ELEPHANTS AND BUNTING GALORE IN THE CITY OF BROTHERLY LOVE
the 37th Republican National Convention gets ready to open for business
Monday, July 31, 2000
RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
Once upon a time, a National Convention of a major Party was a very significant event from a political point of view: it was the one quadrennial chance for the leaders of the state and local sub-state parties to get together with Washington insiders who were members of the party leadership in Congress and (if the party held the White House) people of the party who were around the incumbent President (whether or not he was running for re-election) and hash out national Party policy positions with which to run state and local candidates on a "ballot line" with the Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominees chosen- once and for all- at the Convention. The National Conventions were, in fact, the only time there truly was a national Democratic Party and a national Republican Party in any real form: for during the other approximately 1,450 days- give or take (depending on the length of the National Convention itself) between Presidential Elections, the Democratic and Republican Parties were (as they still are) rather loose Confederations of state Parties which, in many cases (particularly in the larger States), were themselves- at best- Amphictyonies of sub-State, more local, Parties (again, as they often still are!).
Somewhere- however- between the building of the Interstate Highway System and the development of the Internet, the major party National Conventions became significant in an altogether different way: they became little more than glorified Telethons devoid of any real decision-making on the part of the delegates chosen to attend a particular major Party Convention. Perhaps the expansion of the Presidential Primaries (detailed elsewhere within the web pages of "The Green Papers") made the loss of Convention delegate input into any real choice of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominees a foregone conclusion and, if this- in fact- allows the party rank-and-file among the electorate to have more input than the party bosses as to who is put forth as the party's standard-bearer come the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, then this may- indeed- be a rather positive development (although, in my opinion, the jury is still out as regards just how much smaller the influence of the Party Boss on the Presidential Nomination might actually be); but there has also been a negative loss in terms of the hammering out of the planks of a party platform in a public forum during which all Americans are able to see the true make-up of the Party as reflected in the Convention delegation as a whole through the Convention, voting as a body, working out the Party's policy positions (and this despite the televising of ofttimes meaningless meetings of the platform committees on C-SPAN).
But those who run the Parties don't really want us to see all that much of the many differences which naturally exist in a confederated political party which is, after all, all a national political party can possibly be in a diverse federation such as the United States of America: this is primarily because the Parties want you to see a "united Party", come hell or high water! In the quest to put on a good front, they have tended- over recent years- to surrender much to the "to get along, you go along" mentality that has made many an American voter more than a little cynical about the political process and which has, in many cases, even alienated him or her from it. This does not much bother those within the hierarchies of the two major Parties (though more than a few of them will publicly give lip service to being so bothered) since the more the participant in party functions such as a National Convention is a "true believer", the less likely any real rifts in the party fabric will be exposed to a national audience. In a sense, the same hue and cry we have recently been hearing about one side or the other being "too partisan" as hurled between parties here appears in intraparty form: yet "partisanship" and "factionalism" are elements of good, healthy political debate- whether between or within parties- which is necessary in order to effectively wrestle with the policy issues of the day in a democratic republic.
Because the National Conventions have, nevertheless, become not much more than "stage shows" in recent Presidential Election Cycles, the mainstream media- particularly the traditional "over-the-air" televised form which still exerts such a strong influence on public opinion- has, more and more, limited its coverage of the Conventions in the last decade and a half: the major TV networks, once the bastion of "gavel-to-gavel" coverage, do not want to be simply carrying free political advertising for the major Parties and so have tried to limit their coverage to what- to them- seems newsworthy and the organizers of the Conventions, bowing to this inevitability, have made sure to schedule speeches by the "heavy guns" within the Party for the hour or so the networks are willing to give them in prime time. So, for example- as regards the 2000 Republican Convention, one will see Colin Powell the first night between 10 and 11 P.M. EDT (0200 to 0300 UTC: late prime time on the East Coast, early prime time in the West) and the second night will feature such GOP luminaries as Elizabeth Dole and John McCain, both Bush's one-time rivals for the presidential nomination, in that same time slot: the timing of these speeches is no accident- they are meant to present the Party (in this case, the Republicans) to the most potential voters watching their televisions across America in the best possible light.
