- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2000

PHILADELPHIA — Colin Powell, who was one of the only black faces on the dais at the 1996 Republican convention, was surrounded by so many minorities and women yesterday that it looked like a Democratic convention.
Liberals were skeptical of what they called a calculated display of diversity by a party they routinely demonize as intolerant and even racist. But speaker after speaker in and around the GOP convention hall yesterday insisted that Mr. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" is far more appealing to minorities and women than the big-government paternalism of liberal Democrats.
The most politically potent testimonial came from Mr. Powell, the only black to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Although the Gulf War commander differs with Mr. Bush on abortion and affirmative action, he hailed the Texas governor's politics of inclusion.
"He has been successful in bringing more and more minorities inside the tent by responding to their deepest needs," Mr. Powell said in remarks prepared for delivery. "He will bring to the White House that same passion of inclusion. I know he can help bridge our racial divides."
Democrats grumbled that the GOP trotted out Mr. Powell as mere window dressing to cynically counterbalance Mr. Bush's more conservative running mate, Richard B. Cheney. To preempt such accusations, the GOP arranged a luncheon for hundreds of Republican minorities and women who heard testimonials from speakers like George P. Bush, the Texas governor's handsome Hispanic nephew.
"Opportunity, freedom and hope," said the grandson of President Bush. "That's what the American dream means to my uncle. And he has an agenda for our country that will help us ensure that the American dream reaches every willing heart."
The parade of diversity was scheduled to continue unabated until the convention's conclusion on Thursday. A California assemblyman will deliver his pro-Bush speech entirely in Spanish. Single mothers, breast cancer opponents and rhythm and blues artists figure prominently in the lineup of speakers and entertainers.
Democratic strategist Scott Segal said Americans watching the proceedings on television might mistake it for a Democratic convention "if they turn the volume down."
"I'm not sure that a gambit like this works," Mr. Segal said. "The overwhelming majority of minority groups are gravely mistrustful of the Republican platform and of many of the key players in the Republican Party."
Democrats accused the GOP of hiding away its strident members of Congress and Christian conservatives. But there were no complaints from the Republican Party's right flank.
"I'm not running for anything," said Ralph Reed, former director of the Christian Coalition, to The Washington Times. "The two most important conservatives in the party will both be on the podium — George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. The spotlight is appropriately on them and we make no apoligies about it."
Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colarado, a Democrat-turned-Republican, was among the speakers at yesterday's "diversity lunch." The American Indian lamented that his old party solves problems by creating government programs.
"Democrats tend to say, 'We are going to help you,' " Mr. Campbell said. " 'We're going to take care of you poor folks because we know you can't take care of yourselves.' "
He contrasted this paternalism to the Republican agenda of "empowering folks. It's telling people like American Indians, 'We're going to help you create an atmosphere in which you can be a success like everybody else.' "
Many speakers came from Democratic stock, but turned away from the party because of its divergence from their values in recent decades.
"You know folks, my father was a Democrat," said Rep. John E. Sweeney of New York. "I realize now that the values he had as a Democrat are the same values that make me a Republican."
Mr. Sweeney described these values as loyalty to family and the opportunity to fulfill the American dream with hard work.
Even Democrats acknowledged the Republicans are making inroads among traditionally Democratic constituencies like women and minorities.
"There are some minority groups that are finding an increasing appeal in some of the Republican message," Mr. Segal said. "There are some notable successes. [Rep.] Henry Bonilla is an articulate, consensus-building member of the Republican caucus.
"But I think the appeals that the party makes to the African-American community have largely fallen on deaf ears — although I do salute George W. Bush for speaking to the NAACP. It shows an outreach.
"Efforts in this regard pay dividends, even if they don't pay immediate dividends at the ballot box," he concluded. "They pay what I would call a more systemic dividend in making the party look more flexible or, in the words of Governor Bush, more compassionate."
But some minorities are already heeding the GOP's call.
"I know that I'm not supposed to be a Republican, but I believe in myself," said former Democrat Clara Butts, a black guest at the convention. "I think for myself and I do not let anyone else determine what I should be."
Shawn Fairman, a partly Hispanic police officer from Los Angeles, agreed.
"I don't need government to tell me what to do," Mr. Fairman said. "The minorities and people I associate with — we're fired up."
"We're happy, we're exited that we have someone who wants everybody to succeed, no matter who you are or what your race."


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