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But in order to energize enough voters to unseat Obama, the Republicans have been forced into an awkward position of maintaining a hardline stance that appeals to the base while trying to expand the "big tent" far enough to soften its image and mobilize more moderate Republicans and independents.
That approach seemed to manifest itself in an RNC panel discussion promisingly titled "Can we have a bipartisan debate about health care reform?" After some legitimately thoughtful discussion amongst an all-Republican panel, Representative Phil Gingrey of Georgia concluded, "I think we can do it, and we can do it in a bipartisan fashion."
As satisfied attendees filtered out of the room, they passed a table stacked with literature that included a promotional card for the book Why Obamacare Is Wrong for America (authored by the panel moderator), a brochure titled "The 10 Worst Things About Obamacare" and a Forbes article with the headline "The real tragedy of Obamacare has yet to be felt by the poor."
One thing that was becoming readily apparent as I forged my way through convention week was a collective — if almost universally unrecognized — penchant for cognitive dissonance. "The Republican Party is not anti-immigration," Alejandro Capote, a twenty-year-old Florida State University student (and Florida delegate) told me. "We support immigration. We just support legal immigration."
The fact that Capote had just finished telling me the harrowing story of how his father hand-built a raft in a failed effort to flee his native Cuba and immigrate — illegally — to the United States didn't seem to register.
I received a similar — though more nuanced — response from Clarke Cooper, national executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, an organization of gay conservatives, when I asked him about the staunch position supporting the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) written into the party's official convention platform.
"While the platform language is abysmal," Cooper began, measuring his words, "I was heartened to see the debate and the dialogue that occurred. I think it reflected the push-pull within our party on these issues. The trend is in our favor."
Cooper rightfully pointed out the fact that Log Cabin has earned an increasingly visible and substantive position within the Republican Party. His view is that the doggedly conservative stance on DOMA held by the GOP is a "last gasp."
Then again, the group is still understandably cautious. I was allowed to interview delegates attending a Log Cabin event at a posh waterfront restaurant but was forbidden from taking any pictures. One guest understood the sensitivities better than most. "Gay Republicans have much more of a voice today than they've ever had," said former Arizona Representative Jim Kolbe, one of the first Republican members of Congress to acknowledge the fact that he's gay. "Sure, I'm dismayed when moderates don't get their voice heard — and I guess you'd have to consider gay Republicans on the moderate side of things — but it's a gradual progression that I think we're going to see continue."
It's a measured approach that's been adopted by what Herman Cain flamboyantly calls the "ABCs" or American Black Conservatives. And, yes, I can confirm that they do exist, despite the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that was bandied about during convention week and surmised that Romney figured to gain exactly 0 percent of the African-American vote.
Dr. Carol Swain, a former Democrat, was a featured panelist at an RNC forum titled "Black People and the Republican Party — A Historic Perspective." Her fellow panelists included Tim Johnson (founder of the Frederick Douglass Foundation) and Reverend C.L. Bryant, an ardent Tea Party supporter who starred in a documentary called Runaway Slave that aired in Tampa in the same theater showing the conservative breakout film 2016: Obama's America to packed houses.
"On election night 2008, I was doing analysis for BBC Radio, and I told 186 million people that I thought Obama supporters would have buyer's remorse, and everybody was shocked," said Swain, a professor at Vanderbilt University. "I think the black community is worse off because of his election. I wish it had been a different black person who was elected the first black president; I wish it was somebody that I knew loved my country."
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