Nothing frightens the Democrats more than the possibility that increasing numbers of blacks, Hispanics, and women may defect to George W. Bush this November, which is why this week's GOP convention must be causing heartburn at the Gore campaign headquarters.
For years, Democrats have depended on women, blacks and Hispanics to make up for the Republicans' huge electoral advantage among white male voters. In 1996, 54 percent of women voted for Clinton, as did 82 percent of non-white voters. But early polls suggest that the Democrats' grip on these constituencies is slipping. Bush is either slightly ahead of or even with Gore among women voters in most national polls, and is more popular with blacks and Hispanics than any Republican presidential candidate in recent memory. The Democrats only hope to keep these voters in line is to use every scare tactic in the book.
Over the next three months, expect the Democrats to try to peddle the following canards against the Republicans:
Attack No. 1: Republicans are anti-civil rights. This is one myth the media helps Democrats perpetrate as well. In the last few weeks alone, both the Washington Post and The Economist alleged that the Republicans have traditionally opposed civil rights legislation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Republicans in Congress actually supported the two most important civil rights bills on record, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, in higher percentages than Democrats did. In the House, 80 percent of Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act, compared with only 63 percent of Democrats. In the Senate, 82 percent of Republicans supported the legislation, compared with 69 percent of Democrats.
Attack No. 2: Republicans are anti-poor. Democrats have tried to pin this rap on Republicans since the 1960s, portraying Republicans as selfish and unfeeling and themselves as saviors of the poor. In fact, many of the Democrats favorite anti-poverty programs have done more to perpetuate poverty than alleviate it. Traditional welfare programs encouraged dependency and turned what should have been a temporary helping hand into a permanent crutch. Yet for decades, Democrats opposed even modest attempts to reform welfare programs. Even Bill Clinton, who promised to "end welfare as we know it," did nothing to reform welfare until Republicans took control of Congress and forced his hand. Then, President Clinton twice vetoed welfare reform legislation before signing it just in time to campaign on the issue during his 1996 re-election bid. The Republican welfare legislation has helped move the poor off welfare rolls and into jobs, giving them back their self-respect and helping them build better futures for themselves and their children.
Attack No. 3: Abortion is women's top voting issue, and the Democrats are more in sync with women on this issue than Republicans are. Neither of these statements is true, which won't stop the Democrats from repeating them or many in the media from treating them as if they were. Only 9 percent of women consider a candidate's position on abortion the most important issue when casting their votes -- and most polls show this group of women almost evenly divided between pro-choice and pro-life voters. What's more, in a recent poll taken by the feminist, pro-choice organization the Center for Gender Equity, 70 percent of women said they favor more restrictions on abortion, a position anathema to the Democrats.
Attack No. 4: The Republican Party is anti-immigrant. Democrats would like to make Pat Buchanan the Republican poster boy for Hispanic voters, tarring Republican candidates with Buchanan's often xenophobic rhetoric. But Buchanan's extremist views found so little sympathy among Republican primary voters he was forced to abandon his GOP presidential campaign. While most everyone -- including substantial majorities of Hispanic voters -- opposes illegal immigration, there is no monolithic Republican position on legal immigration. Some Republicans favor legislation to reduce or maintain current levels of legal immigration, but others favor increasing legal immigration, especially among skilled workers. Indeed, the 2000 Republican Party platform language on immigration takes a decidedly pro-immigrant line: "Our country still attracts the best and brightest to invent here, create wealth here, and improve the quality of life here. As a nation of immigrants, we welcome these new Americans who have entered lawfully."
No doubt, the facts won't stop Democrats from spreading disinformation to try and keep women and minorities in line this election, as they have in the past. The difference is, this year, the Republicans under George W. Bush appear ready to set the record straight.