But there will, of course, be much more to the activities of the two major party National Conventions than that which other than the very few who are able to watch much of the non-network coverage will be exposed to- and much of what is NOT shown in prime time often is more reflective of what is really going on within the Party itself as well as the campaign of its standard-bearer. It will be my purpose in these Commentaries of mine on both major party Conventions to concentrate on what most of you reading this will not likely be able to see or hear- though I obviously cannot very well ignore the "big story" which the mainstream media WILL concentrate on, if only because the symbiotic relationship between Party and Media (as seen in the scheduling of Convention events by both major parties) will, at least in part, dictate just what that big story might, in fact, be!
And so, at 10 o'clock in the morning, Eastern Daylight Time (1400 UTC), come Monday 31 July 2000, the 37th Republican National Convention will be gaveled to order inside the First Union Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the ensuing four-day extravaganza to send Governor George W. Bush of Texas and his running mate, former Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney, off onto the Fall Campaign Trail will begin. Governor Bush has pledged himself to a campaign (and, one presumes, a Presidency- should he be elected) based on a concept of "compassionate conservatism"- of inclusion: does this mean that those in the minority of his Party who disagree, at least in part, with the policy aims of the Republican Presidential Nominee will be treated a bit better at this GOP Convention than they have been in some of the more recent ones? THAT remains to be seen: but what IS seen at this Convention will have an enormous effect on Governor Bush's chances for victory come 7 November! (I still have in my mind the clear image of more moderate Republicans such as then-California Governor Pete Wilson and Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine talking to television reporters at the 1996 GOP Convention in San Diego while being shouted down by delegates, heady with enthusiasm for the Dole/Kemp ticket [which, naturally, Wilson and Snowe themselves were supporting], shouting "You're all libertarians... libertines! Get out of the Republican Party!!" until Governor Wilson had the temerity to turn around and yell back at them [albeit politely, as one would expect of demure Republicans]: it seems to me that Candidate George W. Bush- whose party is putting on "Profile in Compassion" videos as part of the schedule the first night of its Convention- would do well to avoid such a similar scene at HIS Convention!)
We DO know, even before the opening gavel falls, that the 2000 GOP Convention will be marked by what has become common in recent major Party National Conventions- "Theme Nights": one is left to wonder whether different pieces of a complete place setting will be given away each night as well! The theme of this year's Republican National Convention is "Renewing America's Purpose" and so there will be a different theme each night of the Convention "with a Purpose", starting with "Opportunity with a Purpose" for the first night- followed by "Strength and Security with a Purpose", "Prosperity with a Purpose" and culminating in painting Governor Bush as a potential "President with a Purpose" come Thursday evening when the Texan will deliver his speech accepting his Party's nomination of him for President.
However, lest the average viewer think the Republicans are TOO traditionalist, there are a few oddities scheduled for this Convention- the oddest of all, perhaps (though it be listed as still "tentative" on the official Convention schedule), being a so-called "rolling roll call" in which the traditional Roll Call of the States for the votes of the delegates for the Presidential Nomination (and, one presumes, the Vice-Presidential Nomination which almost certainly will be combined with it into one Roll Call under this plan) would be spread over three of the four evenings of the Convention rather than held all at once come the traditional Presidential Nomination night of Wednesday. While this alleged "innovation" seems to be anticipated among many political junkies with about as much enthusiasm as that with which Baseball purists greeted the start of Interleague Play a few years back or the Designated Hitter more than a quarter century ago, at least some Republican high muckety-mucks think this change will make a significant difference in how their Convention is, in the end, covered by the media: I sincerely hope they will pardon me if I don't so willingly hold my breath!
Another oddity is the plan to have Vice Presidential
nominee-presumptive Dick Cheney deliver his acceptance speech on WEDNESDAY
evening after the "rolling roll call"- as described in the previous paragraph-
puts the Bush/Cheney ticket "over the top" during the middle portion of that
roll call tentatively scheduled for that night's session: this will leave
the final night- Thursday- all to George W. Bush himself, his video biography
and his acceptance speech- the obvious climax to the whole soiree. Thus, the
traditional Wednesday nominating the Presidential candidate/Thursday nominating
the Vice Presidential candidate we have all become so used to over many a
National Convention in either major party is, at least in part, now to be
reversed! But whether this symbolic change truly reflects a whole new style
of National Convention for the 21st Century- as the Republicans so eagerly
claim- remains to be seen: it will be my mission to let you- the users
of "The Green Papers"- see for yourselves, through my eyes and ears,
whether these surface changes in Convention procedure are, indeed, anything more