Wouldn’t It Be Nice

Can Window Dressing Turn Into a Window?

Heading back to my hotel after George W. Bush's anointment in Philadelphia's Battlestar Galactica- style First Union sports complex, I ended up riding alone in the rubberized middle section of an accordion bus dotted with tired but cheerful delegates, the metal disk my seat was bolted to pivoting me forward and aft on the turns. Since I try not to look gift metaphors in the mouth, I stared at my shoes. No good: they were swiveling too.

My disorientation had set in on Monday, when Colin Powell gave the best acceptance speech by a Democratic vice-presidential candidate I've ever heard. Not only isn't Powell a Democrat, he's the first man since John Foster Dulles to run for secretary of state—in any incoming administration that wants him, supposedly. His suddenly advertised willingness to entertain job offers from President Gore was almost certainly a warning that his party had better start living up to the illusion of inclusivity he'd just helped it create. As for me, I was dazed by my longing for the fraud to come true. Sometimes Fantasyland just has its way with you. When you're doing the convention-floor sidestroke through a sea of Republicans all boogying to "Come Together," anything seems possible.

But not likely. Wuh's first public appearance in Philly was at a "Hispanic Welcome Rally" hosted by first-nephew-in-waiting George P. Bush at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Under banners proclaiming "Un Nueva Dia," the few dozen Latinos near the stage were penned in by an acre of blond hair, blue eyes, and pale hands dutifully holding up "Viva Bush" placards as George P. praised his uncle for following in Cesar Chavez's footsteps. Even Republican rallies now feature signers for the deaf, but this one might have done better translating the candidate's Spanish ("Cómo estas? Vamos a gagnar," etc.) into English. Spotting one vanilla attendee's state badge, I remarked that I'd never known there were so many Latinos in Mississippi. Cordially, he assured me that Jeff Davis's home state now has quite a few, what with the construction boom. The one Latino I buttonholed got huffy when I treated him as a lucky find. "We're all Americans," he snapped—"and my friends are Republicans." Smaller but better-credentialed—i.e., not predominantly Anglo-Saxon—a group of counterdemonstrators were holding up "Latinos for Gore" placards across the way, with "Latinos" scribbled in a white space left blank on their printed signs. Some young viva-Bushies went over to squabble, including a blond who slaked my curiosity as to what Ann Coulter was like at 19. Between jeers, I horned in: "Excuse me, but aren't you a little embarrassed that they're all Latinos over here—and most of you aren't?"

Philadelphia freedom: This was the good old GOP, whose rising generation chills the blood.
photo: Michael Sofronski
Philadelphia freedom: This was the good old GOP, whose rising generation chills the blood.

I'd just asked Martha Stewart if she frets about having bum taste. Her voice was pure prep-school freeze-out: "Absolutely not."

"But you just went to a Hispanic rally where practically nobody was Hispanic."

"I went to a diversity rally. I bet you'll never hear Al Gore speaking Spanish!"

Realizing she scared me was reassuring. This was the good old GOP, whose rising generation always chills my blood. But Wuh's orders against drawing any made for considerable comedy around town. The Christian Coalition itself had gone respectable. "At times in the past, we've gone wrong when we've spoken the truth in hate," the faithful heard—from Kansas senator Sam Brownshirt, no less. But if Pat Robertson's breathless croak is frailer nowadays, it's no less disingenuous: "All we want is a place at the table." Robertson's reprise of how he'd launched his crusade had a valedictory tone, which made his joke about said crusade's alleged demise—"Somebody better tell the fire department there's a ballroom in the Marriott jam-packed with corpses, heh heh"—more gruesome.

"I bring you greetings from the Republican National Coalition for Life," Phyllis Schlafly announced, to Klingon-embassy effect, before debunking the convention's touchy-feeliness without violating Wuh's rules by listing all the right-wing plums in the platform. But most speeches stroked the religious right's belief that it's oppressed, which Robertson's fellow noncorpses relish as much as being oppressors. They lapped up every war story about the CC's fight to retain tax-exempt status—a tollgate squabble elevated into "the speech police" trying to "take away your right to speak."

Mitch McConnell, who uttered that nonsense, won howls by warning, "When you hear the words 'campaign finance reform,' some liberal's trying to shut you up." His main rival as a laugh-getter was Jay Sekulow, who runs Robertson's answer to the ACLU—short for "Anti-Christian Legislation Unit" in Jay's book. Sekulow also let it drop that he's a converted Jew. It figures—they make the best lawyers, you know.

As the first minority group co-opted by the GOP—and I'll bet Joe Lieberman isn't going to bring too many of them back—Jews had bragging rights in Philly. At the Ritz-Carlton, the Republican Jewish Coalition tossed a "Salute to Republican Governors" whose buffet featured sushi flanked by hummus and latkes, with all three exotic dishes carefully labeled for the uninitiated—including governors like Dirk Kempthorne, who announced the dedication of an Anne Frank memorial in Boise before burbling, "The citizens of Idaho who just happen to be of the Jewish faith enjoy being part of Idaho and the community."

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