Celebrating diversity at conventions, then and now

In 1972, I felt about President Nixon roughly the way I feel about President Obama now. Thus, I was very disappointed by the 1972 Democratic Convention, which seemed to me long on celebrating the Party’s new-found diversity among delegates and short on strong criticism of the Nixon administration.

Back at law school a few weeks later, I was eating dinner with a group that included some brand new law students (I was in my second year). I expressed my opinion of the Democratic Convention as follows: “The Democrats should have spent less time talking about how many Indian delegates they have, and more time attacking Nixon.”

Unfortunately, one of the new law students, a blonde with fairly light skin, turned out to be the daugther of (a) the former head of the DNC who helped implement the delegate diversity rules (her father) and (b) a full-blooded American Indian (her mother). As some readers will recall, making a favorable impression on Indians is not my strong suit. The same goes for blondes, come to think of it.

This year’s Republican Convention was nothing like the Democrats’ fiasco in 1972. Yet, I still think the Republicans should have spent less time celebrating their diversity and more time attacking Obama.

I understand why the Republicans took the approach they did. They hope (a) to keep Obama’s margin of victory among Hispanics within less than stratosperic bounds, (b) minimize the gender gap, and (c) appear nice and non-threatening to moderate voters in general.

Nonetheless, when you’re playing defense in politics, the other side has an advantage.

The Democrats should have been the ones playing most of the defense, given Obama’s record and the state of the economy. And they did play some, but always in the context of attacking Republicans for leaving Obama such a poor economy to cope with. Mostly, though, the Democrats attacked — and more forcefully (viciously, I would say) than the Republicans.

We’ll see soon how the Republican approach plays out. Meanwhile, if you were involved in planning the Republican Convention, please don’t take it personally.

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