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New Style Republican Convention Under Way

Colin Powell/Laura Bush Address the Delegates By David Pitts Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The 2000 Republican National Convention opened July 31 with a multi-hued extravaganza featuring optimistic speeches and upbeat entertainment that even included hip hop. It concluded with an electrifying address by Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, the first African American to hold that position. The emphasis was on the positive, attacks on the Democrats muted.

Powell urged the Republican Party to be once again the "party of Lincoln," a reference to the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln (1861-65), who signed the Emancipation Proclamation that led to the abolition of slavery. The general's message reflected his long-held view that the Republican Party has not done enough to be inclusive -- to reach out to minorities and women across this diverse nation. But it was also an attempt to appeal to swing voters who may decide what all the polls are currently saying is a close election.

In an emotional address, Powell asked his party to "bring the promise of America to everyone," and praised Republican nominee George W. Bush as a man who could "bridge the racial divides in America." He criticized those in the Republican Party who "miss no opportunity to roundly and loudly condemn affirmative action" for black children while uttering "hardly a whimper," over "affirmative action for lobbyists." He added: "The party of Lincoln has not always carried the mantle of Lincoln."

But it wasn't just Powell who sounded a message of moderation and inclusiveness. This was the dominant theme of the opening day of the Convention in general -- with its overall emphasis on education and "leave no child behind." Just a few years ago, many Republicans favored the abolition of the federal Department of Education. The platform adopted at the Convention would maintain the Department.

An array of speakers and entertainers, many of them minority, were showcased in the opening hours of the Convention to send a message stressed by the party's standard bearer, George W. Bush, that the Republican Party should strive to be a "big tent," an expression used in American politics to indicate an intention to embrace people of different races, ethnic backgrounds and viewpoints. An Associated Press survey, however, determined that only four percent of the delegates were African American and well under half were women.

According to U.S. commentators, Bush's strategy is based on the fact that polls show he has overwhelming support among the Republican faithful in excess of 90 percent. But he still needs to do more to secure moderate and swing voters. With overwhelming support from Republicans, he can now afford to reach out to those voters who will be key to winning the election in November -- hence the emphasis on the new party image.

While projecting a moderate, inclusive image, however, at the televised Convention, the Republican platform, which was written prior to the Convention, stressed a number of traditional conservative Republican positions, including supporting a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, continuing opposition to civil rights protection for gays, partial privatization of social security, and across the board tax cuts. The delegates adopted the platform on opening day by voice vote. There were no platform fights, as have occurred at some prior conventions.

In addition to Powell, the other major speech came from Laura Bush, wife of the nominee. Bush, who is a former teacher and librarian, stressed the importance of education and quality schools. One of the major reasons her husband is running for president, she said, is that he wants "to make sure every child in America has the same opportunity to grow up reading," as her children did.

Commentators on U.S. television networks aggressively reported the new style Republican Convention and George Bush's trademark philosophy of compassionate conservatism. But there was little mention of conservatism and much talk of compassion, at least on the opening day. A New York Times-CBS News poll revealed that the delegates to the Convention were well to the right of the party's standard bearer, however, as was the platform. The four-day convention will conclude on August 3.


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