Maybe it’s a good thing for Republicans that Hurricane Gustav has abbreviated their convention. On an issue of some concern to Americans—the economy—they seem to have nothing to say.
I have combed the schedule of events here without finding a single forum, workshop or kaffeeklatsch devoted to what John McCain and the Republican Party propose to do about America’s short- and long-term economic challenges. I’ve found four panels on what to do about the Middle East, but not one on what to do about the Middle West.
Some events deal with aspects of economic policy, to be sure: The Consumer Electronics Association is sponsoring a salute to free trade. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is hosting a Vote for Business Bandwagon. The American Petroleum Institute, in conjunction with the American Gas Association and the National Mining Association, is throwing a wingding for Republican governors. And I count two forums on tax issues.
Then again, the Republicans here plainly don’t believe that the economy needs fixing. On Monday, a New York Times poll of Republican convention delegates showed that 57 percent believe the American economy is in very good or fairly good shape.
But the economy is not all; the GOP’s last best hope remains identity politics. In a year when the Democrats have an African American presidential nominee, the Republicans now more than ever are the white folks’ party, the party that delays the advent of our multicultural future, the party of the American past. Republican conventions have long been bastions of de facto Caucasian exclusivity, but coming right after the diversity of Denver, this year’s GOP convention is almost shockingly—un-Americanly—white. Long term, this whiteness is a huge problem. This year, however, whiteness is the only way Republicans cling to power. If the election is about the economy, they’re cooked—and their silence this week on nearly all things economic means that they know it.