On Being the 'Stupid Party'

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Last week, Politico caught up with Bobby Jindal in the wake of Mitt Romney's loss:

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Monday called on Republicans to "stop being the stupid party" and make a concerted effort to reach a broader swath of voters with an inclusive economic message that pre-empts efforts to caricature the GOP as the party of the rich ....

"It is no secret we had a number of Republicans damage our brand this year with offensive, bizarre comments -- enough of that," Jindal said. "It's not going to be the last time anyone says something stupid within our party, but it can't be tolerated within our party. We've also had enough of this dumbed-down conservatism. We need to stop being simplistic, we need to trust the intelligence of the American people and we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters."
This week, GQ published a profile "young, hip, fun-loving" Senator Marco Rubio, in which they had an interesting exchange:
GQ: How old do you think the Earth is? 

Marco Rubio: I'm not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that's a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I'm not a scientist. I don't think I'm qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I'm not sure we'll ever be able to answer that. It's one of the great mysteries.
I don't know much about Marco Rubio. Perhaps he really does believe that one of theories we should teach is that the Earth was created in seven days, and that disputes "amongst theologians" should be considered right along with theories of scientists. 

But ultimately I don't think it much matters. When Jindal made his point last week, many bloggers correctly pointed out that there was a lot of talk about "tone" in Jindal's address, and very little in the way of actual policy. But an actual change in policy can't really happen without some sort of change in the calculus around the GOP base. The base of Marco Rubio's party has a problem with evolution, and a conflicted relationship with science. Expecting Rubio to be anything more that he is in that question is to misunderstand the base.

Contra Jindal, in American politics there is a substantial market for "stupid" -- one which the GOP has sought to corner. (I grant that they have not entirely succeeded.) Phrases like "food-stamp president" and "shut that whole thing down" don't come out of the ether. Richard Mourdock isn't an outlier. He is the logical extension of the notion that abortion is murder. You can't fix this by modulating your tone.The party exists where the people are.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

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