GOP appeals don’t match party agenda

Speakers at the Republican National Convention laced their addresses with disingenuous promises to restore mainstream American values and cultivate diversity and tolerance during their prime time television appearances in San Diego this week. Jabs railing on Democrats for government waste and bureaucratic ineffectiveness were as common and tired as jokes about Clinton’s indulgent eating habits. But talk of remodeling the nation’s crumbling ethical foundations combined with calls for a more inclusive, broad-minded Republican Party dominated the airwaves at peak viewing hours. On Monday night, Colin Powell whipped off a stellar speech emphasizing mainstream values and tolerance, attracting widespread applauds across party lines. Powell’s vision of a compassionate, more inclusive Republican party, however, bares little resemblance to either the GOP platform or the hard-line political preferences of the mostly white, male, upper-middle class delegates who nominated Dole at the convention.
Convention organizers carefully crafted each evening’s events, deftly working to shatter the party’s mounting mean-spirited visage responsible for turning off millions of former supporters. A majority of Americans have responded coolly to the severe social and fiscal conservatism promoted by the Republican controlled Congress. Now, with both houses of Congress vulnerable to a Democratic takeover in November, Republicans are duplicitously chanting a mantra of inclusion and diversity that is entirely out of sync with the harsh social and economic agenda many of their members and a majority of their delegates support.
In a rousing opening night address, Powell called for a more open Republican Party willing to encompass such positions as abortion rights, affirmative action, and federal support for legal immigrants. Delegates approved a number of GOP planks that directly contradict many of the pledges for more inclusion and tolerance Powell and keynote speaker, New York Rep. Susan Molinari, proclaimed amid the colorful convention fanfare and the shining lights of network cameras.
In fact, the GOP platform states unequivocally that there should be an amendment to the Constitution outlawing all abortions. It also calls for denying birthright citizenship to the children of legal immigrants. Vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp, moreover, has recently joined Dole in embracing Proposition 209, the anti-affirmative action measure on California’s November ballot. Kemp, nevertheless, continues to insist that Republicans are more effective than Democrats at handling minority issues.
Although we don’t expect the Democratic National Convention will be any less the strategically planned infomercial the Republicans offered, it isn’t too soon for both the public and serious journalists to demand something more from both parties. Public nominating conventions and extended campaign seasons were initially designed to give voters time to figure out which candidate they’d most prefer run the country. Media manipulated impression management, however, is drowning out informed deliberation and getting in the way of that underlying purpose. Politicians who smile a lot and say nice things only to get elected won’t come clean about what they really believe until both citizens and journalists shun the empty rhetoric and demand accountability in voting records and policy positions.