My Lost Weekend | The Nation


My Lost Weekend

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'Conservatism With a Heart'

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Marc Cooper
Marc Cooper, a Nation contributing editor, is an associate professor of professional practice and director of...

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At the biggest Democratic event of the campaign season, Obama argued that the coming election is a choice between the past and the future rather than a referendum on his first two years in office.

He'll probably fend off J.D. Hayworth, but in order to win he's lost most of his principles.

Chastened by the Election Day drubbing that turned California into what one wag called a "one-party state," Left Coast Weekenders seemed disproportionately reasonable and critical. Mike Madrid, a former political director of the California Republican Party and a young academic who spent three years studying Latino voter patterns, warned that any successful GOP bid for the White House in 2000 would require winning California, Texas and Florida. And that, in turn, would mean winning over a significant Latino vote. Maybe as much as 30 percent of the Latinos in California. In 1996 Bob Dole won 8 percent of California Latinos. "What we Republicans did in eight months, the Democrats couldn't do in thirty years," Madrid complained. "We mobilized the Latino electorate--against us."

Republicans have a formidable task in playing catch-up on race. Watergate felon and talk-radio host G. Gordon Liddy thought GOP chances to take back the White House in 2000 would be improved by the popularity of George W. Bush among Latinos. Said Liddy: "[His] brown babies will appeal to those people."

But it's not just Liddy's fruitcake fringe that doesn't get it on race matters. The mainstream party machine is equally clueless. The Republican National Committee has established a new minority outreach effort called the New Majority Council. Its chair--a white woman named Patricia Harrison--is a longtime party hack and a co-chair of the RNC. "Our Republican majority will depend on a majority of minorities voting for Republican candidates," said Harrison at a Weekend panel. As lures for those minority votes, Harrison proposed a capital gains tax reduction. As for the African-American vote--well, Harrison theorized, that was as much as in the bag. Said the head of GOP outreach, "The Republican Party should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ending welfare." "Much of what the GOP is doing now as a remedy on race will not be successful," said Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley millionaire and former Republican California gubernatorial candidate. "Frankly, it's just tokenism. The same people who three years ago threatened to kick Latino immigrants out of public school today say they just love Latinos."

To his credit, Weekend organizer David Horowitz did take a more serious stab at injecting the notion of civil rights into the conservative body politic. He set aside an entire evening for what he called Conservatism With a Heart--the Republicans' politically correct euphemism for what liberals celebrate as "diversity."

"Clinton comes off as a Republican with a heart," Horowitz told the Weekenders in introducing the special evening. "Compassion is our missing weapon."

Then a small parade of conservative African-Americans took turns at the podium. Talk-show host Larry Elder reassured us that there were no more racists in America than there were people who claim to have spotted Elvis.

Oklahoma Representative J.C. Watts--number-four man in the new GOP House leadership--lectured: "If we conservatives want to dominate into the next millennium we need to learn to smile.... It's not going to break our necks to be nice...and some of our people are not nice."

Oakland NAACP leader Shannon Reeves extolled a deal he cut with a major oil company to open up a handful of inner-city gas stations--a few of them with "learning centers" built immediately adjacent to the stations' convenience stores.

But the undeniable highlight of the evening came during the fiery speech by John Bryant, who runs a minority financial foundation in Los Angeles. As Bryant urged the Biltmore audience to "interact" with him as if in a Baptist church, he worked toward his message-laden crescendo. "There's a difference between being broke and being poor," Bryant thundered. Broke means not having any money. But being poor, said Bryant, was only a self-defeating state of mind. And with that a mighty and collective "Amen!" rang out from a chorus of beefy, ruddy-skinned Republicans decked out in yacht club blazers and Italian loafers. This loud chorus only emphasized the obvious fact that while all the evening's speakers were black, it's also true that all the blacks were speakers.

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