SETTING THE STAGE
the First Session of the 37th Republican National Convention
Monday, July 31, 2000
RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
At 10 o'clock A.M., "at the appointed place and at the appointed time"- as he himself would note- Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson of Colorado gaveled the 37th Republican National Convention to order inside the Comcast First Union Center in Philadelphia, PA. There was a Presentation of Colors by a group of local 4-H Club members, the Pledge of Allegiance led by Erik Weihenmayer, a well-known blind athlete who specializes in rock climbing, the National Anthem sung by local homeless advocate Gloria Echols and the Invocation by Joe Watkins, a one-time Bush Administration staffer who was the pastor of a Philadelphia church. With all this, the First Session of the Convention was officially under way.
There was now the first batch of procedural stuff to get out of the way: RNC Secretary Linda Shaw read the opening paragraph of the Call of the Convention after which there was a motion to suspend further reading of the Call (a time-honored National Convention tradition going back decades) followed by the acceptance of the Temporary Officers (with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott as Temporary Chairman) and the appointment of already-named Committees on Credentials, Permanent Organization, Rules & Order of Business and Resolutions & the Platform- each of which was to meet "at 11 A.M. in the Victory Pavilion and report to this Convention at the earliest possible time". Once upon a time, the ratification of members of these Committees by the Convention would have been fraught with much drama- as the reports of these Committees (particularly those on Credentials and Rules& Order of Business) would have, back then, had a great impact upon the fate of many a nomination hopeful: those days, however, are now long gone and the ratifications were dispensed with by voice vote with not a single "No" heard (though, even if Noes had been heard, Jim Nicholson- running the show in its earliest stages- would have declared the "Ayes" had it anyway).
The Opening Ceremonies and earliest Order of Business having been so quickly dispensed with, there was now a brief musical interlude to give the delegates who were members of these Committees time to get out of the Hall. The interlude, however, proved not brief enough for the musicians who had to provide it: they launched into a rendition of the Ben E. King standard Stand By Me (perhaps the delegates milling about related the song's title to the Convention's overall theme of "Renewing America's Purpose: TOGETHER"- more than likely, however, they did not). The band, meanwhile, cranked out what must have been their usual 3 minute or so Wedding/Bar Mitzvah version of the song before stopping, only to awkwardly realize that they would be required to "Vamp till Convention's Ready"- so they started up again and just ran through chorus after chorus until, mercifully, the return of RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson to the podium signaled that the Convention was to resume (it was just as well: on his third solo now, the Saxophone player was clearly running out of new and interesting improvisational riffs).
When the Convention DID resume at approximately 10:40 A.M. EDT (1440 UTC)- the musical break having consumed less than 15 minutes- Nicholson presented his opening remarks to the assembly. He told the gathered delegates that this would be "the best Convention we've ever had" (though I have yet to hear- in either major Party- that a given Convention would be anything less) and that the Republicans were "more united, more enthused about our chances in November than I can ever remember". The half a hundred or so delegates actually paying attention at this point were whipped into a frenzy of light cheering every time Nicholson paused for the "applause cue", EXCEPT when Nicholson noted that this would be "a different type of Convention for a different type of Republican" at which point there was a strange absence of even the half-hearted, forced cheering of the few on the floor who weren't then off getting ready to meet in committee in the Victory Pavilion.
After a few uplifting words about the Party's nominee-presumptive, Governor Bush, Nicholson added: "and Dick Cheney is the 'Cal Ripken' of American Politics: a bona fide Hall of Famer"- an obvious reference to the living Baseball legend of the Baltimore Orioles who holds the record for Most Consecutive Games Played, especially when the RNC Chairman then went on to cite Cheney's more than two decades of public service. Yet I found it an altogether disquieting reference, as if Cheney's place on the impending GOP ticket still had to be justified in some way; adding the phrase "bona fide Hall of Famer" seemed almost to beg the unspoken 'in case you still had any doubt'.
Nicholson was followed by the RNC co-chair, Pat Harrison who- after noting that she was the first Republican chair of Italian-American extraction- chided the Democrats for their "soft bigotry of low expectations". I had the distinct impression that this would not be the last time I would hear this phrase used during this First Session of the Convention: as things transpired, I was not to be disappointed! Harrison went on to note that "there are no second-class American Dreams... No one race, no one heritage, no one religion owns the American Dream: it belongs to all of us".
