She touched on the problem of failing schools and the challenge they represent to the American dream. "The crisis in K-12 education is a threat to the very fabric of who we are," she said, to thumping agreement. But when she mentioned her own story, the hall erupted. "A little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham. The segregated city of the south where her parents cannot take her to a movie theater or to restaurants, but they have convinced her that even if she cannot have a hamburger at Woolworths, she can be the president of the United States if she wanted to be and she becomes the secretary of state."
The house went wild with joy. The Republicans in Tampa, Fla., metaphorically lifted Rice onto their shoulders and carried her around the arena. Why? Because Americans such as Rice ratify what Republicans believe about this country -- that our triumph over racism and discrimination -- not the history of it, is what defines us. It's the opposite of the Democrats' message -- that racism, discrimination and injustice are deep-dyed into the American character.
Democrats go further, too. They encourage the prejudice or to put it more bluntly, circulate the slander that racism and discrimination are not to be found among Democrats but still persist is in the hearts of Republicans.
Just as painting Paul Ryan as a monster who wants to throw grandmothers off cliffs becomes impossible when voters actually see the man, the Tampa convention has made peddling the myth about racist Republicans a good deal more difficult.
Mia Love, the beautiful, articulate daughter of Haitian immigrants who is running for Congress from Utah, became an instant Republican star after her speech to the convention. She radiated love of country, telling the delegates, "Our story has been told for over 200 years with small steps and giant leaps; from a woman on a bus to a man with a dream; from the bravery of the greatest generation to the innovators and entrepreneurs of today. ... This is the America we know ... because we built it." In the 24 hours after her address, she raised more than $150,000. The roof was raised also for Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, Brian Sandoval, Susana Martinez, Nikki Haley, Artur Davis and Luis Fortuno. All sounded the same themes in different ways -- that the American idea and ideal of opportunity and freedom retains its power and that Americans from all races and backgrounds who believe in free markets and free people are welcome -- no, lionized -- in the Republican Party.
Democrats and members of the press (but I repeat myself) keep the old racism charge going with ever more ridiculous allegations. Efforts to combat voter fraud by requiring a picture ID are evidence of racism, though why minorities should be any less likely to have an ID than anyone else is not explained. Mentioning that President Obama has granted waivers to states to permit watering down the work requirement in the federal welfare law brings shrieks from MSNBC's Chris Matthews: "You know what game you're playing, and everybody knows what game you're playing: It's a race card."
Who is the racist here? The 1996 reform had broad support from all Americans. A 1995 Public Agenda poll, for example, found that 69 percent of whites and 68 percent of blacks thought the system made it too easy to remain on welfare (71 percent of households receiving welfare also agreed). Fifty-six percent of blacks and 61 percent of whites said they would not increase benefits for mothers on welfare if they had additional children. In the aftermath of reform, Americans of all backgrounds agreed that it was a stunning success at reducing poverty -- especially child poverty -- and dependency.
Democrats have been demonizing Republicans this way for decades. Republicans have often stumbled and stammered in reply -- infuriated by the ugly and baseless accusation but inarticulate in their own defense. This is the party that was born in opposition to slavery, supported civil rights laws when southern Democrats blocked them, would have nominated Colin Powell in 1996 if he had run, and gave Herman Cain a serious look in 2012. Now, along with articulate and appealing nominees for president and vice president, the party is finding telegenic spokesmen who make nonsense of the Democrats' libels.
Tampa has turned a page.