Wouldn’t It Be Nice

Can Window Dressing Turn Into a Window?

At the same event, Christine Todd Whitman drew so many autograph hounds that the MC tried to quell the hubbub. Whitman's resemblance to a perplexed David Bowie playing the Scarecrow of Oz has its charm, and I like her enough to suspect her ghastly grin in That Photograph betrayed embarrassment. So I sorta hated asking her what I did, which was whether it was fair to think that, not too long ago, the same snapshot of Whitman patting down a black nonperp could have gotten her onto a GOP vice-presidential short list.

"I don't think that's the kind of thing that would have gotten anybody any mileage, ever," she said flatly. Which was a fib, because she's old enough to remember Spiro Agnew.

J.C. Watts isn't. The one-man caucus—his joke, not mine—is an anomaly in Congress, but to black Republicans, he's as glamorous as Lindbergh. Between jogs to the podium, he was the star at every African American-oriented event, delivering a spiel so steeped in entrepreneurial values that its talk of improving his party's "marketing" and "image" clearly didn't strike him as ironic.

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.

Outranking even Watts as the GOP's highest elected black official, Colorado lieutenant governor Joe Rogers can bloviate with the best; his flack kept handing out glossy PR packets touting the boss's formidability as a speaker-for-hire. It was from Rogers that I first heard the brilliant spin that this artificially rainbow-hued convention represented the party "not as we were, not as we are—but as we will be." But he can be blunt when it suits him, and it did in our brief interview. Even if it was just rhetoric, I asked, wasn't this convention's message upping the ante so much that people would have every right to be bitterly disappointed—and more alienated than ever—if it turned out to be smoke? Rogers's answer was as eloquent as Colin Powell's speech, so I'm going to quote it in full.

"Yes," he said.


ting the streets—those who found their alienation worth acting out, anyway. The theme that should have been programmatic instead of ramshackle was America's and the world's underclass. Poverty is now a radical rather than a liberal issue—which makes addressing it a Republican opportunity, as even Wuh seems to suspect.

In Philadelphia, though, the anarchy kids were missing allies—above all, the unions, whose presence in Seattle was a one-shot. Some protesters cheered when a Teamsters truck drove by, little knowing James P. Hoffa was being feted at a GOP gala that afternoon. Signs unnervingly directing attendees to a reception honoring "Jimmy" Hoffa didn't dissuade the son of the Jersey Turnpike's best-known speed bump from pursuing his strategy of playing both middles against the end by declaring that he felt right at home.

The protesters' combination of knowingness and naïveté could be breathtaking. One teen handing out a clever "checklist" for reporters (sample question: "Did you make sure to take pictures of weird-looking protesters to discredit the movement?") took mine back after spotting my Voice ID: "You're not commercial media." Oh, you baby. Between fracases on Tuesday, I got to chatting with a straw-hatted onlooker who turned out to be Mark Hosler of Negativland, indie-rock's found-object recontextualization specialists. During a chant of "This is what a police state looks like!" Hosler quietly said he didn't think so. Then he smiled: "Seattle was what a police state looks like."

I wouldn't know. But at the risk of making that kid's checklist come true, the Philly police did a good job from what I saw—one big exception that I didn't being a clampdown raid on a warehouse where protesters were allegedly making bombs, which I doubt a single raider believed. Even so, I'll never giggle at bicycles as police equipment again; they're ridable truncheons. From my hotel window, I got used to seeing them circling City Hall each morning—ah, yes, the Tour de Philadelphia.

Aside from having to take the subway when one shuttle-bus route got blocked, the delegates were unaffected. Even the big-time donors who strolled to a Republican Finance Committee meeting from a wingding at Tiffany's two blocks away went unharassed; they were still showing off their Tiffany bags when they entered the Ritz-Carlton. Instead, Joe Average paid for Daddy Warbucks's sins—a familiar quandary summed up by one story of demonstrators throwing a rock through a limo windshield while its chauffeur was inside. (Shit on you guys if you really did that; even Bernadine Dohrn would have known to aim for the back window.) You'd also have to be as heartless as Trent Lott not to feel for the poor bastard whose Camry got trashed while he was fixing somebody's air conditioner—and who got quoted as saying, "I didn't do nothing to nobody."

The week's other rebuke to the Republicans was too intelligent to generate much pizzazz. The Shadow Convention's only outrageous note was that apostate Gingrichphile Arianna Huffington was running it—and anyone who can morph from the Belle Dame Sans Merci into Tom Paine in six years has, to say the least, an operatic sense of the good fight. Not that her social life has suffered. "Some of my friends haven't read anything I've written for a while, and think nothing's changed," she told me. "Or they just haven't updated their guest lists, so I still get invited to things. I went to the Nancy Reagan party yesterday," which made her laugh—with reason, since the Shadow Convention spent that day assailing "The Failed War on Drugs." Breaking off to deal briefly with an overtime problem, she turned back to me with a sigh. "All these people who talk about labor issues," she said, "—and they're running the crew for 15 hours." I was smitten; it was like interviewing a brainy, radicalized Zsa Zsa Gabor.

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