Marc Ambinder and "Pink" Republicans

by Benjamin Domenech on 4:30 pm April 9, 2010

marc ambinder


The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder uses the kerfuffle over Gov. Bob McDonnell’s recent proclamation gaffe as the spark for a surprisingly skin-color focused rant — blaming “light skinned, pasty, pudgy — pink skin color” Republican insiders for the fault. He calls them “the pinks.”

I was a bit shocked to read this kind of attack on the florid faced, especially from Ambinder, who typically comes across as a very even-keeled sort. Defining people by their skin color went out of style a long time ago, but that’s just what Ambinder does: (emphasis mine)

Consider this term: “the pinks.” It’s a new term that I’ve heard some weary Republicans use to refer to the party’s professional political class. Light-skinned, pasty, pudgy — pink skin color — the hacks, the enablers. Republicans with limited fields of view; Republicans with little imagination; Republicans who are obsessed with trying to figure out the complexities of their base and who can’t think beyond the immediate moment, even when they’re trying to think about future actions. McDonnell’s close circle of advisers may or not be pinks, but they’re not a terribly diverse lot, intellectually, ethnically, or otherwise.

Ambinder goes on to cite a few names from McDonnell’s inner campaign circle, while being careful not to accuse them directly of being “pinks.” But politics and policy are not the same things. Since taking office, McDonnell has built a crew of senior advisers notable for its diversity, as the Washington Post cited, including four women, two African Americans, one Hispanic and one Asian American (as always, the caveat that a family member is among that number). But let’s not play numbers games — the accusation that there’s a lack of intellectual diversity is the one that doesn’t pass the laugh test. McDonnell’s policy advisers are overwhelmingly political pragmatists, with little in the way of partisan background — he disappointed several leaders on the right by hewing to a moderate stance in his appointments, including re-naming two of Democrat Tim Kaine’s cabinet members.

As WaPo notes:

Indeed, some conservative activists who had been lobbying McDonnell to pick one of their own complain that the Cabinet does not reflect their views on social and other issues. They are already questioning what it will mean for the way McDonnell governs.

Yet it’s apparent Ambinder means McDonnell’s political advisers, not McDonnell’s staff (though if he’s contending political advisers have anything to do with issuing proclamations, I’d like to know why). But the insiders of the past are notably absent from McDonnell’s circle, and even for the few who are there, the term “the pinks” has never been used to describe them, either in the press or in Richmond political circles. If it were, I’m sure it would be widely rejected, not so much for its use of skin color as a definition as for its blatant inaccuracy — it sounds more like a slogan suggested by a Northern Virginian with views of Southern political insiders gained primarily from schtick television.

Perhaps aware that his label was not commonly known, Ambinder quickly credited the term on Twitter to a conservative twitterer, Tony Lee, who writes occasionally at Virginia Tomorrow and is working on three books. I don’t know Mr. Lee, or what experience he had that would cause him to use such a label, but in any case, Ambinder’s use of “some weary Republicans” seems a bit of an exaggeration if it’s actually just “a twitterer.”

There was one last point that stuck out from Ambinder’s piece, as the kind of toss-off line that really deserves a bit more consideration:

Virginia Republicans will be held to a higher standard on racial issues, as perhaps they should be.

Than Virginia Democrats? Why? If the answer is George Allen’s use of an obscure slur and a proclamation gaffe, I’d suggest Ambinder familiarize himself with the Byrd Organization and the decades of Virginia Democrat machine politics built almost entirely on racial gamesmanship:

Byrd became one of the most vocal proponents of maintaining policies of racial segregation. Byrd authored and signed the “Southern Manifesto” condemning the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. His call for “massive resistance” against desegregation of public schools led to many Virginia schools closing rather than be forced to integrate. His leadership in state politics led to closure of some public school systems in Virginia between 1959 and 1964, most notably a five year gap in public education in Prince Edward County, Virginia.

The suggestion that racial insensitivity is the property of one party is something only a partisan hack would contend, and the assumption that a pink-faced Republican is automatically a racist or a bigot (or one who seeks to send dog-whistle signals to neo-Confederates) is a blatant smear.

Personally, I just wonder if Ambinder blames “the pinks” for Jimmy Carter’s similar gaffe?

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