August 4, 2000


New Culture Wars — Struggling to Unite, Not Divide

By Emil Guillermo

PHILADELPHIA — On the floor of the GOP convention, Senator Trent Lott, one of Wednesday night's key speakers, looked down on me and said with a straight face, "There is no cultural war here."

But he was wrong. The cultural war is just beginning.

Not the one we're used to seeing with the Republicans, where Reagan and Gingrich dumped on "welfare queens."

Not the one where Pete Wilson vilifies immigrants.

Not the one where Bill Bennet prescribes our high standards and proclaims everyone else bereft.

No, this cultural battle doesn't see things as "white" versus "everything else," not even "us" versus "them."

This is a battle to get white America to see they're part of an emerging mixed culture. We're in it together.

The convention's ethnic show on Monday was more than just a way of welcoming minorities to the party. They are welcome, but they're not going to win it all for Bush.

It was also a message to whites that the culture has changed, and that they are a part of this new thing.

Soul singer Bryan McKnight's performance at the convention caused Neal Gabler to point out to former Nixon aide turned ABC anchor Diane Sawyer that it was the first time a GOP convention had featured "the pelvic thrust."

The fact is mainstream culture is more black and Latino than anything else. Who do N'Sync and all those other so-called "Boy Bands" think they're mocking if not The Temptations.

And of course there's Ricky Martin-clone George P. Bush, the blended Bush, whom Uncle George W. calls "El hombre Guapo." The handsome man.

When Bush arrived in Philadelphia, he made a first stop by a Ben Franklin look-alike and rang a facsimile of the Liberty Bell, of course. Those old "white" symbols still count.

But his next stop was the Art Museum, known less for what it houses than for its image in the film "Rocky," where Sylvester Stallone runs up the steps with raised arms as the dreamy would-be, could-be champion.

Bush had that image just by being there. But he added the blended twist — Cuban-born Jon Secada played to a crowd of assembled Latinos, and then the aforementioned George P. took the stage and told a story about Cesar Chavez. Then he segued into George W.!

Then G.P. goes in for the kill. "He's the man who represents our culture, that man is my uncle George W. Bush."

The mostly Latino crowd went crazy, as a graying white male, former Yale Skull and Bones member, born not with a silver spoon, but a silver shovel, says, to them: "Vamos aganar. Muchos gracias por todos."

The crowd went even crazier.

That's the cultural war going on.

George Bush seems to be more comfortable and better in presenting all the mixed signals of a changing America than anyone else.

With this stage-managed convention, Bush is keeping the wonkiness to a minimum. Smart Condee Rice just broadbrushed foreign policy last night. And McCain didn't even mention campaign finance. Sure, it's a campaign of ideas, but the battle doesn't seem to be waged on trading barbs on policy. The wonks aren't going to win this thing. It's likely to be won with the winning image of America's new cultural blend. So this week we see Jon Secada, Bryan McKnight. Football hero Steve Young. Michael J. Fox.

It puts the party right in the cultural middle. And by throwing in the ethnic image, Bush is saying it's no longer square to be Republican. It's way cool. Come on all you independents and middle of the road democrats, the elephant can do the salsa!

Okay, sure. Bush knows America is changing. But what happens when the music ends?

Emil Guillermo hosts New California Media TV, a weekly talk show featuring the voices of California's ethnic media, and is a reporter for

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