DALLAS -- The world will little note nor long remember what was
said at the Republican state convention last weekend. Nevertheless, the
shindig had its moments. (I first saw the Lincoln quote applied to some
political event in the Boston Globe a while back, but I can no longer
remember who wrote it.)
A supremely nostalgic moment occurred during the convention's
recognition of Sen. Phil Gramm for Lifetime Achievement. Gramm responded
graciously, as befits a retiring pol making his final appearance, thanking
all and sundry, giving us his fondest memories of public service: "I had the
honor to be a storm trooper in the Reagan Revolution," he declared. But
then, he couldn't help himself. The old pit bull dropped the statesman pose
and went for the Democrats' jugular. He started in politics as an attack dog
and finished that way, too -- in its way, a glorious moment.
Unfortunately, the attack was a trifle off. Gramm appeared to be
in a state of high indignation because two Democratic contenders for the
gubernatorial nomination had held a debate in Spanish. "Anybody who
witnessed the first debate for high public office in American history that
was not conducted in the English language knows what is 'dream' about this
ticket," declared Gramm. He went on to assert that because the D's have both
an African-American and a Hispanic high on their ticket, they are trying to
"divide Texans based on race."
But the swing left him wide open to the obvious counter-punch --
that by finally including African-Americans and Hispanics, the Democrats are
in fact ending the old divisions based on race.
The R's loved it, of course. The R's in convention are a scenic
and festive sight, thousands of white people wearing every conceivable
garment in red, white and blue, plus elephant hats. One must take Gramm's
word for it that R's are opposed to dividing Texans by race, since blacks
and Hispanics are nigh-invisible among them. Although officially opposed to
affirmative action, the R's do thrill to the presence of an actual minority
person. In one Senate district with 204 votes and exactly three black people
in the room, wondrous to say, one was elected to the state Executive
Committee. When cynical blacks accuse black Republicans of joining because
"the line is shorter over there," they mean a (SET ITAL) lot (END ITAL)
The ever-hilarious Republican platform -- still endorsing such
golden oldies as withdrawing from the United Nations and abolishing no-fault
divorce, bilingual education and the Department of Education -- was the
subject of the only serious fight at the convention.
Texas Republicans are still split between the Christian-right
and the "country club Republicans," meaning those who are economic
conservatives but more socially liberal than the Christian right -- many
even drink. The Christian right theoretically took over the party in 1994,
but many of its members feel both betrayed and powerless. Their big win was
undermined by Karl Rove, President Bush's political shot-caller. He simply
re-routed the big money contributions around the state party and straight to
Bush until he had regained control.
The incumbent party chair Susan Weddington is theoretically of
the Christian right, but many of them consider her a "a sell-out." (In one
of the more surreal moments at the convention, a black minister brought in
to give the invocation accidentally wound up thanking the Lord for Sarah
Weddington, not Susan. Sarah is the lawyer who successfully argued Roe vs.
Wade before the Supreme Court.) But the Christian right is still a peppy
bunch, raising hell -- if Christians can be said to do that -- about all
kinds of things.
Their big effort this year was the "RINO rule," an effort to
extirpate candidates who are Republican In Name Only. They want the party to
refuse to fund any Republican candidate who does not swear allegiance to the
entire platform. I always wind up rooting for the Christian right because
they're the populist insurgents of the party, as opposed to the old
Establishment poopers -- but I admit no one since Josef Stalin has actually
thought a party purge was a good idea. But Texas Republicans tend to be the
hard-shell Baptists of political theology,the ideological equivalent of
"dancing will send you straight to hell"; whereas Texas Democrats are more
like the Unitarians, a pretty much "whatever" approach.
The fight was really over an extreme litmus-test on abortion --
the platform outlaws abortion even in cases of rape, incest and to save the
life of the mother.
Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff told Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning
News, "For those of us who would not sign such a document, because such
documents are always too simplistic, it's just a good thing we don't have
the rack or burning at the stake anymore because they might be gathering
firewood." Ratliff is, of course, retiring.
The Christians lost in what sounded like a fast gavel on a voice
vote, but they promise to persevere.
To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other
Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web
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