“And it comes from neighborhoods we have yet to even discover,” Michael Steele, former lieutenant governor of Maryland and former head of the Republican National Committee, said Wednesday on MSNBC about the America that re-elected President Obama and that his party does not know. Steele, who’s black, was talking to host Alex Wagner, who is female and Asian-American. His party no longer looks like America, he said. America looks like you, it looks like me, he told Wagner. His party “has to take its head out of its you-know-what and understand exactly what’s going on in this country,” and realize we don’t represent all of America. “And don’t just put Marco Rubio out there and say ‘We got one.'”

Here’s the link to Steele:
In 1968 Senator Robert Kennedy toured poor parts of Kentucky to help focus the nation’s attention on poverty. The trip was part of RFK’s transformation from knife-edged politician to compassionate crusader. He went to neighborhoods the majority of people in American hadn’t ever seen. Couldn’t believe existed. Didn’t want to believe existed in America.

My dear partner Lisa has said from the beginning of the presidential campaign that Mitt and Ann Romney should come to Pasco County, where we live north of Tampa, to see what the real America is like. Unemployment, 12 percent. Poverty level, 12 percent. Median household income, $44,000. Eighty percent non-Hispanic white, 12 percent Hispanic, 5 percent black. Certainly not Appalachia, but a place that’s hit hard times.

Lisa and I walked a few blocks of Port Richey on election day to get out the vote for the Obama campaign. We saw a part of our town, our state, that Romney doesn’t know. Hasn’t ever seen. Can’t comprehend. Middle America. Hurting. Small houses, many rented after the real estate crash. But many people in homes that they own. Hurting. One woman we drove to the polls had no car, no job, and a boyfriend suffering from ALS that they attribute to chemicals he was exposed to in the Gulf War. Lisa helped her decide on Obama — she voted for the first time in decades. My point to her, as we talked about her vote, was that Romney has no idea what life is like in this Port Richey neighborhood. Lisa asked the woman if she considered herself middle class. Yes, just barely, she said. Lisa asked what she thought Romney said when he was asked what a middle-class income was. Fifty thousand, the woman said. Lisa told her that Romney’s answer was $250,000. The woman was stunned. Another woman, a grandmother, whom we drove to the polls was part of five generations living in a small house. Her daughter has a good business — bail bonding. No other jobs in the house. They have a car and own the house. But they’re hurting. Struggling. This is one of the neighborhoods the GOP hasn’t even discovered yet, in Steele’s terms — and it’s far from the poorest neighborhood in our town, let alone in America.

Mitt and Ann Romney would have had their eyes opened if they’d walked with Lisa and me. But they — and too many in their party — don’t know this neighborhood, and seem not to care. Even though there were a few Romney signs in the neighborhood we walked, and we got a door slammed in our face by a Romney voter, this is the America that pays the price for Republican policies. Masquerading behind concern for the deficit, which is a huge threat to us all, Republican policies hurt these barely-middle-class people. Cuts in cops, schools, libraries, bus service, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, college loans, social services, emergency services. The Romney Ryan platform.

I’ve said many times on this blog that the real cost of No New Taxes is payed by average Americans. A recent New York Times story said crime is up in Sacramento due to deep cuts in police budgets and personnel. What a surprise.

Republicans lost the national election, although Florida’s legislature, like most in the country, stayed Republican. But the party will continue to shrink if it pays attention only to the neighborhoods where Mitt and Ann and their big contributors live. Most in Congress no longer know what the real America is like. Most people like me — privileged, white, educated, well off — don’t know the fraying neighborhoods and lives of people falling from the middle class.

“The white establishment is now the minority,” Bill O’Reilly said, right after Obama’s win, with a shocked voice. Hello, welcome to the 21st Century. But Obama’s re-election is not just about majorities and minorities. It’s about the increasing disparity between rich and poor, between Republicans like Mitt Romney and the rest of America.

Policies that continue to favor those who already have it made, at the expense of those who don’t, can’t continue. That’s part of what people said with their votes on Tuesday. And Michael Steele may have gotten the message.

— Bruce Benidt

(Photo from LATimes.com)