Friday, September 5th, 2008

Vibe.com@RNC :: Day 4: The C-Word

John McCain walked onstage at 9:11pm, to chants of “USA! USA!”

Outside, 400 more were being arrested as National Guard guarded the entrance to the Xcel Center, bringing the total to 818 for the week, a count smaller than only the 2004 Republican Convention held in New York City.

Eleven minutes into McCain’s speech, two protesters from Code Pink–sitting behind stage left near the nowhere that networks MSNBC and Al-Jazeera had been assigned to–began shouting “U.S. Out Of Iraq!” The crowd at the Xcel Center interrupted McCain’s speech again with more cries of “USA!”

And then it was all McCain’s stage.

He didn’t try to match the fervor of VP nominee Sarah Palin’s address the evening before. Instead he tried to portray himself as an experienced, determined fighter and above all, a break from the recent Republican past.

He spoke sometimes as if he wished the Bush II administration had never happened. He pointed the finger at corruption, big government, oil companies. “We lost [people's] trust when we valued our power over our principles,” he said.

He received one of the biggest cheers of the night when he said, “We’re going to recover the people’s trust by standing up again for the values Americans admire. The party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan is going to get back to basics.”

But he also reached out to new constituencies, “the Latina daughter of migrant workers”, urban children in failing schools. He even proposed bridge pay and job retraining for unemployed workers, a proposal that labor and Democrats began making during the Reagan/Bush I years.

Still, his major domestic initiative, what he called “the most ambitious national project in decades”, was an energy plan that depended most of all on new oil drilling. Wednesday night, Sarah Palin offered her own semi-pristine Alaskan North Slope wilderness as a place to start as Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele, the only elected African American to address the RNC, coined a new phrase: “Drill, baby, drill!”

This is hardly seems the kind of domestic agenda that can reinvigorate a new Republican Party. This year, less than 2% of the Republican delegates were African American, less than 5% were Hispanic, and the count of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders not from Hawai’i was negligible.

Throughout the week, black and brown Republicans spoke about how frustrated they were to see the party going backward in time. Efforts to bring communities of color into the party, after all, had been a major initiative of Karl Rove and RNC Chair (and former Harvard Law classmate of Obama) Ken Mehlman. In 2004, 44% of Hispanics and 11% of African Americans voted for Dubya.

Yet since the retirement of J.C. Watts, the Republicans have had no prominent national elected African American. Their delegate total this year is the lowest in 40 years.

And although McCain has been well-respected in the Hispanic community for his stance on immigration reform, over two-thirds are expected to vote for Obama.

Michael Steele–who had won the support of Russell Simmons in his failed 2006 bid for the Senate–was candid in interviews this week. The lack of outreach is a recipe for disaster.

Ask the 20-year old white mayor of Muskogee, Oklahoma, John Hammons–where Hammons says, per Merle Haggard, they still fly the American flag and respect the college dean.

He was 13 when 9/11 happened, and it became one of the formative events of his young life. But he calls himself not a “neoconservative” but a “new conservative”, distinguishing himself from older culture-war Republicans.

His generation, he says, views the nation and the world differently. He says his best friends are Vietnamese and Dominican, Buddhist and non-Christian. His town is now only 61% white. And as a young person, he too has been moved by the historic nature of Obama’s candidacy, even though he’s a solid McCain Republican.

“We’re letting go of some of those irrational fears that we have,” he says. “When you do something from fear, you regret it.”

John McCain asked the Xcel Center crowd to stand up and fight with him. He flipped an Obama line like jiujitsu, saying, “Let me offer an advance warning to the old, big spending, do nothing, me-first country-second Warshington crowd: change is coming.”

But in the Grand Ole Party, it may be that change is not coming fast enough.

posted by @ 6:22 am | 2 Comments



2 Responses to “Vibe.com@RNC :: Day 4: The C-Word”

  1. momo says:

    Thank you for your posts of the last several days. I live in the Twin Cities and have been following the blow-by-blow coverage, such as it is, through both mainstream media and citizen journalist efforts. I appreciate the synthesis your posts offer. A lot of the young people who identify themselves as conservatives were over at the Ron Paul event. I wonder if the republicans expect their mobilization of the culture wars base to make up for their loss of these younger voters?

  2. Zentronix says:

    Thanks for reading! I was wondering the exact same thing last night. I’m working on a larger piece for Vibe’s November issue that gets at a lot of this, and tries to put historical context on it all. So I appreciate yours and everyone else’s comments–keeps me going when I’m having stuff like computer meltdowns at deadline time!–and hope to pay it forward with future work.

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