New York Times
August 1, 2000

The Republicans' Illusion of Inclusion


In Philadelphia this week, the Republican Party faithful will play their parts as master illusionists try to convince independent voters that this is a different kind of convention for "a different kind of Republican," Gov. George W. Bush.

Earlier this year, I made a noisy exit from the Republican Party in an effort to send a message to party leaders that, Mr. Bush's endless photo ops with black and brown children notwithstanding, it was past time for the party to move beyond the oratory of inclusion.

Though the proximate causes of my resignation from the G.O.P.'s minority outreach committee were Mr. Bush's appearance at Bob Jones University and his unwillingness to condemn the flying of the Confederate flag atop the South Carolina statehouse, my resignation was two years in the making.

It was set in motion by a pattern of blunders. These included the Republican National Committee's gala at the ancestral home of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy; the House Republicans' refusal to support a resolution condemning the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist group that had been given open access to G.O.P. leaders like the Senate majority leader, Trent Lott; and Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster's reported payment of $150,000 for David Duke's mailing list of supporters.

For 15 years, I accepted the Sisyphean challenge of broadening the G.O.P.'s appeal to the 30 percent of African-Americans who, according to poll after poll, share mainstream conservative beliefs on issues like school vouchers and welfare reform. The party's self-inflicted wounds undermined my efforts, so rather than continue a fruitless climb, I called it quits.

Now, as a former party activist and convention veteran, I can say that this year's gathering will offer a distinction without a difference.

By any objective measure, the convention will be no different from, say, the 1996 or the 1992 conventions.

Of the 2,066 delegates and 2,066 alternates, there will probably be 85 black delegates (4.3 percent) and 76 black alternates (3.6 percent), according to David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. It's true that at the 1996 convention, there were only 52 black delegates and 50 black alternates (2.6 percent of delegates and alternates).

But in 1992, there were 107 black delegates and 102 black alternates (5 percent of the delegates and alternates).

O.K., some people might say: "Lighten up.

Didn't Governor Bush go to the N.A.A.C.P.'s convention? You have to start somewhere." But a Republican presidential candidate must do more than simply show up to bridge the racial gap.

Mr. Bush's appearance before the N.A.A.C.P., which is, after all, the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization, encapsulated his party's problem.

His failure to address the issues of concern to the group's members -- Supreme Court nominees, affirmative action, racial profiling, gun control, the death penalty and, yes, the Confederate flag -- reinforced Colin Powell's observation on Fox News on June 25 that "too often the Republican Party has said, 'We know what's best for you,' as opposed to listening to the African-American community."

While Mr. Bush's noblesse oblige turn before the N.A.A.C.P. may help him with some white voters, it did little to answer Mr. Powell's point last month that the G.O.P. "is certainly not seen as the black guy's party."

At the convention, Mr. Powell and a parade of African-American and Hispanic speakers are taking center stage, a made-for-television illusion of inclusion. Fans of reality TV, meantime, may want to check their local listings.

Faye M. Anderson is a former vice chairman of the Republican National Committee's New Majority Council.

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