by Scott Simon
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Philadelphia, August 1 -- A longtime Republican member of Congress squirmed and seethed a bit while waiting to be interviewed on our live convention broadcast last night.
"I guess," he said through a tight smile to friends and supporters sitting around him, "that they ran out of Hispanics to be interviewed."
David Brooks of the Weekly Standard may have had the most delicate and telling analogy when he told us that last night's first session of the Republican National Convention reminded him of a Utah Jazz basketball game: the performers were mostly dark-skinned, while the audience was mostly white.
It was almost difficult to remember that the Republicans have been the majority party in the United States for much of the past generation. Today, they control the U.S. House and Senate and most statehouses. But fewer senators or representatives were featured on the podium last night than were schoolchildren, reverends, choir singers, and dancers. The party's control is at stake in this fall's elections. But last night, their most prominent candidates had to sit in their folding chairs as students of all shades were chucked under their chins, choirs soared, and accomplished black dancers and singers ranged across the stage to demonstrate a new inclusiveness (at least in music).
Is this the same party with a presidential candidate who supported keeping the Confederate flag rippling in the winds over the South Carolina statehouse? Is he the same man who spoke at Bob Jones University -- a place that would have suspended Congressman J.C. Watts and Elaine Chao for embracing and exchanging pecks on the cheek, as they did onstage last night, because they are of different races?
In a sense, you can't hold Governor Bush responsible for the complexion of the convention that will nominate him for president. The delegates were elected in open primaries and caucuses. Republican voters have sent only an estimated 85 African-American delegates out of the more than 2,000 who are assembled here to do the party's business. That number actually represents a decline. There were 107 African-American delegates at the 1992 Republican convention that re-nominated President Bush.
So when Governor Bush's managers look to assemble a cast of characters for this convention's stage that will represent his hope to win more black votes (or at least white voters who do not like bigotry), they have to look into the ranks of private citizens.
Singers, dancers, reverends and school kids have another impeccable advantage: they have no public record to question or assail.
Maybe that's part of the acclaim that Colin Powell wins each time he speaks. He is not only a superb orator. He has won real stripes in a real world.
-- Scott Simon
Scott Simon joined NPR in 1977 as
chief of its Chicago Bureau. Since
then, he has reported from all 50 states, covered presidential campaigns, seven wars, and reported from Central America, Africa, India, the Middle East, and the Caribbean.
From civil wars in Bosnia and El
Salvador, to hospital rooms, police
stations, and America's backyards,
National Public Radio®'s Peabody
Scott Simon brings a well-traveled
perspective to his role as host of
Weekend Edition Saturday.
Simon has a new book,
Home and Away: Memoir of a Fan was published in the spring of 2000 by Hyperion.