The scene is one of those "green rooms" where people who are about to go on television salute each other. My companion is the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Jim Nicholson.
I bring up the subject of the black vote, 90 percent of which went nationally for Al Gore (94 percent in Florida, according to exit polls). I ask the chairman: "George W. Bush made a better effort to win a major percentage of the black vote than any Republican candidate in recent memory. Was it a waste of time?"
His answer surprises and delights me: "No, it's not a waste of time. And whether we get more blacks voting Republican or not, we ought to stand for the things that will ultimately benefit them."
What a concept doing the right thing just because it's right, regardless of whether it has immediate political benefits. Gov. (or, if you prefer, President-elect) George W. Bush apparently agrees. He's pledged to make diversity a top priority, naming people of varying ethnic, racial and gender backgrounds to high positions in his presumptive administration. It is a good idea, but it can also play into the hands of people who would undermine the effectiveness of a Bush administration if it's not done properly. Liberals have demonstrated in the cases of Justice Clarence Thomas, former Congressman Gary Franks of Connecticut, and even Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., that ideology is ultimately more important to them than race. Each of these men has felt the sting of ostracism, not because of the color of his skin, but because his opponents didn't like the conservative content of his character.
It's the same with gender. Liberal women who claim to want more women in government, actually want only more of their ideological kind in government. Repeatedly we have seen them favor a liberal man over a less liberal or more conservative woman, giving the lie to any primary concerns about proportional gender representation.
Bush and his transition team can have their racial and gender cake and eat it too. They can begin the lengthy process of turning younger blacks and women away from the aging self-appointed leaders of the past, giving them a real stake in their own and the nation's future.
When they understand that the Republican Party will benefit them far more than relying on state programs and court decrees, their loyalties must inevitably begin to shift.
The danger for the Bush people is that they will take diversity too far and undermine any potential for success by naming Cabinet and staff who do not share Bush's views on key social and cultural issues. It's still early, but few, if any, openly pro-life or "traditional family" people have yet to be associated with a potential Bush administration. As New York Times columnist Frank Rich has noted, Dick Cheney is the first national candidate of either party to flirt with endorsing homosexual unions sanctioned by the government. Andrew Card, Bush's choice for chief of staff, has no record of social conservatism. Colin Powell, the presumptive Secretary of State, favors abortion rights and affirmative action.
True, the election was close, but one can't imagine a victorious Al Gore naming pro-life, anti-gay union people to his administration to demonstrate his commitment to ideological diversity. Only Republicans are expected to water down conservative ideas to satisfy the liberal diversity gods. This is a recipe for disaster and will lead to the loss of support from Bush's base at a time when he will desperately need it.
So, racial, ethnic and gender diversity, yes. But ideological diversity, at least in the key positions that can make a difference (Health and Human Services, for example) will undermine a Bush administration even before it starts.
Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.