113th Congress: Lack of Diversity in the GOP is Reflected in Congress

ByCrystal Lewis

Much has been written about the importance of the minority electorate in the face of the Republican loss in the presidential race. Despite earning only 40% of the white vote, President Obama secured a win thanks to the large turnout of minority voters. With 93%and 72%of African-Americans and Latinos voting for Obama respectively, the votes of minorities has played an increasingly important role in the election. As the fastest-growing ethnic group, Hispanics consisted of 10% of the electorate, up from 9% in 2008, while 55% of female voters backed the president.

Mitt Romney’s campaign’s choice to largely ignore these demographics in favor of stand-by older white male voters proved detrimental. And just as the country’s increasing diversity has impacted the re-election of the president, so too has that diversity begun to be reflected within Congress itself. This year, a string of historical ‘firsts’ has been achieved: Hawaiian Democrat Mazie Hirono is the first Asian-American female to be elected to the senate, while Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin will become the first openly gay senator. But the largest change is the number of women in the Senate: 20, 10 times the number just two decades ago.  Slowly but surely the face of politics is changing – for Democrats, that is.

While half of the House is made up of women and minorities on the Democratic side of the equation, white men make up about 90% of the Republican House, according to data from Bloomberg Businessweek.

“One thing that’s always been very startling to me is to see that on the floor of the House of Representatives when you look over on one side where the Democrats caucus and you look to the other side and it looks like two different visions of America,” U.S Representative Donna Edwards told Businessweek.

The fact that the Republican caucus remains mostly homogenous symbolizes the imbalance within Congress that will have to be overcome in order for the parties to come to a consensus on issues such as Medicare and immigration reform. As for future elections, Republicans can no longer ignore the importance of non-white male voters. But what’s disturbing is that the increasing importance of non-white male voters is being treated as a ‘problem’ for the Republican Party.

Instead of citing the Party’s involvement in issues that alienated minority demographics – such as Todd Akin’s controversial statements on rape or Romney’s attack on the ‘47%’ –Republicans are instead bemoaning the nation’s changing demographics itself. Romney himself blames his loss on Obama’s “gifts” – such as Obamacare and supporting the DREAM Act which gives amnesty to the children of illegal immigrants –that appealed mostly to African-American and Hispanic voters. Misogyny has become a scapegoat for some conservatives who have accused single women for supporting Obama in order to attain free birth control. But there is no way to understand a group by defining them by one issue – let alone gain their votes.

As Philadelphia Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez told Philly.com, while immigration reform is important to Latino voters, "health care is more important. The economy and jobs are important to us. Our issues are American issues."

Conservatives need to understand that they need to listen to the concerns of minority groups – not simply to attain their votes, but because ignoring key demographics renders them invisible, which opposes the entire purpose of the electoral process. And even though a pluralist America may stand in the way of Republican goals, we are still far from mirroring such diversity within our government.

Although women consist of more than half of the U.S. population they hold far fewer positions in Congress, while the same holds true for Latinos, who make up 16% of the population yet only 6% of Congress. Diversity is not something that should be looked upon as a stain that needs to be whitewashed, nor as some sort of new fad. Rather, diversity should blend into the political landscape as trees in a forest do: It’s the natural order of things.