TONY COX, host:
And now onto our Bloggers' Roundtable. Here's what we'll be talking about. The Republican Party. Does the GOP have a diversity deficit and what's being done about it? Plus, black bloggers say they are running into a firewall over getting credentials for the Democratic Convention. And rapper Slick Rick gets a pardon. With us today, Pam Spaulding, editor and publisher of the blog "Pam's House Blend." Eric Brown, blogger for the Detroit News political and government blog. And Debra Dickerson, author of the books "An American Story" and "The End of blackness." She blogs at MotherJones.com. Hello, everybody.
Ms. DEBRA DICKERSON (Blogger, MotherJones.com): Hi
Ms. PAM SPAULDING (Blogger, "Pam's House Blend"): Hi.
Mr. ERIC BROWN (Blogger, Detroit News): Hello.
COX: Nice to have you. Earlier in the show we heard about President Bush's efforts to rally support and money for John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, which leads us to our first topic. Former Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts, who is black, and a Republican, recently told the political web site "Politico" that the GOP is heading into the 2008 election without a single minority candidate with a plausible chance of winning a House or Senate seat or a governorship.
Republicans currently have one minority governor, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana who is an Indian-American. The party also has six Republican members of Congress of color, one senator and five representatives. Now the Democrats have three minority governors and 43 African-American members of Congress, including presidential candidate Barack Obama. So Eric, I'm going to come to you with this first. A few years ago, the Republican Party launched a highly publicized diversity effort, the results of which are - well that's the question, isn't it? What are the results of that?
Mr. BROWN: Not much. They actually have dropped the ball. They had Michael Steele from Maryland as well as Lynn Swann a couple of years ago, and not since then have they tried to get someone to carry the mantle, particularly someone of color to carry the mantle for them. And that's why it's so easy for minorities, particularly blacks, to not want to be part of that party. I'm a big fan of Michael Steele and that was definitely a great opportunity for them to carry on with a high-profile black person. Even Lynn Swann, I mean he's very known form his days of playing football, but they seem to have dropped the ball.
Ms. DICKERSON: There was also Blackwell, don't forget Blackwell.
Mr. BROWN: Yeah, Blackwell from Ohio, right. Ken Blackwell. So they definitely have dropped the ball. You know, I don't get into the two-party system. I'm a firm believer the only difference between the two parties is the fact that one starts with an R one starts with a D, but the Republicans have definitely dropped the ball.
COX: So all of you agree then that - you are of the opinion that the party itself is to blame for the lack of minority involvement?
Ms. SPAULDING: I think it's...
Ms. DICKERSON: I think I would disagree.
COX: OK, good, who's that?
Ms. DICKERSON: This is Debra.
Ms. SPAULDING: Well...
Ms. DICKERSON: This is Debra. I don't think that they dropped the ball. I don't think- that means that they had a plan and they had an orientation. I don't - I still think that by and large the Republican Party is just not a place that black people are going to feel comfortable in and that the GOP has to make some serious changes if they are going to appeal to blacks in any meaningful way. And maybe they are just not a party that ever can. I don't mean that as an insult. Maybe the things that they stand for just are not things that are going to resonate with rank-and-file blacks.
I really thought that the juggernaut of Steele, Swann and Blackwell was going to be a lot more successful, because their way in was blacks' social conservatism. And black religiosity. I thought - I really thought Blackwell had a real chance, so. But that's really where the two sides converged is social conservatism, anti-abortion, that sort of thing and religion. But even that wasn't enough of a wedge. So unless the party becomes a different place, I don't think that a lot of blacks are going to feel comfortable there.
COX: So Pam Spaulding, you have a different take, Pam, don't you?
Ms. SPAULDING: Well, I would say that the big juggernaut regardless of whether they agree with social conservative policy is Hurricane Katrina. I think that laid bare the Republican Party and its attitude toward a massive group of people of color. It exposed a group of the socioeconomic underclass that has been left behind by the Republican Party. I don't think that party can recover from that.
