|CONVENTIONS-PAST AND PRESENT|
July 31, 2000
RAY SUAREZ: We get that overview from NewsHour regulars: Presidential historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Michael Beschloss, and author and journalist Haynes Johnson. Joining them tonight and throughout our convention coverage is Kay James, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and director of its citizenship project. She's a Bush delegate from Virginia, where she was dean of the Robertson school of government at Regent University. Well, we're all here. Around this table. And...
HAYNES JOHNSON: It's wonderful to be here, but you know, it was wonderful to hear terry use the that little lead in about 52 years ago in this city. And you saw Tom Dewey through a little black box. This is where it all began. That was the last convention that had more than one ballot to nominate anybody. Since then, Republicans have been all these years since, and the television, what we just heard, is played out on that. It's a very different party now. That was an eastern party. Tom Dewey, the Midwestern party. And this is now a much more culturally conservative party, that is, as Tommy Thompson said earlier, it's got a new tone and a new direction. And that's the message of the convention.
RAY SUAREZ: Agree, Doris?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: No question that I think the Republican Party is trying to give a new tone to its whole face right now, if you give a tone to a face. Without a question, I think that the Houston convention in 1992 served to frighten Republicans just as the Chicago convention in 1968 frightened the democrats. So there's no Pat Buchanan speaking here today about a cultural war. I mean, I look back at that speech, and it's astounding that he was allowed to give such a speech like that when a party's hope in a convention is to have a big tent. And he's talking about mobs in Los Angeles, made up of Blacks and Hispanics. It's our country and we're going to take it back from then in a certain sense. Marilyn Quayle giving an angry speech about women who were careerists rather than just raising children. Now, you're not going to see that here. There's a real attempt to make the Republican Party seem more inclusive, and I think George Bush, having been a governor, knows that real problems take public resources to solve. So he's more pragmatic.
RAY SUAREZ: But aren't we talking more about tone and appearance than the actual party? Kay James?
KAY JAMES: I don't think you are at all. You know, it's interesting to me that as people talk about this great shift in the Republican party and what we're attributing that to, George Bush and one of the reasons I think you're seeing the level of excitement and anticipation around the country surrounding his candidacy, is that he is articulating what many Republicans have felt for a long time, and this is that being conservative and being compassionate is not in fact an oxymoron. And what he's doing is putting a face on and a voice to thousands, millions of Republicans and thousands of delegates who are here who want to bring those two together. And I thought it was quite interesting in listening to some of the commentary coming up to this saying there are no real cultural conservatives speaking at this convention. Where are they? And as far as I'm concerned, the most eloquent and outspoken spokesperson for that point of view in our party today is George Bush, and he will have prime time.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Yes, he will have prime time, but in a way he's swimming against the tide of history, because this is a guy who is saying, I want this party to be a more centrist party that than it sure seemed in 1992, that convention that Doris was talking about in Houston. But think of the recent efforts by Republican nominees to make this party a moderate one, Dwight Eisenhower wanted moderate Republicanism in the 1950's. He wanted to accept the new deal and basically say, we'll accept things like Social Security, but we Republicans can administer those things better. Richard Nixon in 1968 said, let's take the party back from Barry Goldwater and the conservatives. Let's make this is a centrist majority. George Bush the elder in 1988 would have absolutely loved to make this a Bush Republican Party, not a Pat Buchanan party, but someone... a party that, yes, was in favor of free enterprise, but also concerned about the education, about education and the environment. And what happened? If you look at every single one of those events, they all met with a very bad end? Goldwater reversed the tide of Eisenhower in 1976 and 1980. Ronald Reagan basically said that Nixon had taken the party much too much to the center and then of course George Bush in 1992 had to deal with Pat Buchanan, which cost him the election. If George W. Bush succeeds in doing this, he'll have been able to do what no Republican nominee has done for a half century.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: You know, an interesting thing is part of the reason why it's been so hard to make the party seem more moderate and be more moderate is that the primary system rewards the purists, the ideologues, the single-issue activists.
