Traditional trickery

    Earlier this week, when the Republicans began to roll out their national convention speakers in a bid to tout their diversity – wow, an Indian woman! a black woman! an Hispanic woman! – I experienced a vivid moment of deja vu.Twelve years ago, at the Republican convention in Philadelphia, we in the press gang sat in the cavernous First Union Center, and marveled at the parade of speakers – Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, a black Virginia state legislator, a black fourth-grade teacher, plus a black gospel choir, a black convention co-chairperson, an Hispanic convention co-chairperson, and the vocal talents of Chaka Kahn. It looked like a show geared for Black Entertainment Television……Except for the inescapable fact that the audience in the hall was virtually all white – de rigueur for the white people’s party, which had just hiked its black delegate share from 2.6 percent in 1996 to 4.7 percent in 2000.Republicans do this tired routine at every convention. It’s a quadrennial tradition to tout pluralism from the podium, to construct a Potemkin village that bears no resemblance to reality. They’re doing it again in 2012. A few credulous naifs will no doubt be snookered into believing that the prime-time gigs by Condoleezza Rice (again), South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez somehow heralds a new era of diversity – but, as always, the racial composition of the delegates will tell the true tale.Voters are rarely fooled by these con jobs. I remember attending the 1996 GOP convention in San Diego, and marveling at the parade of female speakers (the delegates that year were roughly 60 percent male). The keynote address was delivered by New York congresswoman Susan Molinari, who went on and on about being a new mother, and about how Republicans were really sensitive to women’s needs. Three months later, presidential nominee Bob Dole got 38 percent of the women’s vote.Granted, in 2012, Mitt Romney deserves at least a smidgen of credit for trying to reach out. Like his recent predecessors, he knows it’s smart politics to at least showcase the party’s desire to get beyond the gated communities and look more like the rest of America. The GOP obviously needs to do a lot better with women, blacks, and Hispanics – Romney is getting hammered by women voters, and he seems poised to draw a disastrously low percentage of the burgeoning Hispanic electorate – so it certainly makes sense to spotlight Rice, Haley, and Martinez. For what it’s worth.The problem, however, is that after the convention balloons have fallen and the show is wrapped, it will be back to business as usual. The optical trickery in Tampa will be supplanted by the reality of the Romney-endorsed Paul Ryan budget plan (which disproportionately hurts minorities), and the party’s systematic state-by-state assault on women’s health programs. And in November, if tradition holds, the GOP will again find itself with a serious deficit among women and minorities – perhaps serious enough, in key swing states, to tilt the election to President Obama.Which reminds me of a sardonic old story. Way back at the 1984 GOP gathering in Dallas, the party tapped Roosevelt Grier, the football legend, to speak in favor of President Reagan. As Grier made his way to the podium, the late great political columnist Murray Kempton turned to his colleagues and said, “The saddest moment at a Republican convention is when the colored guy shows up.”——-By the way, if Romney really hopes to attract non-whites in November, he can start by brushing up on the difference between an Arab honorific and a South Asian religion. Here’s what he said yesterday, while trying to eulogize the Sikhs who were shot dead the other day:”We had a moment of silence in honor of the people who lost their lives at that sheik temple. I noted that it was a tragedy for many, many reasons. Among them are the fact that people, the sheik people, are among the most peaceable and loving individuals you can imagine, as is their faith.”Romney spokesman Rick (“Kiss my ass, this is a holy site”) Gorka said it was no big deal. Romney had merely “mispronounced similar sounding words.”——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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