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Powell calls out GOP on race — now what?

Keli Goff | 1/16/2013, 7:08 a.m.

Part of the shift may also derive from the fact that the most recognizable black political figures in the country during President George W. Bush’s terms in office were black Republicans like Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Bush’s cabinet included other minorities, including Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who is African American.

But the other shift appears to be the tone of the GOP. Whereas the party of Bush was known as one of “compassionate conservatism,” the modern-day GOP has become known for Tea Party extremism. Much of the extremism has become synonymous with racial intolerance, beginning in the early days of President Obama’s first term.

A poster of civil rights icon Rosa Parks was ripped up at a Senate town hall about health care reform during the president’s first year in office, and a member of Congress called him “boy.” There were so many racially charged jokes, email forwards, tweets and Facebook posts by Republican activists and elected officials his first year that New York magazine actually compiled a slideshow.

What’s especially troubling is that some of the racism appears to be so ingrained that many of the offenders appeared genuinely unaware that their comments and behavior have no place in 21st-century America. So the question becomes, how does the party grow and evolve into one that is racially tolerant and relevant in 2013?

Well here’s a suggestion. After the GOP lost female voters overwhelmingly in the 2012 election — in large part because of a number of offensive comments about rape and abortion that Republican candidates made — former Bush adviser Karen Hughes had this to say: “And if another Republican man says anything about rape other than it is a horrific, violent crime, I want to personally cut out his tongue. The college-age daughters of many of my friends voted for Obama because they were completely turned off by Neanderthal comments like the suggestion of ‘legitimate rape.’”

Perhaps she needs to issue the same warning and zero-tolerance policy to GOP leaders when it comes to discussing race.

Keli Goff is The Root’s political correspondent.