatives let them.

Rep. Rodriguez missed an opportunity to be the impetus for a change in the way politics are handled in Madison. The squabbling partisans passing laws are actual people. Rep. Rodriguez could have created personal relationships to bridge gaps in understanding and learned to appeal to her political opponents on a personal level. Even nationally, when gridlock plagues the every-other-month shutdown crisis, friends across the aisle are deployed as emissaries to create a deal; this was evident most recently in the Ryan-Murray budget deal.

If that personal connection were to fail, Rep. Rodriguez has a solely unique ability to bring a women’s perspective from the Latin community, a monicker most progressives would salivate over. Race and gender should not predicate understanding, or lack thereof, of an issue, but in today’s political game, they appear to, and give Rep. Rodriguez a built-in soapbox to connect with the minority voters that regularly fail to vote for GOP candidates. That turnout will matter, as it has election after election, in not just assembly and state senate races, but in the 2014 governor’s race and beyond to 2016.

President George W. Bush said he had to abandon the free market to save it, a move that was foolish and self-contradictory, but he was playing with a stacked deck that favors Democrats and had to get legislation through Nancy Pelosi’s House of Representatives. Here, Republicans have to abandon principle to protect the larger cause. They have to play by Democrats’ rules in order to win the long game. Liberal policy may be ignorantly short-sighted, but their political game certainly is not. Conversely, conservative policy today looks to the future, but conservative political strategy extends no farther than the next election cycle.

Let’s celebrate Jessie Rodriguez’s noble disregard for identity politics without letting an opportunity go to waste.

About the writer: Nik Nelson is publisher of and Founder/CEO of OpenBox Strategies, where he connects political candidates and small businesses with excellent digital marketing tools and strategies.