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Gonzales, Doan and the Republican Diversity Defense

April 1, 2007

"Diversity" is one word that is rarely associated with the conservative movement in general and the Republican Party in particular. From immigration and affirmative action to redistricting and minority voting rights, the lily-white GOP and its amen corner advocate a monotone, melanin-free vision for America. But when it comes to efforts by Republicans Alberto Gonzales and Lurita Doan to convert their federal agencies into entrenched partisan redoubts of the GOP, the right has been very quick indeed to turn to the "diversity defense."
Under withering assault over the Bush administration's unprecedented firings of U.S. attorneys, Attorney General Gonzales resorted early and often to the protective shield of his Mexican lineage. During his dismal March 13th press conference, Gonzales opened with a nod to his Latino roots, proclaiming "I've overcome a lot of obstacles in my life to become Attorney General." Last Wednesday, he used the cover of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to further immunize himself from Democratic criticism over his role in the prosecutor purge. To laughter in the room, Gonzales declared:

"I, like you, have lived the American Dream. For many of us that was a bumpy road. I'm traveling another bumpy road these days."

But among his staunchest supporters on the right, Gonzales' Mexican ethnicity is no laughing matter. Changing the debate from Gonzales's incompetence and potentially criminal wrong-doing to imagined liberal hypocrisy on diversity is a vital strategy in the Republicans' rhetorical defense of the beleaguered Attorney General.
Rush Limbaugh may have most aggressively advanced the Gonzales diversity defense, but he is far from alone. On his March 27th radio show, Limbaugh announced that "the first Hispanic-American attorney general -- a minority" is "under fire by white liberal racists in the Senate." Just days earlier, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarette Jr. offered his own comic formulation:

"In the flap over the ousted U.S. attorneys, Alberto Gonzales has been hoisted up as a political pinata Leading this lynch mob are white liberals who resent Gonzales because they can't claim the credit for his life's accomplishments and because they can't get him to curtsy Democratic politicians love posing with mariachis as they nibble chips and salsa on Cinco De Mayo. But it was a Republican -- George W. Bush -- who made history by nominating a Hispanic to serve as attorney general."

That Hispanic Attorney General, of course, has been at the forefront of the Bush administration's war on diversity and minority voting rights. It was, after all, Gonzales who despite public claims of support for the 1965 Voting Right Act personally overturned the decision of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division to block draconian 2005 Georgia voter ID card program. The Bush administration opposed the affirmative action system used at the University of Michigan. (While upholding the law school's approach, the Supreme Court in June 2003 struck down the University's rating scale designed to aid blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans.) And in Gonzales' home state of the Texas, the White House backed Tom Delay's unprecedented redistricting scheme largely upheld by the Supreme Court. (The one exception? The Court struck down the boundaries of Texas' 23rd congressional district which, it claimed, would have disenfranchised Hispanic voters.)
Navarette for his part feebly tried on March 26 to temper the incendiary tone of his earlier column. But he did not back off his confident assertion that Democrats risk the 69% support they enjoyed in 2006 among Hispanic voters for their criticism of Gonzales:

"Well, if they succeed in running him off without a fair hearing, many Hispanics won't forget the shoddy treatment afforded this grandson of Mexican immigrants. You watch. Democrats will have to intensify their efforts to win Hispanic votes in the 2008 elections. And there's not that much chips and salsa on the planet."

Sadly for Navarette, there is little empirical evidence to support his claim of a Latino backlash against Democrats for simply investigating the wrong-doing of an Attorney General who happens to be a Mexican-American. The National Council of La Raza, which enthusiastically supported Gonzales' nomination in 2005, has "not taken a public position on the firing controversy." League of United Latin American Citizens, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Latino Coalition, and the National Hispanic Bar Association to date have all withheld public support for Gonzales in the face of the mounting evidence of his role in the U.S. attorneys controversy.
For conservatives hoping to bludgeon Democrats with the diversity cudgel to fend of charges of impropriety, Alberto Gonzales isn't the only game in town. The exploding scandal enveloping GSA administrator and long-time Bush and Cheney supporter Lurita Doan offers Republicans' one more opportunity to cynically deploy their diversity defense.
Doan, of course, is under scrutiny for using her GSA post and its $60 billion in purchasing power to advance the prospects of her friends and the Republican Party alike. More disturbing than no-bid contracts she awarded to a friend's PR firm for her own image building and her improper intervention in a sweetheart deal for Sun Microsystems is her use of the GSA to help the GOP's campaign efforts. As detailed by the Washington Post and revealed in House hearings last week, Doan hosted a meeting of GSA regional managers where Karl Rove aide Scott Jennings gave a presentation detailing a plan Doan described as designed to "help 'our candidates' in the next elections."
As her GSA biography proudly details, Lurita Alexis Doan "is descended from three generations of African-American entrepreneurs." And that factoid apparently qualifies her like Gonzales for the diversity defense.
Republicans Tom Davis (R-VA) and John Mica (R-FL) of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee were quick to offer air cover to Doan. Even as Doan joined Gonzales in claiming selective amnesia in the myriad GSA scandals, Mica thundered that "this was a fishing expedition." As the Doan scandal deepens, conservative claims of Democratic persecution of an African-American woman are almost certain to be forthcoming.
The White House and its allies like to crow that the Bush team is the most diverse in American history. In a sense, they are right. As Claude Allen, Alphonso Jackson and now Alberto Gonzales and Lurita Doan all show, when it comes to ethical lapses and plain criminality, the Bush administration indeed does not see race, faith, ethnicity or gender.

One comment on “Gonzales, Doan and the Republican Diversity Defense”

  1. It is amazing to hear Limbaugh call Dems racist after the things he said about Obama and Donovan McNabb.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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