After Harrison had completed her remarks, Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Arlen Specter was introduced and the Keystone State's senior Senator proceeded with a speech that mixed GOP political rhetoric with a promotion of his home town of Philadelphia worthy of any good Chamber of Commerce or Convention and Visitors' Bureau. On the political side- that which interested me more as a political observer/commentator- Specter drummed home the themes of "fiscal conservatism, hard work, tolerance, inclusion"; he pointed out that Philadelphia had hosted the very first Republican National Convention in 1856 and four more GOP Conventions, not counting the present gathering, after that "selecting many winners for the Presidency" (well... not THAT many: 3 of the 5 GOP nominees coming out of Philadelphia GOP Conventions were non-incumbents who lost in the ensuing General Election, while the 2 winners were both incumbent Presidents who were running for re-election; however, I- for one- would not have had the heart to share that with Senator Specter!). Specter hit his highest note with a quote from the late Barry Goldwater, the Party's 1964 presidential nominee, that the GOP should stand for "getting Government off our backs, out of our pocketbooks and out of our bedrooms"; for a split second, I thought I had stumbled upon the Libertarian Party Convention of a few weeks ago!
Senator Specter was followed by Philadelphia Mayor John Street: though a Democrat, he was politely received by the remaining delegates and, in return, Street did nothing to ruffle the political feathers of the assembled Republicans. He welcomed them to his City and invited them to spend their money; he referred to Pennsylvania's Republican Governor Tom Ridge as his "good friend" with whom he had worked on the logistics surrounding the GOP gathering. Clearly, between Specter and Street, there was bipartisan Philly-boosting going on here. Street was followed by Convention Manager Chip DiPaula who addressed the Convention briefly: at the end of his remarks, he warmly welcomed the delegates to "this distinctly American celebration" and received some desultory applause and cheers- the expression on his face as he gestured outward indicated DiPaula's acceptance of the fact that his remarks were more for the historical record of this particular Convention than anything else.
The next moment was intended to be a Moment of Silence for noteworthy Republicans who had passed away since the last GOP Convention, but it came off rather awkwardly at best. The names of the dead, including Sonny Bono and Barry Goldwater as well as ex- Nixon era Cabinet officials such as Elliott Richardson and William Simon, were flashed on the big screen behind the podium and the few on the floor seemed to watch respectfully, once RNC co-chair Harrison had gotten the attention of those milling about on the Convention floor: however, clearly, the climax to this whole portion of the program was to be a tribute- combined, or so the Official Convention Schedule said, with a Moment of Silence- to two late GOP Senators: John Chafee of Rhode Island and Paul Coverdell of Georgia. Temporary Chairman Trent Lott came to the podium to eulogize both (though he concentrated more on Coverdell, whom he was obviously closer to- personally as well as politically [though keep in mind that Senator Coverdell only passed away less than two weeks ago and this may have made the loss caused by his untimely death that much more apparent to the Mississippi Senator]). There was polite applause in memory of both Senators but I was struck by the fact that this would have been better scheduled for, say, Tuesday evening- after the Committees appointed only an hour earlier had finished meeting in the Victory Pavilion and there would be more of a captive audience to see it.
I suppose, however, that the tribute to Senators Chafee and Coverdell was intended to be a lead in to the political business of the Convention, kicked off next by Virginia Congressman Tom Davis, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, introducing some of the "new faces of the Republican Party" who would be running for the House this coming November. Of course, there were some old faces as well: most notably, former Congressman Dick Zimmer of New Jersey- who had left the House to run unsuccessfully for the Senate four years ago only to be replaced by Mike Pappas, an embarrassment of a hard conservative who lost the seat to a Democrat, Rush Holt, two years ago and whom Zimmer himself had to best in a grueling 6 June Primary in order to get the chance to face Holt this year. Each Congressional candidate was given about a minute to address the Convention (which was OK, I guess: it would get them ready for the reality of "One Minute Speeches" in the Well of the House should they be elected!)
Some highlights (or lowlights, depending):
Joan Johnson- running to fill GOP New York Senate candidate Rick Lazio's seat, who wryly noted that she would make history by "being the first GOP woman from Long Island elected to Congress" if elected- she purposely did NOT mention that she would also be the first African-American Republican elected to the House from New York as well. Being African-American and Republican was NOT a problem, however, for Congressional candidates Jennifer Carroll of Florida or Dylan Glenn of Georgia: Carroll played on her roots throughout her speech and Glenn noted that, if elected, he would be the first Black GOP Congressman elected from the Deep South since Reconstruction.
