Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday August 3, 2000

Republicans’ commitment to reform open to question

This year’s Republican convention is proving to be all lovey-dovey and full of enough platitudes to inflate the Goodyear blimp. The Republicans hope to regain the White House by replacing their image as hardline conservatives and reinventing themselves as an inclusive political party with mainstream appeal. So far, the strategy of avoiding controversy at all costs seems to be working, as suggested by the lead that presidential nominee George W. Bush has opened over his Democratic rival Al Gore in opinion polls. The big question, however, is whether the Republican makeover is for real or simply designed to get the party through the election campaign, with no true commitment to reform.

U.S. politics: Front-runner Bush may peak too soon

Bush’s middle-ground approach has the upper hand, for now, in what is an ongoing struggle for the philosophical soul of the party. Gone is the extremism of Pat Buchanan, who spoke about a cultural war between left and right at the 1992 convention. Newt Gingrich, the anti-government zealot who led the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, is out of the picture. The Grand Old Party is going out of its way to showcase visible minorities and women. But there is still a disconnect between what the party purports to be on the stage and how it looks on the convention floor. Eighty-three per cent of the delegates are white, while only 3.7 per cent are black. The majority of delegates are upper middle-class to wealthy, comfortable with owning guns, and not very concerned about the rising, unhealthy influence of corporate fundraising in politics.

The tension in the GOP family was evident this week when retired General Colin Powell, the African-American who is the most popular non-candidate in the land, took the spotlight. He delivered an electrifying speech, imploring his party to reach out to minorities, spend more on education, and share more of the nation’s wealth with the disadvantaged. The reaction ranged from tumultuous applause to dead silence, as when Powell chided Republicans for condemning affirmative action to help black youngsters get an education but saying little about “affirmative action for lobbyists who load our federal tax codes with preferences for special interests.”

There are more contradictions. Bush is promoting an activist role in education and suggesting that no child will be left behind. Yet the party platform outlines a diminished role for government and returning control to parents, teachers and school boards. Bush has a competent, respected running mate in Dick Cheney. But the vice presidential nominee’s ultra-conservative voting record as a former Congressmen — including opposition to funding the department of education, gun control and even the release of Nelson Mandela — raises questions about how broad Bush’s tent will be.

Unless Bush defines what he means by compassionate conservatism, he could be at risk of peaking too soon. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial, A10, 8/3/2000)

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