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 lot shorter.
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
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
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
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,
The Christians lost in what sounded like a fast
gavel on a voice vote, but they promise to persevere.