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Michael Petrilli: Republicans can win being less racist, more smart

Michael Petrilli takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to tell Republicans they have a better chance of winning elections if only they stop being the “party of stupid” and start embracing folks they regularly decry as “elitist.”

What’s needed is a full-fledged effort to cultivate “Whole Foods Republicans”—independent-minded voters who embrace a progressive lifestyle but not progressive politics. These highly-educated indiividuals appreciate diversity and would never tell racist or homophobic jokes; they like living in walkable urban environments; they believe in environmental stewardship, community service and a spirit of inclusion. And yes, many shop at Whole Foods, which has become a symbol of progressive affluence but is also a good example of the free enterprise system at work. (Not to mention that its founder is a well-known libertarian who took to these pages to excoriate ObamaCare as inimical to market principles.)

So how to woo these voters to the Republican column? The first step is to stop denigrating intelligence and education. President George W. Bush’s bantering about being a “C” student may have enamored “the man in the street,” but it surely discouraged more than a few “A” students from feeling like part of the team.

Even more important is the party’s message on divisive social issues. When some Republicans use homophobic language, express thinly disguised contempt toward immigrants, or ridicule heartfelt concerns for the environment, they affront the values of the educated class. And they lose votes they otherwise ought to win.

Coupla thoughts:

• Interesting that we’re a few weeks shy of 2010 — the second decade of the new century — and a guy advising Republicans on how to win elections suggests they might want to reach out to the non-racist-joke-telling demographic.

• It’s also interesting that Petrilli feels like the audience of the Wall Street Journal op-ed page — high-powered, high-income, highly connected folks who lean right — needs to be told that it’s ok to embrace the people the GOP typically derides as “elitist.” Because, uh, that audience is actually the elite, more or less. One multimillionaire to another: “Says here in the Wall Street Journal we should embrace the Whole Foods set.” “But what where will I get my pork rinds!?” The anti-elitist thing was always a hollow pose; if the GOP now must end the pose to win elections, at least our campaigns might be a bit more honest. But there’s always another culture war angle to hit, I’m sure.

• When you get down to it, though, Petrilli’s advice boils down to this: “The world has moved on. Gay and blacks are part of public life; so is widespread higher education. That’s a world largely created by Democrats and liberals, yes, but you’re going to have to adapt to it if you want to compete. It’s time.”