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Pale, Male, and Stale: Comparing Diversity at the Republican Convention to the Democratic Convention

SOURCE: AP/ Jae C. Hong

Delegates react as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney addresses the crowd at the Republican National Convention.

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Now that the Republican and Democratic conventions have come to a close, the contrasts and differences between the two parties could not be starker. The makeup of their delegations, their lineups of speakers, and the planks of their party platforms served to underscore the importance each party places on diversity. During the two weeks of convention hoopla—first in Tampa and then in Charlotte—the demographic contrasts were clearly illuminated as both Republicans and Democrats sought to appeal to the base of their respective parties. The picture that came into clear focus: The GOP remains dominated by predominantly white males while Democrats are consistently driven by people of color and women.

While the cameras zoomed in on the few African American, Latino, and Asian American faces at the Republican national convention, the policies of the GOP leadership and actions of its delegates revealed a party that stubbornly clings to a past identified with institutionalized discrimination and misogyny. Republicans can march out as many tokens of diversity on stage at their national convention as they want, but that doesn’t negate the fact that their party platform hurts women and communities of color nor does it diminish the hateful acts that a few of their delegates committed on the floor. Among the most egregious incidents was two white male delegates throwing peanuts at an CNN camera operator, who was African American, and taunting her by saying “this is how we feed the animals.” The two were later removed from the floor, but the camera operator still said that she was not at all surprised by their behavior.

Just as offensive was when a female Puerto Rican GOP official was shouted down with chants of “USA! USA!” by white delegates who were described as forming a “sea of bowties and cowboy hats” when she tried to speak at which point party chair Reince Priebus had to finally intervene, gaveling down the shouters and calling for order and respect. (Later, additional context and video footage revealed the possibility that the disruption was due to Ron Paul supporters protesting their treatment by the Republican National Committee, but the perception of racism from the white crowd directed towards the Latina on the stage was already spreading throughout the media.) And then there was the white Pennsylvania delegate Mark Harris who blogged that he found it offensive that a person of Mexican descent was working in the American Adventure Pavilion at the Epcot Center.

Equally disturbing was the soft bigotry and condescension coming from many of the convention speakers themselves, alienating their target audiences and further revealing the racial discord and misogyny behind the party’s façade of diversity.

Ann Romney, for example, addressed a group of Latinos by saying, “You’d better really look at your future and figure out who’s going to be the guy that’s going to make it better for you and your children,” as if to suggest that Latinos would not carefully or thoughtfully weigh their political decisions. Opinion polling suggests that an overwhelming majority of Latino voters have indeed examined the party platforms and found the Republican position wanting. Mrs. Romney also suggested that by voting for the Democratic party Latinos were showing their political naivety if not outright biasness saying, “It [the GOP platform] really is a message that would resonate well if they [Latinos] could just get past some of their biases that have been there from the Democratic machines that have made us look like we don’t care about this community.”

Ann Romney’s statement begs the question: How would a political party show that it cares about communities of color? Certainly, the GOP’s status quo of giving a nod to Latinos by giving speeches with stirring immigrant rags-to-riches stories while flaunting a legislative agenda that denies that same success to their and other communities of color, isn’t proving successful for the party. Besides legislative agendas, Gov. Mitt Romney’s own words are shrill to the ears of Latinos who hear his policies, grounded in self-deportation, myopic enforcement, and laudatory of draconian anti-immigrant state laws, like Arizona’s S.B. 1070. The Republicans’ position on immigration rejects a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants, including the Obama administration’s popular Deferred Action program, which starting in August began granting qualifying and deserving undocumented youth reprieve from deportation and work authorization.

Republican talking points made from the stage amplified a message of immigrant bootstrap American exceptionalism but GOP-sponsored legislation would crush those aspirations, and instead enact conditions so harsh that undocumented immigrants would “self-deport.” From Ted Cruz to Marco Rubio to Nikki Haley—their immigrant journey speeches highlighted their families’ hard work and struggle while their party platform yanks up the ladder to success behind them. The trio’s message seems to say that “achieving the American Dream is for us and not for anyone else.” Likewise, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who introduced the vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), at the convention, spoke glowingly about her family during her speech but avoided the issue of immigration entirely. This granddaughter of undocumented immigrants, like most in her party, takes a hard line against other undocumented families.

