Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Staged Embraces
The Belated Arrival of Political Tolerance

By David G. Young

WASHINGTON, DC, August 8, 2000 --  

By the third night of the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, the GOP's attempt to soften its image was starting to wear thin. Instead of the usual cast of powerful party officeholders, members of every politically fashionable demographic group under the sun were paraded before the podium. There were black people. There were Asians and hispanics. There was a gay man. There was a young woman with Down's syndrome. And more often than not, there were women. In case the GOP's attempts to beat you over the head with the point failed, the Republicans are no longer the intolerant party of the establishment white guys.

The problem with the delivery of this message is that the party has precious few members in leading roles that belong to any of the emphasized groups. The party leadership had to look in every corner of the white male-dominated party to scrape up enough obscure members who are women or minorities. The resulting spectacle, in my view, was an intensely staged yet meaningless attempt to exploit the minority members of the party for the political gain of the two white guys running on the executive ticket.

But the Democrats won't be outdone. Decades after their first staged embrace of minorities, they have perfected the technique. Convention managers have scheduled a large number of black and hispanic officials to speak, and have bragged about having "the first African-American to address the convention as keynote speaker since... 1976."1 Since the party has a far larger number of minorities elected to national office, the pander factor won't be quite as overwhelming as it was with the Republicans.

But the Democratic Convention still might manage to make my stomach turn. Vice President Gore's selection of Senator Joe Lieberman -- an Orthodox Jew -- as a running mate would ordinarily merit little more than a half-hearted yawn. But the way Gore tried to turn his decision into some kind of heroic gift to minorities is repulsive. Referring to Lieberman's Jewish faith, Gore declared, "We will make history again. We will tear down an old wall of division once again!" 2

If this is supposed to be a bold move, it has come about 20 years too late. Americans are no longer the intolerant buffoons they once were. While anti-Semitism certainly exists privately in the hearts of a significant but small percentage of older voters, the country has come a long way since the days of Archie Bunker. Among younger swing voters, selecting a Jewish man is about as bold and interesting as selecting an Irish guy.

By and large, Americans just aren't as threatened about minorities as they used to be because the culture has become much more tolerant of people who are different. The progressives who have preached tolerance and equality for the past 35 years have thankfully won on this front of America's culture wars. Prejudices -- wherever they remain -- have become completely unacceptable in public. If there is any doubt about this fact, one need look no further than the ridiculous spectacle at the Republican's convention, where the culturally backward party attempted to play catch up with the more tolerant views of the rest of the country.

But it's not only the major political parties that have lagged behind American culture. It's the press as well. When Governor George W. Bush picked former congressman Dick Cheney to be his running mate, the press seized on the revelation that Cheney's daughter is a lesbian. Perhaps seeking a big news scoop, ABC News' Cokie Roberts grilled Lynn Cheney, the candidate's staunchly conservative wife, about her daughter's sexual orientation. Lynn Cheney, in an answer that seemed to me to be designed to keep her daughter's private life private, denied that her daughter had ever announced she was a lesbian, and refused to take further questions on the subject. Undaunted, the press continued to probe into pointless stories about Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter and the candidate's past votes against hate crime legislation.3

Most American voters have moved on from such old-fashioned group politics. And as of this year, the good news is that both political parties have now adopted the mildly libertarian idea that all people should be treated with equality and respect, regardless of their religion, ethnicity or lifestyle. While this is indeed good news, it isn't exactly the huge undertaking that politicians like to make it out to be. It's high time that Bush, Gore and other politicians stop praising themselves for simply acting like civilized human beings.


1. Democratic National Committee Press Release, Democratic Convention Keynote Speaker Announced, August 5, 2000

2. New York Times, Political Points Webcast of Gore's nomination of Lieberman, August 7, 2000

3. The Washington Post, Daughter's Gay Life May Prove Awkward for Cheney, August 6, 2000