The lineup of speakers for the opening night of the Republican National Convention was a model of diversity.
There was J.C. Watts, the handsome black congressman and former football star from Oklahoma. There was Congressman Henry Bonilla of Texas, Mayor Carlos Ramirez of El Paso and Elaine Chao of the right-wing Heritage Foundation. Topping it all off was Colin Powell, who promised that Dubya would "help bridge our racial divides."
There was a Latina singer and an R&B singer.
This marks the second consecutive convention in which the GOP is trying to sell itself to minorities and progressive whites. Remember that patronizing "big-tent" rhetoric from San Diego four years ago?
With their conservative base solidly behind Dubya -- and with just about everyone shunning Pat Buchanan -- it's obvious that the GOP wants us to forget that this was the party that refused to condemn the Confederate flag in South Carolina a few months back. Curiously, though, the audience wasn't nearly as diverse as the speakers on Monday night.
A walk of the convention floor about an hour before Colin Powell's speech revealed what was pretty much a sea of white faces. There were no minorities sitting in the New Hampshire delegation. None in Utah or Arkansas. There was one black woman in Louisiana. Another in Oregon. A black guy and a black woman in North Carolina. None in Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska or Wyoming. One in Missouri. Several in New York. One black guy and one woman in Nevada. One black guy in Alabama.
You get the picture.
"Yes," agreed Robert Woody, an African-American delegate from Florida, when reminded that the delegates were largely white. "It's our responsibility to work on increasing those numbers, and the first step is tonight."
Woody insists that the Republicans are making an "honest" effort to involve African-Americans in the party. "If we're going to win in November," he says candidly, "we're going to have to do it with the minority community."
It has been estimated that about 4 percent of the convention's 2,066 delegates are African-American. That's about 80 delegates.
RNC chairman Jim Nicholson apparently had promised more African-American delegates. He was grilled about the lower-than-promised total Monday afternoon in an interview on the Fox News channel. He stuttered and then admitted that he'd like to see more.
Three years ago, the GOP created a group called the New Majority Council to attract women and minorities to the party. It's headed by a King of Prussia woman, Renee Amoore, an African-American and lifelong Republican who owns a health-care company.
Amoore says 30 states have chapters of the New Majority Council, which she argues is evidence of the party's success in attracting women and minorities. Pennsylvania's chapter, incidentally, was the first.
This week's Republican convention is also the first in history in which an African-American holds a party post, says Amoore. There are two. J.C. Watts is the deputy co-chairman, and Amoore is the convention's assistant secretary.
"It's nice window dressing," says Jerry Mondesire, head of the local NAACP, when asked about Watts and Amoore. "I'm happy for her."
Asked if African-Americans should feel at home in the Republican Party, Mondesire responds, "With Dick Cheney on the ballot? He voted (in Congress) against everything black people have been fighting for for the last 50 years."
"He picked him."
As a congressman, Cheney voted against sanctions for South Africa protesting apartheid. He voted against a resolution calling for Nelson Mandela's release from prison.
"Seems the Grand Old Party is singing the same old song," concluded an editorial in the African-American newspaper The Philadelphia Tribune last week.
Asked if she's satisfied with the number of African-American conventioneers this week, she answers, "I think it's a start, and that it means the New Majority Council is getting the word out. I'm never satisfied. That's just me. That's the way I was brought up."
Ironically, the Republican Party was formed in the 1800s to combat the expansion of slavery. It was, as you've heard, the party of Lincoln.
How does Amoore argue that it should be the party of African-Americans nowadays?
"We're looking at economic development. That's what people are looking for in our community. We're looking at education -- school choice and charter schools."
Delegate Robert Woody of Florida says he became a Republican for those reasons. Economic development and education. And the old saying that if you give someone a fish they can eat for a day, but if you teach them to fish they can eat for a lifetime.
This story originally appeared in the Philadelphia Weekly
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