Perhaps given the overwhelming whiteness of the audienceless than 2 percent of RNC delegates are African American and some state GOP officials refused to give any Latino or Asian American delegate counts—the message of caring about communities of color just doesn’t resonate with the Grand Old Party.

Unfortunately, the hypocrisy doesn’t stop at immigration. Gov. Romney’s acceptance speech was full of positive stories about women, but a Romney administration would actually be disastrous for women. When Romney bragged about employing a woman lieutenant governor and chief of staff in Massachusetts and about how much more important he thought motherhood was as a career compared to his own, he neglected to mention that he refuses to take a position on the Paycheck Fairness Act (an act that would ensure women get equal pay for equal work to men), and opposes expanding health care for women. What’s more, his crusade against public-sector employment would devastate women who dominate the civil-servant labor force as teachers and other government workers.

The Republican National Convention was to be a showcase for the party and an introduction to their presidential ticket, but despite the multiculturalism displayed at the podium, the GOP’s real racial politics shone through. The thin showing of women and people of color they paraded on stage in a cheap attempt to highlight the diversity of their party does not mesh with the reality that the GOP’s leadership and vision are anything but diverse. It doesn’t take much digging into their policies to uncover draconian ideas that will harm women and people of color.

In stark contrast, the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina was multiracial in the crafting of its platform, in the composition of its delegates, and at the podium. More than 40 percent of the party’s delegates were people of color and fully half of all the delegates were women. Officials of the Democratic National Committee estimated that 13 percent of all the delegates were Latino and nearly 5 percent were Asian American Another 486 delegates, or 8 percent, were gay, lesbian or transgender. And on the second night of the convention, Benita Veliz, the 27-year old who was valedictorian of her high school at age 16, was the first openly undocumented immigrant to address the audience at a convention.

The diversity shown on the Democratic convention stage is not mere window-dressing either. Veliz is now safe from deportation thanks to President Barack Obama’s new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. President Obama addressed the issue of immigration directly in his acceptance speech, saying, “You’re the reason a young immigrant who grew up here and went to school here and pledged allegiance to our flag will no longer be deported from the only country she’s ever called home.”

In contrast to the Republican convention, where the audience of delegates seemed unsure of how much they should cheer for Condoleezza Rice, the first African American woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State, when she spoke about compassionate immigration policy, the Democratic convention audience erupted in applause when Veliz, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, President Bill Clinton, and President Obama spoke about immigration.

From the First Lady to Sandra Fluke, the young law student who conservative radio commentators called a slut for standing up for women’s right to contraception, to the mothers whose children benefited from the Affordable Care Act—women from all walks of life echoed how they felt steadfastly supported by Democratic platform positions and policies. Instead of accusing an ethnic group of being biased in their voting, the First Lady spoke about how much she and the president still owed on their student loans when they were first married and how President Obama’s support for education funding and Pell Grants would alleviate this type of student debt.

For her part, Fluke spoke of how women would be affected if Republicans won in November:

“Your new president could be a man who stands by when a public figure tries to silence a private citizen with hateful slurs… It would be an America in which you have a new vice president who co-sponsored a bill that would allow pregnant women to die preventable deaths in our emergency rooms. An America in which states humiliate women by forcing us to endure invasive ultrasounds that we don’t want and our doctors say we don’t need. An America in which access to birth control is controlled by people who will never use it; an America in which politicians redefine rape so survivors are victimized all over again; in which someone decides which domestic violence victims deserve access to services, and which don’t.”

The racial diversity that the Democrats showed and that the Republicans lacked at their conventions also points to the future of the ethnic makeup of the United States in the future. Demographers predict that by the year 2050, the United States will be majority people of color nation. If this is the election year that Republicans will try to win by capturing at least 61 percent of white voters, it will be their last attempt. Democrats, on the other hand, seem to have understood the significance of this trend and are campaigning accordingly. What remains to be seen is whether Republicans will, in the future, try to repair the damage that their peanut-throwing, tokenism driven, tone-deaf convention has caused their party.

Anh Phan is the Anti-Hate Table Manager at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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