COX: Hurricane Katrina aside, for the moment, what do you think are the main Republican platforms that make minorities shy away from the party, Debra?
Ms. DICKERSON: Interesting. I think that the - their orientation against considering race to be a prime mover in a lot of situations. That basic disagreement that race is still a big problem for people who are not part of the white race, that's the major stumbling block. I think entrepreneurship in that sort of thing is very appealing to blacks, but it's that we don't want to talk about race, and we believe ourselves to be color blind and it's all just about paying attention and working hard.
That is the entry point until the party can understand that we still- that many black people still see race as a major issue and it's not a comfortable place to bring up things about race. So that's the major stumbling block and race is so far down on their list, and I think a lot of black people have a lot of affinity for a lot of Republican ideas. Again, we are a very conservative people. But many of us still agree that race is still a stumbling block. And when they say no it's not, that's your basic problem right there.
Mr. BROWN: And I find it interesting, because this present election cycle has really shown - or should have shown a lot of blacks that, does race really matter with the young Democrats? I mean the Clintons have gone out and their surrogates have gone out to prove that, you know, race doesn't matter. Look how they have gone on to treat the people of South Carolina. Look how they have gone on to talk about how the, you know, working-class white person is more important than a black person, that's who we are going after as far of votes.
COX: Yeah, but the counter-argument to that, obviously is Barack Obama, the fact that the party has embraced him and is supporting him. I have another question for you though, Eric, and it's this. John McCain recently decided to attend the NAACP convention in July. Significant or insignificant, do you think?
Mr. BROWN: I think it's always significant. Whenever you can get in front of any group of people to at least speak your mind, or say to them that you care, I mean it could be a façade, but at least you're showing up. So I think it's significant.
COX: Let's move on to another topic. Because you talked about, Eric, the lack of difference in your opinion between the Democratic and the Republican Parties. The Democratic Convention is less than three months away. All is not well inside the Democratic Party for minorities if you listen to what some black bloggers are writing about these days.
The first group of bloggers have been selected to cover the convention. This group gets total media access. It's called the "state pool." But apparently it lacks representation from the black blogosphere. Now Pam, let's start with you. Later this week, you'll find out whether you have been credentialed for the general pool of bloggers as I understand it, which is a second, lower tier credential, with limited access during the convention in Denver. What's going on here?
Ms. SPAULDING: Well, that's correct. I'll know by the end of this week what has been decided. I would classify it as a different level of access. I think that what's problematic here is that the state bloggers do have a seat on the floor with the delegation. There is no timeout on their floor pass, as there would be with the general blogger pool. They have to get 30- to 45-minute access passes at a time.
And so that has caused a lot of consternation among black bloggers. Specifically because the state pools, generally speaking, are white-dominated, and that's really because of the evolution of the blogosphere. There hasn't been a lot of outreach to bring minority bloggers on to some of the state blogs most likely to be selected. And this is playing itself out in the selection process. I don't think the DNCC took a lot of that into consideration, and now they have the mess they have there on their hands now.
COX: Well, you know what? Debra, I was going to - I wrote this question down, and I wrote it down very carefully as a matter of fact.
(Soundbite of laughter)
COX: And here it is. Are there enough - and I hesitate to use this word because of its negative connotations - but how many qualified black political bloggers are there out there?
Ms. DICKERSON: Well, that is - that's the very obvious question. And I think that is the way that we're going to be able to have these kind of conversations that we need to have. And so that is the question. And I've - since this topic has arisen, I've been running through my mind, who are the - and qualified means in terms of audience reach and levels of analysis - I'm trying to come up with some names, and I think that's what has to happen.
We have to - there are machines that rank blogs and that sort of thing, and I think that there - that's the way these things have to be figured out. And if we're going to criticize this process, we need to sit down and look at the list of rankings and that sort of thing. And first ask ourselves, is this system on its face fair, without getting into the substance of it? But that's the starting point. How many qualified black bloggers out there? And given that number, why are they not being given access?
COX: Well you know, Eric...
Ms. DICKERSON: I think that's the way to have a constructive conversation about race.
