About a year ago, the Hispanic Leadership Network, a conservative organization that supports immigration reform, tried to give their Republican allies some advice on how best to communicate. The group recommended “tonally sensitive” language: GOP politicians were reminded not to reference “illegals” or “anchor babies.” The organization added, “Don’t characterize all Hispanics as undocumented and all undocumented as Hispanics.”
Around the same time, a different group of strategists gave Republicans advice on how to speak to and about women. GOP officials were reminded, for example, that rape is a “four-letter word.”
For most of us, training like this isn’t necessary. Decent, respectful Americans know not to use offensive language, making coaching unnecessary. That elected officials of a major U.S. political party need to be instructed on how to avoid repulsing large segments of the population really isn’t a good sign.
House Republican leaders sent a memo this week to the entire GOP conference with talking points designed to help rank-and-file Republicans show compassion for the unemployed and explain the Republican position on unemployment benefits. In the memo, which was obtained by The Washington Post, House Republicans are urged to be empathetic toward the unemployed and understand how unemployment is a “personal crisis” for individuals and families.The memo also asks Republicans to reiterate that the House will give “proper consideration” to an extension of long-term insurance as long as Democrats are willing to support spending or regulatory reforms.
The talking-points memo isn’t especially long – it’s only 133 words – but party leaders, no doubt fearful of appearing callous, apparently saw it as necessary.
Indeed, we’ve reached a curious moment in the larger economic debate. It seems Republican lawmakers need to be reminded, “For every American out of work, it’s a personal crisis for them and their family.”
To be sure, that’s a perfectly accurate statement. But what does it say about Republicans politics in 2014 that members of Congress need to be reminded of this? What does it say about GOP leaders – the memo was issued by the House Republican Conference – that they don’t trust rank-and-file conservative lawmakers to know this on their own?
If a party finds it necessary to coach elected politicians on how best to avoid offending the American mainstream, the party’s problems probably run deeper than word-choice.
Postscript: The same talking points encourage lawmakers to say, “House Republicans remain focused on creating jobs and growing the economy…. [O]ur focus will remain where it belongs: on creating jobs and putting Americans back to work.” They’ll do this by cutting off unemployment benefits, which will cost the economy hundreds of thousands of jobs.