Commentary: The Disturbing Picture From Tampa

Scenes from the audience at the Republican National Convention show a party that not all Americans can relate to.

It has been often said that a picture is worth a thousand words.

That is particularly true of the Republican National Convention in Tampa. The party would have African-Americans, Latinos and other racial minorities focus on the pictures from the stage, pictures of the diversity within the GOP.

They would have us focus on the picture of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking at the convention and telling her deeply compelling story about the achievement of growing up in Jim Crow Alabama and how she managed to rise to the highest level of American government.

They would have us focus on the picture of South Carolina's Gov. Nikki Haley at the podium, speaking about the work ethic of her immigrant parents and how that fueled her path to eventually become the second Indian-American governor in the United States.

They long for us to be riveted by the picture of former Alabama Democratic Congressman Artur Davis standing at the rostrum. It is a picture designed to alert minority Democrats that they, like Davis, can switch parties, find a home among the Republicans and convert their allegiance to Mitt Romney.

However, there is another, more compelling picture from the Tampa festivities. When the television cameras pan the thousands of faces in the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the television audience sees a crowd that has all the racial diversity of a small town in Finland. Not only is the 2012 Republican convention nearly all white, it is arguably the whitest of the party’s conventions in recent times.

And for those who see this picture on their television screens, they are confronting an image of a gathering that bears little to no resemblance to the America they know. Indeed, the Republicans are transmitting pictures that somehow makes their collection of delegates and supporters look almost, well, foreign.

It is a picture of delegates cheering wildly every time President Obama’s health care law is condemned. That is certainly an uncomfortable picture for people who had been without health care or denied coverage because of preexisting conditions and celebrate health care reform, people rejoicing over such Obama-led reforms as being able to keep their sons and daughters on their health care coverage as their offspring reach young adulthood.

The photos depict the Republican throngs in Tampa lustily applauding every speaker sanctimoniously extolling the virtue of “traditional families,” every condemnation of organized labor and every bogus attack on the nation’s first African-American president. For many, these are unsettling images indeed.

It is a picture of a party in desperate need of diversity – in ethnicity and in ideology. It is a picture of a party that needs to remember that, to win the loyalty of African-American and Latino voters as they did in earlier generations, they must embrace policies that empower such Americans. 

Instead, the picture from the convention is one of a party that has veered so far to the right that even Ronald Reagan himself would have difficulty getting its nomination. It is a picture of a party that is a far cry from the Republicanism of onetime New York governor and U.S. vice president Nelson Rockefeller, of the trailblazing African-American senator from Massachusetts Edward Brooke and, indeed, of a past governor of Michigan named George Romney.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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