George W. Bush tried to give his party a make over in Philadelphia for the Republican National Convention. It didn’t work.
His campaign’s cosmetic feel-good words and photo-ops of smiling, diverse Americans thinly covered, but could not disguise a retrograde GOP not quite ready for the 21st century.
For every change in the platform toward moderation, such as dropping the call for abolishing the Department of Education, there was a compensating addition in the other direction, e.g., diminishing the role of the federal government in education.
The crowd that gave Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan a chance to excoriate moderates and liberals at the 1992 GOP convention is still wielding influence.
True, Buchanan has left the GOP to spread his vitriol on Reform Party pastures. But the rest of the religious right leadership–Robertson, Ralph Reed, James Dobson, Phyllis Schlafly, Alan Keyes, Gary Bauer–are securely seated in the front car of George W’s train. Another kindred spirit has joined them.
Texas academic Marvin Olasky has provided the Bush camp an intellectual rationale, labeled “compassionate conservatism” to justify giving taxpayers’ money to religious organizations to carry out the proper work of government.
Again, the national GOP is a knowing partner in the effort of religious fundamentalists to break down the wall between church and state.
Bush’s most ambitious plans are for education. Among other initiatives, he wants to expand public money vouchers for students to attend private and parochial schools.
On domestic issues, the platform largely mirrors a world of 50 years ago, and on sex and family questions it sounds like Victorian England:
The GOP calls again for a constitutional amendment banning all abortions, without exceptions for rape or incest or to protect the life of the mother. It wants doctors to be punished for performing abortion. Poor women too are to be punished for having unwanted pregnancies; Medicaid is not to pay for their abortions.
In a new development, the platform lashes out against medically accurate sexuality education, prohibiting teenagers from receiving contraceptive information at school-based clinics.
The platform also opposes specific legal protections for gays and describes homosexuality as “incompatible” with military service.
In a nod to the 19th century wild west, the GOP rejects new gun control laws.
Compassionate conservatism rhetoric is kinder and gentler than we’ve heard from the GOP in some time. It is welcome. But the policies behind the rhetoric are for the most part amorphous and where they are spelled out, they are not so kind.
The Newt Gingrich-style blitzkrieg on Democrats has been replaced with quiet, sugar-coated innuendo, just as partisan but somewhat easier for the uncommitted to swallow.
If the platform had expressed more of Colin Powell’s views on domestic issues, such as affirmative action and abortion rights, the makeover might have succeeded.
The general attacked those hypocrites who oppose affirmative action for young black kids while supporting it for special interest lobbyists. Powell’s observations were a breathtaking glimpse of 21st century reality.
But Powell was the exception.
The true nature of George W’s vision is best understood through his selection of running mate Dick Cheney, a man with a congressional voting record to the right of Gingrich.
That selection, the retro platform and satisfied right-wing supporters are proof that Bush’s reach towards the center is illusory.
The television images of the delegates showed an America that doesn’t mirror us. Despite all the inclusive talk from the podium, this was the same GOP the nation rejected in 1992 and 1996.
Whether voters buy its cotton candy depends upon what the Democrats offer.
Tanya Melich is a political analyst and author who has attended 11 GOP national conventions.