Wouldn’t It Be Nice

Can Window Dressing Turn Into a Window?

While I'd have preferred an event that found more (and funkier) common ground between Huffington's panels of anti-Establishment Establishment types and the anarchy kids who shared her issues, what justified her conclave's sedateness was the imprimatur her Rolodex gave positions seldom broached by Republicrats. But David Gergen belonged on this bill like a pig in a henhouse, and—Arianna's remonstrations to the contrary—the audience was dead right to boo John McCain for urging them to vote for Wuh right after they'd applauded his reform rap.

Discharging a similar chore, Jesse Jackson escaped heckling by never mentioning Gore's name. But his trips to this well have taken a lot out of him. More interesting was the willingness of two moderate Republicans less immunized by fame than McCain to risk their party's wrath by venturing across the river. I missed California's Senate hopeful Tom Campbell, but New Mexico governor Gary Johnson was impressive—a straight arrow whose reluctant conclusion that we'd better legalize marijuana landed him in deep elephant dung once he got back to the whiteness on the edge of town.

A no-show at the fake convention, Ralph Nader crashed the real one at WBAI's invitation. Gridlocked near the Florida delegation, he answered our questions with the pleasure of a man who's discovered waggishness late in life—"Why am I here? Because Wall Street is closed tonight"—and traded quips with state chairman Al Cardenas, who mock-congratulated him on becoming a Floridian and then got kind of steamed. But like most stunts, this one ran out of gas fast. Before he was ushered off the floor—he may have been hoping to be ejected outright, but they were smart enough to let him carry on in the corridor—a strange lull fell, and Nader looked around: "Any other questions?"

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.

A good reporter would have had six ready, however trite. Unfortunately, he was asking me—and suddenly, I realized I couldn't think of one whose answer might surprise me.

IF PAT BUCHANAN HAD TRIED THE SAME GAMBIT, delegates starving for a jihad might have hoisted him onto the podium. One reason they stayed docile was they had no hero to get them going. Right-wingers need a knight, and don't much care if the dragon slays him. That just proves the dragon is a dragon.

One McCain delegate told me that his crowd had hoped their man would raise more of a ruckus. But McCain is a different kettle of fish, most of them now belly-up. The Hanoi Hilton couldn't break him, but Wuh's victory has turned him into the Manchurian Losing Candidate. While his endorsement at the Shadow Convention was dutiful, its prime-time repetition Tuesday was downright spiritless. If the nominee traded him the Pentagon for it, which isn't inconceivable, the nominee got rooked.

Even if Wuh thinks Henri IV is the hero of a Herman's Hermits song, this convention's mantra was "Paris is worth a mass." Yet as Clinton might say, a lot depends on what the definition of "Paris" is. While the Georgia moderate who told me he found the softened tone a relief had company, many true believers clearly assumed that they were going along with a ploy for victory's sake. They may be right, but that didn't stop me from spending convention week alternately enticed and disturbed by a wild surmise. I couldn't stop thinking that if this election obliged—or enabled?—the Republican Party to become even half as tolerant as it was pretending to be, a Wuh victory might not be too high a price to pay.

The best defense of this shameless charade is that the candidate doesn't seem to find it uncongenial—and that it's going to be awfully hard for him to take it all back. Sham though the rank and file's situational acceptance of today's polyglot world may have been, Philly forced them to confront the fact that to their own party's elites, whose lives are less constricted, it's willy-nilly becoming a reality. Sure, George P. Bush's status as a great-grandson of privilege far outweighs his half-Mexican ethnicity—yet there he was, livin' la vida GOPa. Wuh's ultra-right-wing vice-presidential nominee shared the VIP box with the out lesbian daughter, who's his closest adviser, and nobody raised a peep. Of course, maybe they were just too stunned, and they're sure to recover their wits before long.

Not that it made him more likable. Cheney slid into his own welcome rally on Sunday with the sidelong grimace of a mortician entering a casino, and didn't improve with exposure. Should Nelson Mandela die during Bush's tenure, it's going to be awkward to send the Veep to his funeral. Yet I marveled when that cryptic crock Alan Simpson told CNN that Cheney's speech was the "red meat" delegates craved. Eight or four years ago, they wouldn't have called it a cheese sandwich.

It's worth remembering that the Republicans pulled a lot of inclusivity shtick at their sullen, lackluster '96 convention—and nobody gave a rat's ass, because San Diego was a gavel-to-gavel bummer. If Colin Powell's speech in Philly was as rousing as its '96 prototype was flat, that may be because he knows the difference between window dressing and a window.

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