Diminishing Diversity

One of the more interesting things noted in the cacophony of commentary about Senator Arlen Specter changing his party affiliation from “R” to “D” was that this left Virginia congressman Eric Cantor as the sole Jewish Republican in the entire 535-member Congress. That’s out of 31 Jews in the House and 13 in the Senate (some are saying 14 since that will be the total when Minnesota finally settles its election and seats a senator — fair enough since both candidates, Norm Coleman and Al Franken, are Jewish). (Ohio has none, but could conceivably in 2011, if Lee Fisher wins the primary and the election).

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg of the GOP’s diversity issues. Let’s take Hispanics, for instance. There are two, one from each party, in the Senate, and 25 in the House — 21 Democrats and four Republicans. But four of the five Republicans are Cuban-American; the remaining one is from Portugal, hardly representative of most U.S. Hispanics.

African-Americans? You’re joking, right? All 42 are Democrats.

Then there’s the biggie: women. The Senate currently has 17 women: 13 Democrats and four Republicans. The House has 75 women: 57 Democrats and 17 Republicans. Sure, there are more Democrats than Republicans in both chambers, but not 3-1! And given that the percentage of women in Congress overall is shamefully low, the Republicans’ record of electing women is atrocious. Does it matter? Look no further than the January 22 vote on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which helps women pursue cases of discriminatory pay. Every Democrat and five Republicans voted “yea.” The five Republicans? All four women — and Specter.

The Democrats smoke the Republicans when it comes to smaller minorities as well. Congress’s single Native Hawaiian, its seven Asian Americans, its three open gays (we won’t talk about the closeted ones under heavy suspicion!), its two Muslims, its pair of Buddhists and its Quaker Democrats. Unsurprisingly, so are all three of its Unitarian-Universalists, those damned free thinkers! — one of who is also its only professed atheist (Pete Stark of California) Its sole Native American is a Republican, as is its Filipino American — Ohio’s own Steve Austria from the 7th House district.

Clearly, when Senator Jim DeMint babbled in an interview earlier this week something about the GOP being “the biggest tent of freedom,” he hadn’t done a head count lately.

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