Man about town

Posted: Sep 09, 2004 12:00 AM

"What's up with all these Republicans swarming New York?"

That's what Serena Williams wanted to know when we met up at a Wilson Sporting goods party honoring her and her sisterVenus last weekend.

"The Republican convention is going on," I explain.

"You're a Republican," she asks.

"Third generation," I reply.

I explain to her how liberalism has not solved our most basic problems. Instead, it has put us in the mindset that we have to be fed government programs, instead of being given access to capital and the opportunity to create our own jobs. "We need to move beyond the basic covenants of liberalism and finally face who we are and what we need.."

"Makes sense, but I've always been a Democrat. I had no idea you were a Republican," she says.

I burst out in laughter. "Yeah, I thought you figured that out when I took you to the White House Correspondents dinner!"

Serena pauses for a moment of contemplation, then: "Good, we should start to think of ourselves as individuals, instead of just a color. But let me be clear: I'm still a Democrat"

My phone rings. It's Hollywood mogul Norman Lear. He confirms that Andre 3000 from Outkast will interview me for an HBO special during the convention. Andre had been taping an interview series for HBO juxtaposing the Democratic and Republican conventions. "Bring it," I say.

Then it's over to the Black American Political Action Committee (BAMPAC) convention party. The room is packed with stars, politicians, cabinet members. BAMPAC's president and CEO, Alvin Williams (my humble brother), is talking about taking the Republican message to historically black colleges and universities and making sure that every HBCU has a program that allows a bipartisan discussion on the political future of black Americans. These forums could host discussions about how the younger generation faces different obstacles from those encountered by their parents and grandparents, and what political options are available to help them deal with their unique concerns. Alvin suggests launching a series of debates on HBCU campuses across the country.

One hopes this will come to fruition.

I left the BAMPAC party to meet up with famous (liberal) editor Tina Brown. We share jumbo shrimp and a mutual respect for Justice Thomas. We walk arm in arm to the Newsweek convention party. Heads swivel around. No one can believe who Tina brought to dinner. We stroll through the crowd. Everyone is there: Henry Kissinger, Washington Post Publisher Don Graham, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, even my South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and his wife, Jenny. Name an important person. They were there.

Then it was on to the convention floor, where I interviewed Stephen Baldwin. "We need a president who is God-fearing and understands morality," said Baldwin. I told him I was stunned a Baldwin was supporting this president. "Bad genetics," he said, referring to his brother Alec's outspoken liberal support.

The next day we're on the floor of Madison Square Garden. Politicians are glad-handing the media. Fans are cheering Andre 3000, who leans forward and asks, "So why are you a Republican?" (It's a recurring theme.)

I told him about how most black people in the ghetto don't even know about affirmative action, or how it works. The people using affirmative action to gain admittance to colleges end up being the well-to-do who don't actually need it. For them, affirmative action has become an entitlement. They have been conditioned to feel they are owed affirmative action, not because of their socio-economic situation, but by virtue of their skin color.

This is sad, I tell him. Affirmative action was not supposed to be about convincing perfectly competent, intelligent, and fairly well-to-do blacks to believe they are victims. It was not about cultivating a mean sense of entitlement among the bourgeois, or conditioning our children from a young age to believe that they are, by virtue of their skin color, owed a handout. Yet, that's precisely what affirmative action has become.

His camera people intone in unison, "Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah."

The next night I'm on the convention floor, getting ready to listen to the president's speech. Someone gives me a big bear hug from behind. My feet are literally dangling above the ground. I turn around. It's Andre. "Thanks for giving me something to think about," he says, before disappearing back into the crowd.

I smile and look around. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Serena Williams, Tina Brown and President George H.W. Bush, all talking and laughing. For at least one week, it is a happy political universe.