If the Republican Party really wants to appear inclusive, it may need to consider sensitivity training for its rank-and-file.
Rep. Don Young (R-AK), while speaking to the Alaska media Thursday, had a slip of the tongue which has caused shock waves across the nation. Ketchikan radio station KRBD reported that the septuagenarian Congressman was talking about the economy and his idea for a flat 10 percent, across-the-board income tax regardless of income source, when the discussion turned to farming and manufacturing. That’s when Young, who grew up around agriculture, dropped a verbal bomb which has splattered across the news, web, and blogosphere.
“My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes. It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”
Young’s use of the term “wetbacks,” a word considered a racial insult and slur towards hispanics, resulted in a near-immediate rebuke by Republican leadership, with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) chastising the Alaska Congressman.
“Congressman Young’s remarks were offensive and beneath the dignity of the office he holds. I don’t care why he said it – there’s no excuse and it warrants an immediate apology.”
Reaction to Young’s statement was so intense, the Republican Congressman quickly offered an explanation for his verbal slip, stating that it is “a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in Central California.” He then stated he meant “no disrespect” to Hispanic workers. Still, this flub will likely hang like an albatross around the necks of both Young and the GOP itself. Though he did apologize Friday evening, the misstep only underscores the depth of the image problem the GOP faces, as evidenced by a post on the DailyKos.
“It’s kinda cute of them to act shocked, when this is what they hear and say behind closed doors every day. Young’s problem with his party today is that he got caught saying this shit on camera, not that he said it.”
Ironically, Young was correct in his reference to how the slur was and, in some areas still, is used. Even into the 1970s and early 1980s, the word was used, like more other racial slurs, as a reference to Hispanic workers, most of whom were of Mexican and Central American origins. Such workers, also commonly referred to as “migrants,” worked farmlands as far north as New York and Pennsylvania doing manual labor, often below minimum wage and in violation of federal labor laws.
For a party which is trying to repair its image after a bitter and ugly defeat in the 2012 Presidential Elections, this was certainly not the right foot to put forward. Young’s comments are just the latest in a string of errors involving the GOP and the spoken word. During the 2012 Election, Missouri Republican Todd Akin lost after making a highly insensitive reference regarding women having a “natural defense” to rape. Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney never completely recovered from several comments considered insensitive to America’s most economically disadvantaged, telling CNN in February “I’m not concerned about the very poor.”
Shortly after those comments, a Republican congressman made a rather prophetic statement to The Hill.
“When you know that the media is against you to start with, which is the case with Romney and [Newt] Gingrich, you have to be extremely careful that you don’t give them a phrase that can go on a bumper sticker.”
If a mid-February survey conducted by Bloomberg National Polling is any indication, Young’s comments will only serve to make an already difficult image repair job for Boehner nearly impossible. That poll indicated that only 35% of Americans have a favorable view of the Republican Party.