Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Soft Bigotry of No Confrontation

Ken Mehlman, Republican National Committee Chariman is on C-SPAN speaking live from Howard University about how the Republican Party is the "party of Lincoln" (one of the Republican buzz phrases meant to attract black voters). The meeting is a "town hall" event.

Howard doesn't strike me as the kind of place where pandering plays well. But to be honest I've never been there and like most colleges it does have a College Republicans organization, so who knows who is in the audience? There are about 50 people in the room. One of the other buzz phrases Mehlman keeps using is "the soft bigotry of low expectations"--the RNC's quick answer to the criticisms of No Child Left Behind, which my friend Marianna calls No Child Left Unterrorized.

Q and A starts off with pre-screened questions, none doing little more than asking Mehlman to restate his original points. Oh, now they are going to take questions from the audience.

All of the people asking questions have identified themselves as Republican. opposing views during the entire Q and A time. I wonder if this is like all of the President's "town hall" meetings where only presidential supporters are "invited"? (Oh, there was one non-supporter there. He broke in during the middle of Mehlman's speech with a bullhorn and was quickly escorted out. It's a good thing there were security guards there to take him down.)

Now the event is over and people are milling around. People congratulating Ken. A few random one-on-one questions. Boom mike must still be on. We can hear all of this. Oh! One of the attendees is politely confronting Mehlman on No Child Left Behind. Maybe it really was an open event. Oops, suddenly the boom mike isn't working anymore. Camera moves to a big crowd shot. Now it's back on Mehlman, the NCLB query is over. And the mike is working again. How interesting. I wonder if Lincoln or his party chairman ever screened attendees to public addresses. Somehow I doubt it. Lincoln's was a different Republican Party.

I can actually understand why the black community might open up to the Republican party. Republicans talk a good game--small government, individual personal retirement accounts, school choice--as long as you don't look too closely. And if you do not believe in civil rights for everyone, the Republicans will certainly make you feel at home. (It always amazes me that some religious people cannot see that a narrow reading of scripture was what held slavery and segregation in place in America.)

But if more black people join the Republican party, I suspect (hope) there will be a keen interest in holding Mehlman and friends to their promises. The Democrats are taking a lot for granted these days--including the oddly at odds black and gay communities. In one sense it should make both parties work harder for minority votes if it is assumed that neither has a lock on them. On the other hand, I wonder if we are just moving from a racist society to a more classist one--with both parties saying "now that you have money and bother to vote, we'll start paying attention to you." At least the Republican party is paying more attention. I'm not sure what the Democratic party is doing these days.


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