We Built It: But Who Are “We,” White Man?

August 30, 2012, 5:11 pm

In case you have forgotten that marriage is only between a man and a woman, Laura Bowman accepts Bradley Thompson’s proposal on the GOP convention stage. Photo credit.

Remember that old joke where the Lone Ranger and his Indian scout Tonto are surrounded by unfriendly Native Americans? The Ranger says, “Look’s like we’re in trouble,” and Tonto replies: “Whaddaya mean ‘we,’ white man?”

Well, the next time Republican strategists hold a meeting about the gender gap, or any other gap for that matter, they might want to consider reducing the frat party atmosphere of their national convention. I bet that even if you aren’t a Democrat it becomes tiresome to watch a bunch of white people hooting, hollering and jeering as if they were at a football game every time one of their speakers tells a bad and mean-spirited joke about a sitting president. (Obama golfs? Really??? Because I’ve never seen a Republican politician golf! Especially one who was Eisenhower or Nixon or Poppy Bush or W  President. It just goes to show you that even a political historian can’t ever be too well informed!

The atmosphere generated by some of the more testosterone-driven speakers is about as appealing to a serious political thinker as a beer pong match in a first year dormitory. And when it comes to substantive debate about key platform issues like extending the rights of citizenship to GLBT folks, instead of being honest about the party’s homophobia, let’s try watching two completely unknown heterosexual people become engaged. Was the convention theme “We Built It” just a shorter version of: “We Built It and We Are Going To Paddle Every Pledge Raw Until He Thinks It Is 1955″?

If Barry Goldwater is watching what is going on in Tampa he is just plotzing.

In the absence of Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann, it’s the white male speakers who really get the house rocking and the fists pumping. I wonder if the strategists who are in charge of these scripted spontaneous demonstrations really don’t think this is obvious to those of us who are nodding off at home that when they put a woman or a person of color on the podium the delegates go to the bathroom or take a nap. In contrast, put a white boy like Scott Walker, whose national aspirations are now a dead letter, up there and it’s hard to stop the loathsome, nationalist chants of “USA! USA! USA!” It is as if we were watching the United States hockey squad take down the Soviets almost three decades ago, not a Governor who had to be bailed out of a recall with 2012 campaign funds.

The capacity of the party to trot out African-American, Latino/a, female, South Asian, gay and lesbian Republicans, accomplished and intelligent people who are somehow able to hold the modern Republican party’s racist, homophobic and mysogynist policy positions in their heads without exploding on the spot, is truly impressive. (As an aside, has anyone but me noticed that the anointed political “stars” in both parties tend to be either recent immigrants or the first-generation children of immigrants?)

If you aren’t white, and you aren’t straight, it must take enormous conviction about other policy issues to fight for your place in a national organization that does not hesitate to demean you personally. This Republican party uses Jim Crow tactics to suppress voter participation in communities likely to vote Democratic. It has inserted planks in its platform affirming the right of government to discriminate against gay marriage and, for good measure, a proposed Constitutional amendment that marriage is an institution that can only legally exist between a man and a woman (do you hear George Wallace saying “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” off in the distance?) The Log Cabin Republicans, who must constantly be looking for the $hit on their shoes that keeps presidential candidates from being seen with them, is trying to spin a platform that LC spokesperson Casey Pick called “ugly and harmful” as a sign that they are being effective. For more on this, see NPR reporter Liz Halloran’s interview with LCR activists in Tampa. (Hat tip to  Towleroad where you can stay up to date on queer election coverage.)

They must be putting a brave face on things as public engagements become a major news story as if heterosexual marriage was of momentous and unique national importance. And although quibbling about the double entendre quality of political speech can be an endless free-fall down the rabbit hole, did anyone but me notice that part of the way through Ann Romney’s speech on love she used modifier “real” when she spoke about her “family?” This either marks the tremendous gains made by the GLBT equality movement within Republican ranks or is yet another strategy for allowing Mitt to reassure social conservatives while appearing to take no position on a platform which supports anti-gay discrimination.

The convention choreographers’ focus on demonstrating the party’s diversity is utterly divorced from a set of policy positions that romanticize a “simpler” past when racial and sexual minorities were not seen, not heard and — in a best case scenario — institutionalized by their families of origin and the state.

If you look at the daily schedule of the convention, Republicans have clearly gotten the diversity memo. Condoleeza Rice was a no-brainer. Despite being one of the architects of two disastrous wars and an advisor to, as Bill Keller blogged it at the New York Times, “the Recent Republican President Who Shall Scarcely Be Mentioned at This Convention,” she is an academic, was a potential Vice-Presidential nominee, and spent almost a decade as the most powerful woman in the world. as are other speakers who have built the kind of careers that put you on a convention podium. My fave-rave was  Mia Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, a candidate for Congress in Utah’s Fourth, and the daughter of Haitian immigrants. But I thought it was interesting that viewers did not learn that this vivacious, intelligent woman converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints prior to her marriage. This would have opened an interesting conversation about the Mormon Church’s role as the most successful evangelist enterprise of the twentieth century, both domestically and abroad, among people of color.

You have got to think that the GOP really has not figured out how to handle the Mormon thing. Or perhaps the LDS Church has not figured out how to handle the scrutiny of a Presidential campaign. Or both.

I am not one of those people who thinks that women, people of color, and GLBT folks who are part of today’s Republican agenda are the victims of false consciousness.  I think they are, variously, socially conservative, anti-abortion, economically conservative, and religious. Many are entrepeneurs, aspiring entrepeneurs, and small business owners. Many people of color see the welfare state as destructive for historical reasons rooted in the self-help movement and the ways in which welfare has been used to control poor women and their families: for example, see Annelise Orleck’s Storming Caesar’s PalacePremilla Nadasan’s Welfare Warriors and Felicia Kornbluh’s The Battle for Welfare Rights for the racist treatment meted out to so many women by a bureaucracy designed to lift them out of poverty.

So, fair enough. They are in the right party. And yet, how troubling it must be at the end of the day to be committed to a group of heterosexual white folks who claim they don’t “see” race, but actually don’t see racism; who talk the language of gender equality but see that as grounded in difference. Ann Romney asked for love, Chris Christie for respect: how plain does it have to be? A party which, when it uses the word “family” means only one thing. An intriguing feature of the modern GOP is a stance against identity politics in policy matters (primarily in their rejection of affirmative action, the suppression of ethnic studies and other critical race curricula in public schools, and their desire to keep as many Latin Americans out of the United States as they can, while expelling and driving into hiding people who are here already) that is coupled to the deployment of identity categories when a show of diversity is called for.

You think that the Repubs are just walking through the paces in this convention? Not really: pay attention to the show. This Potemkin Village of a convention, as much as anything, tells us what a Romney administration would look like and how that would be accomplished.


Tenured Radical will be liveblogging Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech tonight, although you can go here for Glenn Kessler of WaPo and the early fact check on some major claims that the Mittster will make.


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