IN LIVING COLOR: Republican congressional candidate and Saratoga Spring, Utah, mayor Mia Love addressed the second session of the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night in Tampa, Florida. She was among several leaders of color to take the stage. (Photo: Mike Segar/Newscom)
The stage of the Republican National Convention that concluded in Tampa last night was a lot more colorful than the floor, at least when it came to skin color (and Clint Eastwood’s odd performance). With speeches by African Americans, Indian Americans, and Hispanic Americans, one might have thought the GOP was the party of color. But, Baratunde Thurston, author of How to Be Black, was in Tampa reporting for WNYC and Yahoo News, and decided to count how many black people were actually in attendance. He curated his count under the Twitter hastag #negrospotting. (That apparently got conservative fire-brand Michelle Malkin fired up.) His last count, reported this morning, was 238 African Americans among the 5,000+ attendees.
The high point among speakers of color, at least according to an unscientific survey of my journalist-heavy Twitter feed, was former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who gave a hard-hitting foreign policy speech Wednesday night. Even those who didn’t care for the substance of Rice’s speech conceded that her delivery was impressive, perhaps even presidential. “When the world looks to America, they look to us because we are the most successful political and economic experiment in human history. That is the true basis of ‘American Exceptionalism,'” said Rice. “The essence of America — that which really unites us — is not ethnicity, or nationality or religion — it is an idea — and what an idea it is: That you can come from humble circumstances and do great things.”
Former Democratic Representative from Alabama Artur Davis said we should have known better than to have been seduced by the hype surrounding Barack Obama back in 2008. “Do you know why so many of us believed?” said the former Obama supporter. “We led with our hearts and our dreams that we could be more inclusive than America had ever been, and no candidate had ever spoken so beautifully. But dreams meet daybreak: the jobless know what I mean, so do the families who wonder how this Administration could wreck a recovery for three years and counting. So many of those high-flown words have faded.”
Jeb Bush, the one-time Florida Governor whose wife is Mexican American, defended his brother George W. Bush’s record and talked passionately about educating children of color. “We need to set high standards for students and teachers and provide students and their parents the choices they deserve. The first step is a simple one. We must stop pre-judging children based on their race, ethnicity or household income,” said Bush. He then highlighted what he said are Florida’s achievements in improving academic performance, particularly for students of color. “Here in Florida in 1999, we were at the bottom of the nation in education. For the last decade, this state has been on a path of reform,” he said. Among African-American students, Florida is ranked fourth in the nation for academic improvement, among low-income students, the state is third, among students with disabilities, it is first, and, among Latino students, “the gains were so big, they required a new metric,” Bush said.
New Mexico Governor and former Democrat Susana Martinez delivered a rousing speech noting her own ethnic “first.” “As the first Hispanic female governor in history, little girls often come up to me in the grocery store or the mall. They look and point, and when they get the courage, they ask ‘Are you Susana?’ and they run up and give me a hug,” said Martinez. “It’s in moments like these when I’m reminded that we each pave a path. And for me, it’s about paving a path for those little girls to follow. No more barriers.”
Up-and-coming U.S. Congressional candidate and mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, Mia Love called President Obama’s version of America “a divided one — pitting us against each other based on our income level, gender, and social status.” She said the story of the American Dream is one “of human struggle” that has “been told for over 200 years with small steps and giant leaps; from a woman on a bus to a man with a dream; and the bravery of the greatest generation, to the entrepreneurs of today.” Love, like Mitt Romney, is also a Mormon.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley defended her state’s controversial immigration law, calling it “innovative.” Said Haley, “We said in South Carolina that if you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed and you have to show a picture ID to set foot on an airplane, then you should have to show a picture ID to protect one of the most valuable, most central, most sacred rights we are blessed with in America — the right to vote. And what happened? President Obama stopped us.”
Throwing Peanuts and Racial Slurs
On the convention floor, meanwhile, a couple delegates made headlines for throwing peanuts at a black CNN camerawoman and saying, “This is what we feed animals.” Patricia Carroll, the camerawoman, was reticent about the incident, telling Journal-isms it could have happened anywhere, including the Democratic convention, but she was not surprised it happened in Tampa. “This is Florida, and I’m from the Deep South,” she said. “You come to places like this, you can count the black people on your hand. They see us doing things they don’t think I should do.”
BeBe Winans’s “Bipartisan” Gospel Moment
Even PBS’s news anchors seemed to enjoy gospel singer BeBe Winans’s stirring rendition of “America, America.” Winans, who performed on the final night, told Essence magazine that he saw his reportedly unpaid participation in the convention as a display of bipartisanship. He was not unaware of how controversial it would be for him to sing there, he said. “The RNC realized this was something that could work to their advantage and I realized there is a master plan here,” remarked Winans. “And so my message to them and to the world is that we are all Americans before we are a part of any political party. It’s so simple and yet we make it so difficult.”
True. But, of course, by definition political conventions are neither the time nor place for bipartisanship. Rather, they are an occasion for creating a narrative for what each party believes America should truly be. And this party clearly wanted to be perceived as embracing a multi-racial future. The questions is: were voters convinced?
Oh, and in case you were wondering, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney accepted the Republican nomination for president and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan agreed to be his VP, if the people so choose.
Update 9/2: Baratunde Thurston clarified his post: “The final final count is in, and I spotted 238 Negroes during the RNC, 239 if I count seeing my own reflection in various mirrors and windows. I estimated no more than 60 of those to be authenticated GOP delegates or party members. It turns out the actual number of black delegates was 46.”
What do you think?
What were the high and low points of the GOP Convention?
