One can imagine the collective groans among Democrats around the U.S. as Iman Ivak-El Pasha of Malcolm Shabazz Masjid, a Muslim mosque in New York, took to the podium on Aug. 30 to bless the opening of the Republican Convention. For many people, it must have seemed audacious for a political party that courts a heavily white and Christian constituency to dare speak the language of multicultural diversity.
It would be a mistake, however, to suggest that Iman Shabazz is mere window dressing. I spent an hour or so walking the convention floor on Aug. 30, and my random and unscientific survey of delegates found a broad range of people from varied backgrounds. The white-middle aged small business owner from Kansas was there alongside a black minister from Shreveport, Louisiana and a rabbi from Fort Worth, Texas, that follows the teachings of Jesus. One can argue that the delegates themselves were selected, in part, to conjure up an image of a multi-hued party. And there's more than a little truth to that argument. But these folks are real Republicans, and they're not alone.
There's some evidence that the party is making inroads with traditionally Democratic constituencies . David Stone, the rabbi from Beth Yeshua Messianic Jewish Congregation in Fort Worth, dressed in a denim shirt and a yarmulke, said he attended the 2000 convention and that things have changed. Four years ago, a coalition of Republican Jews drew 200 people to a general meeting. There were 2,000 people at the meeting this year, he says. And Claude L. White, the minister from Shreveport, says the party can take plenty of ground among black voters. "It's ridiculous that 90% of any group would vote for one party. The Democrats take the black vote for granted," he said.
Over the last few years, progressives have "deconstructed" one cherished stereotype after another, except for one: the comforting idea of the Republican as a cardigan clad, golf club swinging bogey man. I think the 2004 election is going to shake things up.