By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE
Civil rights leaders and black Democrats mercilessly ridicule the Republicans for their plans to parade black gospel choirs, mariachi strollers and American Indian dance groups across the stage at the Republican National Convention in 2000. They call it a cheap publicity stunt to woo black and Latino voters. They’re wrong.
This year the Republican National Committee boasts that minorities will make up a record nearly 20 percent of the delegates at their New York convention. Democrats still insist this is mere GOP flim-flam on diversity.
At first glance, the criticism seems justified. Before, during and after he took office, Bush opposed reparations, expanded hate crimes laws, supported school vouchers, torpedoed civil liberties protections and made huge cuts in health and education programs. Black leaders still accuse him of cheating blacks out of thousands of votes in Florida and hijacking the White House, and for appointing John Ashcroft as attorney general. The mere thought that he might consider appointing Clarence Thomas as the next Supreme Court chief justice strikes even more horror in them.
The Republicans newfound emphasis on diversity, however, is not a political con act. It was forced on them by changing political realities. Blacks, Latinos and Asians now make up nearly one-third of America’s population, and, with increased immigration and their higher birth rates, their population will continue to rise. The current estimate: By 2050, whites will no longer make up the majority of America’s population.
Even more important, blacks and Latinos make up a significant percentage of the vote in the crucial battleground states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Florida. If Republicans, by touting diversity, can shave a percentage point or two from the huge vote total that Democratic presidential contender John Kerry is expected to get from blacks and Latinos it could be a huge boost for Bush’s re-election. In 2000, the margin of victory for Gore and Bush in six states was less than 10,000 votes. In Florida, Bush’s disputed victory margin was a microscopic 537 votes.
The GOP has pulled out all stops to bag more Latino votes. Since 2002, nearly a quarter-million new Latino voters have been registered in Arizona and Florida. Though the overwhelming majority of Latinos will vote for Kerry, polls show that about 20 percent of them say they are undecided.
The GOP believes that many blacks and Latinos will buy their conservative pitch. Bush’s four-year snub of the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus was a calculated move to skirt the civil rights leadership and make his conservative pro-business pitch to black moderates. Polls consistently show that a sizable percentage of black moderates are pro-life, pro-school prayer, anti-gun control and anti-welfare. Many enthusiastically support school vouchers, three strike laws, harsher sentences for crime and drug use. A significant percent oppose gay rights.
In a pre-convention fact sheet, the RNC sought to capitalize on that perceived conservatism. It boasted that minority business, and minority homeownership is at an all-time high. It gave Bush full credit for this. Bush’s appointments of Colin Powell, Condeleezza Rice, Rod Page and Alberto Gonzalez to high-profile administration positions have been appealing to many blacks and Latinos.
Then there’s the Republican’s key Southern strategy. GOP presidential contender Barry Goldwater encased it in political stone in 1964. Goldwater blasted civil rights demonstrations, opposed the 1964 Civil Rights bill and promised to slash big government. This open pandering to Southern fury over integration resulted in the wholesale stampede of Southern whites into the Republican Party.
Republican Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and the elder Bush excised Goldwater’s naked race-baiting appeals, but railed against welfare, crime in the streets, permissiveness, and quotas. That worked in part because of their covert racial appeals to white voters, and in part because they relied exclusively on hard-line white conservatives such as Trent Lott and Jesse Helms to dutifully deliver white votes.
But that day has ended. During his run for Texas governor, and president, George W. Bush aggressively courted Latino voters. He bagged nearly 40 percent of the Latino vote. The GOP took the cue and sharply accelerated the number of black and Latino Republican candidates.
In 2002, 20 black and 40 Latino candidates ran as Republicans in national and state elections. They won the lieutenant governorships in Maryland and Ohio. There are Hispanic Republican caucuses in the Texas and California legislatures. In Southern California, black Republicans now routinely challenge black Democrats in nearly all state and congressional races.
Democrats will lambaste Republicans for their showcase of black and Latino delegates at the convention as a minstrel show and a sham. It isn’t. America’s changing racial realities and political necessity have compelled the Republicans to put their version of a rainbow coalition on display at their convention.
Hutchinson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a political analyst and author of “The Crisis in Black and Black” (Middle Passage Press).