While gazing out on the pale continent of the Republican National Convention, it was interesting to ponder: What if Barack Obama had been a Republican?
Most likely, the masses teeming on the convention floor would have been of a significantly different complexion. Or would they? And what if Barack Obama, the Democratic president of the United States, had been white? Would he have been elected? Would he likely be re-elected?
These questions are themselves answers to a question perhaps more significant today than in any other election year: Does race matter? Of course it does. And it matters more now than in 2008, because that was the year when we, as a nation, declared that it didn’t.
But it did then – and it does now.
Notwithstanding the dazzling performance of Condoleezza Rice and the GOP’s raucous affection for her, African-Americans are scarce in the party of Abraham Lincoln. Republicans can honestly boast having once been the party of firsts. The first Hispanic, African-American, Asian-American and Native American in the U.S. Senate were all Republicans. But that was before the GOP went south, banished its centrists and embraced social conservatives in a no-exit marriage.
The impression that Republicans don’t welcome blacks and other minorities is, however, demonstrably false. Note the number of minority Republican governors recently elected: Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Susana Martinez of New Mexico. Even so, the party is undeniably and overwhelmingly white, and minorities (and increasingly women) don’t feel at home there.
It is not helpful that two convention attendees threw peanuts at an African-American CNN camerawoman and said, “This is how we feed animals.” Disgusting. They were promptly shown the door, but the damage was done.
African-Americans are not a monolithic group, obviously, and many likely would find comfort in the promises of smaller government, lower taxes, balanced budgets, school choice and so on that Mitt Romney put on the table Thursday night. But this isn’t likely to happen. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that zero percent of African-Americans support Romney. Obama also leads Latinos younger than 35 and women. Romney, alas, leads whites.
Optics matter and the GOP simply doesn’t look that friendly. Regardless of what is true, when a convention hall full of white people cheers jabs aimed at the first African-American president, it feels wrong.
Courageous Republicans should look in their children’s science book, assuming they still have one. There they’ll learn that ecosystems thrive and are most productive when there is biodiversity. The same can be said of political parties. An all-white party will not long survive in an environment lacking diversity.