Party of Lincoln not whiter than white when it comes to diversity

Sat, Sep 1, 2012, 01:00

AMERICA:There were few Hispanic faces and fewer blacks around the convention centre this week, writes LARA MARLOWE

THE WASHINGTON POST recently estimated that 92 per cent of Republicans are white, in a country where non-whites will represent a majority within decades. A quick look around the arena where the Republican party held its convention this week confirmed how little diversity exists in the party of Abraham Lincoln: a few Hispanic faces, fewer blacks.

Perhaps surprisingly in view of its history of troubled race relations, Texas sent one of the biggest contingents of African-American delegates.

Kevin Fulton (41), an African-American lawyer from Houston, rated himself eight on a scale of one to 10 in conservatism. He doesn’t believe in man-made climate change (“The Earth heals itself, always has”), is anti-tax, anti-abortion and anti-Obama. “This country went from slavery to having a black man in the White House in 150 years. That is tremendous. I want America to have a black president, just not this black president,” Fulton says.

“I was born in the inner city,” he continues. “Democrats give you a lot of programmes to keep you where you are at. They measure success by how many people they add to the welfare rolls.”

“That’s another form of slavery,” chimes in Allen Johnson (71), an African-American computer engineer who is also a Texas delegate.

He supported Ron Paul, the libertarian Texas representative who lost most of his delegates to Romney’s strong-arm tactics.

“Ron Paul’s supporters brought a lot of diversity to the Republican party, he says. “African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, people of mixed race. And a lot of them were young. We need generational diversity too.”

Fulton calls Romney-Ryan “a weak team,” adding: “They may be the best we have at the moment, but I hope there are some on the bench ready to step up.” He likes Mia Love, an African-American Mormon from Utah who hopes to become the first black woman Republican in the House of Representatives.

Love was one of several African-Americans who delivered scathing anti-Obama speeches at the convention.

Doug Miller (45), the white vice-president of a construction company and also a Texas delegate, notes that his black and Hispanic employees are “pro-life and pro-marriage between men and women. They attend conservative churches. But they vote Democratic”. Ninety-five per cent of African-Americans voted for Obama in 2008. Nearly two-thirds of Hispanics tell pollsters they’ll vote for him in this election.

Miller says the Republicans have erred by trying to remain race neutral while Democrats reached out to ethnic minorities. He’s convinced that blacks and Hispanics will vote Republican when they realise the party shares their conservative values.

“We have to educate them,” he says, likening the quest to Ronald Reagan winning over blue-collar workers.

Herman Cain, the former candidate for the Republican nomination, who is African-American, has shifted his focus from his “9-9-9” tax plan to a new strategy to bring “ABCs” (American black conservatives) into the Republican party. When I asked Cain how the party could attract ethnic minorities, he laughed in his booming baritone: “They’ve got me.”

Speakers such as Mia Love, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and the black former Democratic congressman Artur Davis received particularly warm ovations at the convention.

Davis graduated from Harvard Law School two years after Obama and was labelled “the Obama of Alabama” by Fox News. But Davis’s hopes of following in the president’s footsteps were shattered when he stood for governor of Alabama. He had tried to win over white voters by opposing Obama’s healthcare Bill in Congress. But he alienated African-Americans and lost badly.

Davis now portrays his misadventure as an ideological rejection of a president who drifted too far to the left.

Through him, Republicans are targeting not only black voters – a hard sell at best – but the broader base of disaffected Obama supporters. “The last time I spoke at a convention, it turned out I was in the wrong place,” David told the Republicans, alluding to his having seconded Obama’s nomination four years ago.

As a recent convert to the party he is now “where I belong . . . I gather you have room for the estimated six million of us who know we got in wrong in 2008.”

Democrats and Republicans are slinging accusations of race-baiting at each other. Republicans pounced on the vice-president, Joe Biden, for telling a mainly African-American audience that Republicans “want to put y’all back in chains”, while Democrats say strict new voter identification laws in a number of Republican-ruled states are meant to disenfranchise blacks and Hispanics.

In speeches and adverts, the Romney campaign claims Obama gutted Clinton-era work requirements for welfare recipients. Fact-checkers say it’s untrue, but the allegations continue. In the minds of many conservatives, “welfare” signifies African-Americans.

And Romney’s recent joke, while campaigning in Michigan, that “no one ever asked to see my birth certificate” was a wink to racist birther conspiracy theorists who claim Obama was not born in the US.

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