With The King’s College president Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary 2016: Obama’s America a runaway success after its first weekend in nationwide release, UrbanFaith sent yours truly to the theater to see why people are flocking to this film. I went with considerable trepidation, expecting a poorly produced Michael Moore style piece of political propaganda. Instead, I got a visually compelling film produced by Gerald Molen, the Academy Award-winning producer of Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List.
I was surprised when the film opened, not with President Obama, but with D’Souza’s own story of emigrating from India to the United States for college. He highlights cultural influences he has in common with the president to demonstrate an intimate understanding of the anti-colonial forces that he says shaped Obama’s father and explain the president’s policies.
It’s an idea worth exploring, but beginning with the allegation that President Obama returned a bust of “lifelong colonialist” Winston Churchill to Great Britain soon after taking office and ending with a barbed-wire bound Middle Eastern map of what he calls “The United States of Islam,” he oversells his vision.
For example, as ABC’s Jake Tapper deftly explains, there were two Churchill busts in the White House, one that was on loan for the duration of the George W. Bush presidency and another that is on display in the president’s private residency. (For more fact-checking of the documentary, here’s the Associated Press and Slate’s Dave Weigel.)
D’Souza asserts that President Obama’s 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention would have played well in a room full of Republicans. He says the president was voted in on hope and because Americans wanted to vote for the nation’s first Black president and against our own racist past. “The reason he’s in the White House is because of his race, his blackness,” D’Souza says.
He asks what Obama’s dream is. Is it the American dream, Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, or someone else’s dream? Shored up by the armchair diagnosis of a psychologist and conversations with relatives and friends of Obama’s parents, D’Souza concludes that Obama’s dream is the radical collectivist dream of his absentee father, who, in D’Souza’s mind, influenced him more than the Midwestern grandparents who raised him from the time he was 10 years old. Other than a description of Obama’s maternal grandfather, Stanley Dunham, as a lefty who hooked his fatherless grandson up with Commie writer Frank Marshall Davis as a mentor, neither his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, nor his grandfather count for anything in D’Souza’s narrative.
While D’Souza quotes liberally from Obama’s memoir, Dreams from my Father, to sell Barack Obama Sr.’s significance in shaping the president’s worldview, he pulls a motive out of thin air to explain why Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, sent her son back to Hawaii from Indonesia to live with her parents. In D’Souza’s account, she wanted to “separate” him from his step-father’s “pro-Western influence.” But President Obama said in his memoir, which I read, that his mother sent him back to the U.S. for a better education than he could get in Indonesia. Even this is no good. The Hawaiian private school education was rich in “oppression studies” in the 1970s, D’Souza asserts without evidence.
Perhaps the most compelling and honest moment in the film is when D’Souza interviews the president’s half-brother George Obama in Kenya. He asks George if the president of the United States has been his “keeper,” implying that Barack Jr. is a hypocrite when it comes to caring for his own impoverished family members. George answers that the president has his own family to take care of and says he is a beneficiary of the president’s foreign policy. But then he says Kenyans were better off under colonialism and South Africans prospered because of Apartheid. This, D’Souza asserts in an August 16 column at Fox News, is why the president doesn’t intervene in his allegedly alcoholic half-brother’s life.
George apparently asked D’Souza to send him $1000 to pay for his sick child’s medical bills. The New York Times best-selling author obliged and then wrote the following: “George’s brother is a multimillionaire and the most powerful man in the world. Moreover, George’s brother has framed his re-election campaign around the ‘fair share’ theme that we owe obligations to those who are less fortunate. One of Obama’s favorite phrases comes right out of the Bible: ‘We are our brother’s keeper.’ Yet he has not contributed a penny to help his own brother. And evidently George does not believe, even in times of emergency, that he can turn to his brother in the White House for help. So much for spreading the wealth around.” I wondered as I watched the film and read this column if D’Souza was equally concerned when President Clinton’s half-brother Roger was getting himself into trouble? I found no evidence that he was.
In what to me is the essence of this film’s failure, D’Souza concludes that after visiting his father’s grave in 1988, President Obama resolved to not be like him in his failures. “In doing so, perhaps he can become worthy of his father’s love, love he never got,” D’Souza says. In his rendering, the president is entirely a product of this one pain. No other influence ultimately matters, except those that magnify it. No independent development or grappling with ideas counts. Everything is as Freud would have diagnosed it. That’s a stunning perspective for a Christian apologist to advance.
As the film draws to a close, dark clouds, of course, emerge and the music grows ominous. A nightmare scenario of national “debt as a method of mass destruction” and the Mideast transforming itself into an Islamic super-power emerge. D’Souza says, “We did not know what change would look like. Now we do. Which dream will we carry into 2016: the American dream or Obama’s dream?”
This week, William Murchison reviewed D’Souza’s new book on the same theme for The Washington Times. He said, “I want to be as kind as possible, inasmuch as I admire Mr. D’Souza and his reliably intelligent witness over the past two decades to harsh truths about the corruption of liberal thought and praxis. All the same, I see various bones in need of picking. ‘Obama’s America,’ it seems to a pronounced non-fan of Mr. Obama — the non-fan writing these lines — is overequipped with extrapolation and inference, underprovisioned with restraint and delicate judgment.” The same things can be said of the beautifully produced documentary, which, by the way, relies heavily on scenes of abject poverty in India, Indonesia, and Kenya. Why is that? Is it meant to highlight the impoverished worldview to which the president supposedly adheres?
I have a question for Dinesh D’Souza: Which dream does he, as the president of The King’s College, carry into the future? Is it the dream of educating students “to lead with principle as they aspire to make America better” or is his a partisan dream in which it is acceptable for a Christian educator to stretch the truth in order to accuse the U.S. president of fomenting an anti-American nightmare?