HAYNES JOHNSON: On both sides.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: On both sides, so that the people who have gotten the nomination so far have tended to have to prove their conservative credentials. We saw that with George Bush during this primary system when he went to Bob Jones. So even as now he tries to project a more moderate image, people will remember he did something earlier that was counter to all of that.
HAYNES JOHNSON: No question if you look at the Republican Party that we're seeing right here in this hall that this is a conservative party, as everybody has said. It is a party that does not reflect the population of the United States. It's largely white, male. 83% of this is white. African are 4% I believe.
KAY JAMES: Well, it depends on which poll you look at.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Well, I mean, these are the delegates who have been polled themselves.
KAY JAMES: Well, I am a delegate. I was not polled.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Well...
KAY JAMES: I'm an African American female.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Well, what do you think the margin is...
KAY JAMES: I really don't know. There are four African Americans in the Virginia delegation. I polled them today. Somehow we keep missing those polls.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Haynes started us off with Tom Dewey in a little box, that is primitive television -- in 1948. You mentioned that the party was eastern. But the country was eastern. And hasn't the Republican Party had to mirror the shifts in the United States, the rise of the west, the joining of the new south to the Republican party?
HAYNES JOHNSON: Ray, the shift between them, 1948 and now. Think about it then. Franklin Roosevelt, the Democratic Party had been this office since 19 32. Without fail, they won all those presidential election year after year. They had the solid South. Now the Republican Party has had the solid South. You've had an enormous shift in the way... away from the old base of what was the Republican Party to this new party that is now we're seeing gathered before. They want to win. That's what this is all about. Hungry to win
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: You know, the interesting thing is that shift toward the solid South becoming Republican instead of democratic occurred with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ending segregation legally in the south, he predicted that the Democratic Party would lose for a generation in t e south. It opened the door to the Republicans. Then demographics meant more people were in the South, more money was in the South. So what used to be the liberal establishment in the East was overwhelmed by the South and it became the new base of the party.
RAY SUAREZ: So what are we looking at now, a suburban party, a party that represents a non-urban, non-farm new America?
KAY JAMES: I don't think that's what you're looking at at all, and I know that the convention planners have worked very hard, as well they should, to display what's happening in the Republican Party at the grassroots level all over this country. I remember the days when we used to hold meetings of black Republicans and the four of us would get together. Well, now we need a stadium, and I'm sure by the time we get together for the next convention it will be impossible for the media to overlook us, because we'll be everywhere and so I really don't blame the convention planners for trying to highlight those individuals and to showcase them, as well they should. African Americans, women, Hispanics, it's long overdue -- they have long been attracted to the Republican Party, and they're making their way through the party hierarchy and taking leadership roles and positions, as well they should.
HAYNES JOHNSON: -- doing books on Abraham Lincoln - and this was the party of Lincoln. I mean, this was the party that African Americans, citizen, they voted for Republicans and then shifted to the New Deal. Now maybe they're up for grabs again.
KAY JAMES: I think so. You remember, I'm a southern African American. So for me, to have the Republican Party vilified void as racist or anti-women is absolutely hysterical, because I remember the Democrats that stood in the schoolhouse doors, and I remember that they were in fact racist. They were in both parties. I don't think either party has a corner on that. It's time we move far beyond that and judge people on the basis of their ideas and vilifying parties as being parties... It just doesn't serve any real purpose or contribute to the dialogue.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: But I think the real question that we'll know a lot more about the answer to by the end of this week is, is this just an effort to put on a superficial happy face, a moderate face on a party that really is conservative, or are these people who are saying, yes, we tried the way of Newt Gingrich, it didn't work? We really have begun to look at, to use a term that these people on the floor would loathe because it's a Bill Clinton term, a third way -- a conservatism that does make a bow toward issues that are interesting to Democrats, like health, education and the environment.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: And when you look at the platform, it still is predominantly a conservative platform, although George Bush is broken on education. No longer do they talk about abolishing the Department of Education because he wants to use public resources to make education better. It's gotten softer on immigration. They were really tough in those previous platforms against immigrants and people coming into the country, and hopefully it reflects a substantive change, as well.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, we'll be hearing from you all for the rest of the week. We've made a good start. Thank you.