COX: Eric, this is new territory obviously, because the first bloggers - at least from what I have read - ever credentialed for a convention was only four years ago in 2004. So this is still new. To follow up on the point made by Debra, is it too early to say that race has become a factor in the selection process, or is there already a history of black bloggers being denied media access for other big political events like this one?
Mr. BROWN: Well, since there is already a history of bloggers being - particularly black bloggers being denied access, then race is a factor. But one of the things that, you know, going back to what Debra said, the name only, you know, those that are qualified or those that are considered to be qualified, if you're really just talking about name only, that's rather subjective because you do have some big-time names out there that are being allowed access based on their name alone. But does that make them qualified? No, they have access because of their connections that they have.
So it's all about making these certain connections so that come 2012, or even before then, and - you know, you have elections coming up in two years for senators and all that - it's about making a name for yourself so that you will be allowed to come to the various events. Because even in the state of Michigan, the governor here, she has a regular bloggers' roundtable like once a month.
COX: OK. Well you know what, Pam? I'm going to ask you - we're going to move on to one more topic, but before we do I want to ask you, when you find out what your credential is, will you get back in touch with us and let us know? We want to talk about that on the blog, OK?
Ms. SPAULDING: Sure.
COX: I appreciate it.
Ms. SPAULDING: And yeah, it's a great topic. And I think that we do need to expand it and to discuss what the difference is between general and state. But I think that that probably needs a lot more time.
COX: All right. And the time that we...
Ms. DICKERSON: Right, and how were they chosen? Let's look at the criteria.
Ms. SPAULDING: Right.
Ms. DICKERSON: Who was chosen? How was the decision made?
COX: Absolutely. Last topic of the day. Completely different subject. There's no easy way to segue into this. Just think back to your days 20 years ago if you can remember. Finally, hip-hop pioneer Ricky "Slick Rick" Walters can stay in the United States. "Slick Rick" made a name for himself in the 1980s with fun tunes like this one, the "Children's Story."
(Soundbite of "Children's Story" by Slick Rick Walters)
Mr. RICK WALTERS (Rapper): (Rapping) Once upon a time not long ago, When people wore pajamas and lived life slow, When laws were stern and justice stood, And people were behavin like they ought ta good, There lived a lil boy who was misled...
COX: Last week, New York Governor David Paterson pardoned the 43-year-old rapper, who was facing deportation back to Britain. In 1991, he was convicted and served more than five years for two counts of attempted murder and weapons offenses. A federal law requires resident aliens to be deported after being convicted of a felony or a weapons offense. So on the blog, everybody's talking about this. Is this because he's a black governor, because he's a hip-hop fan, what do you say, Eric? Really quickly.
Mr. BROWN: I don't think one has nothing to do with the other. He felt that it was time for this guy to be pardoned, so he pardoned him. I mean, he's not really that famous in the big scheme of things.
COX: So Debra, what do you say?
Ms. DICKERSON: The same. We analyze this the same way we did the blogger question. Let's look at who's other - what commutations have happened from other governors, and why are you asking about Slick Rick when you haven't asked about all these other people. So let's make a list and see whose governors are commuting, and see if there is some - nobody talks about white governors commuting - pardoning other convicted felons. So let's make a list and let's see whose been pardoned, and let's take it from there.
COX: Pam, you get the last word.
Ms. SPAULDING: Well, I think I agree. I think that this is a much bigger news story for reasons that no one's talking about, about race and rap and sub-culture. And I think that that makes it more newsworthy than anything. But Governor Paterson did what he felt was the right thing.
COX: All right. We've been talking with Pam Spaulding, editor and publisher of the blog "Pam's House Blend." She was at member station WUNC in Durham, North Carolina. Debra Dickerson, author of the books "An American Story" And "The End of Blackness." She blogs at MotherJones.com, and she was at member station WAMC in Albany, New York. And Eric Brown, blogger for the Detroit News political and government blog. You can find links to their blogs and ours at nprnewsandnotes.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.