What are the prospects for a multiracial coalition emerging on the right? George W. Bush’s campaign efforts to court voters of color, as well as the spectacle of inclusion and diversity at last summer’s Republican National Convention, have made this issue all the more pressing. Widely denounced as an illusion, the “rainbow” convention did raise two important and interrelated questions: what can the right offer to minorities, and what can minorities do for the right? The scores of African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans who addressed the mostly white delegates proffered answers to both of these questions by telling personal stories filled with references to the so-called “conservative values” of family, hard work, and bootstrap self-reliance. In their defense of limited government and the free market, the personal was definitely the political. During the optically stunning first night, which was devoted to education, delegates were treated to a variety of performances, including that of Representative J. C. Watts in a live broadcast from a black church in Philadelphia; an on-stage re-creation of a classroom at a mostly black and Hispanic charter school, where students shouted out their lessons to a syncopated beat; and the hip-hop gyrations of rap/soul singer Brian McKnight.
The star of the evening was Colin Powell. Four years earlier, in San Diego, Powell’s defense of affirmative action met with boos from surly delegates. This time, the delegates cheered his criticism of Republicans who “miss no opportunity to roundly and loudly condemn affirmative action that helped a few thousand black kids get an education.” Although neither Powell’s warm reception nor the party’s embrace of diversity—among speakers if not delegates—seem to signal real change of policy or philosophy, these events do give us a glimpse of what a “diverse” right might look like. Such a coalition, which would include moderate whites and Jews, Latinos, Asian-Americans, and upwardly mobile African-Americans, could very well transform American political culture. “Multicultural conservatives” are already positioned within think tanks, media outlets, political action committees, and an array of rightist organizations, both religious and secular. They promote a language of anti-statist individualism—as opposed to the usual group identity associated with multiculturalism—and accommodation and assimilation—as opposed to collective struggle.
Can such a coalition produce a long-range, dynamic trend? Well, yes and no. It is surely possible in theory. More high-profile figures such as Powell could be wooed and kept, more direct appeals to voters of color could be staged, and a further diversification of the conservative network could be achieved. But, given Republican history since 1964, as well as the difficulties of sustaining such coalition politics, it is highly unlikely in practice. The GOP, and the broader conservative m...
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