There was Felix Grucci of the famous fireworks family, scoring his opponent- Congressman Michael Forbes- for having switched Parties, claiming that Forbes had "turned his back on our Values" and Shelley Moore Capito, seeking the seat being vacated by West Virginia Democratic Gubernatorial hopeful Bob Wise, a race that is already being touted as an early 7 November bellwether of GOP chances in the General Election.
There was an awkward moment when Minnesota House candidate John Kline was announced and the few Minnesotans left in their delegation waved "Kline for Congress" signs and cheered when he appeared on the big screen- until the man at the podium announced that he was actually Indiana Congressional candidate Mike Pence. To be fair, Kline immediately followed Pence on the dais and the two men do somewhat resemble each other from a distance, but- if name recognition be an important factor in Politics- something should also be done by these candidates about "face recognition".
Nevada House candidate Jon Porter spoke of his support for "strengthening our Nation's DUI laws" (there is currently a movement to force all States to adopt 0.08 as the legal blood-alcohol limit for Driving Under the Influence under pain of losing precious Federal Highway funding) but then followed this up by scoring the Democrats for believing that "Washington knows best while George W. Bush and Jon Porter know that communities know better". I was immediately struck by the apparent contradiction here... that is, until I realized that it was an illustration of a contradiction that pervades a healthy chunk of the Republican Party itself.
After the House candidates had presented themselves in this manner, Jim Nicholson introduced a number of political functionaries- ranging from Marian Miller, head of the National Federation of Republican Women through Sue Berglund, president of the National Conference of Republican Elected Officials to Max Fisher of Republican Jewish-Americans and Scott Stewart of College Republicans, who emphatically declared: "Don't listen to the reports that the liberals control the hearts and minds of young people"- then added, pointedly (literally, by pointing his finger in the direction of the TV cameras), "it... is... not... true!"
Now it was the turn of the GOP candidates for Senate, introduced by Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who compared the 2000 Election to a Kentucky Derby Trifecta- the three parts of which were, of course, electing George W. Bush President, maintaining GOP control of the Senate and maintaining GOP control of the House. At one point- in a thinly veiled swipe at Hillary Rodham Clinton- McConnell vowed that the GOP would even "elect a Republican candidate to the Senate who is actually FROM New York". McConnell's introduction was then followed by a parade of GOP Senate candidates, similar to that seen less than an hour earlier re: the Republican House candidates, except that these candidates were each given some three minutes instead of the one minute reserved for the GOP Congressional hopefuls (well, the Senate rules ARE more lax, I suppose!). Some highlights:
Congressman Bob Franks of New Jersey was the only one who directly took on his Democratic opponent, wealthy businessman Jon Corzine, noting that more frightening than the way he spends his own money (a reference to the princely sum Corzine had spent in the Democratic primary) would be "how he'll spend YOUR money".
Don Stenberg of Nebraska, who- as that State's Attorney General- recently argued unsuccessfully on behalf of his state's Partial Birth Abortion ban before the U.S. Supreme Court, became the first person to openly use the word "Abortion" before the Convention: interesting, considering just how much that word caused so much consternation at the GOP Convention in San Diego four years earlier.
After the Senate candidates were done, there were more political functionaries to introduce- Hal Daub, Mayor of Omaha and president of Republican Mayors and Elected Officials, who was joined on stage by the heads of the National League of Cities, the National Association of County Officials and the U.S. Conference of Mayors- Republicans all. Then it was time for the next round of procedural stuff: the reports of the Committees ratified earlier in the First Session and who had been meeting in the Victory Pavilion for the previous hour and a half.
Credentials Committee chairman Mike Duncan of Kentucky noted only one serious credentials challenge- in Massachusetts: it apparently had been resolved by having the respondents to each contest placed on the roll of delegates to the Convention, a decision ratified by the RNC and against which an appeal was brought but denied. It was noted, however, that Massachusetts would "be reviewing its delegate certification procedures" prior to the 2004 delegate selection process. This was followed by Robert Finian of Ohio, chairman of the Committee on Permanent Organization moving that, among other permanent Convention officers, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert be accepted as Permanent Chairman: he was, by the usual cursory voice vote, and- at 12:42 P.M. (1642 UTC), Hastert- escorted by many of the GOP House candidates who had addressed the Convention earlier- was brought to the podium and handed the gavel by RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson. Hastert thereupon announced that "today begins Day 1 of the Bush/Cheney era"- a phrase Nicholson had himself used earlier in his opening remarks: repetition, I gather, is the sincerest form of flattery!
Permanent Chairman Hastert then made the announcement that, while a Minority Report had been filed with the Chairman of the Committee on Rules & Order of Business (which, presumably, involved the so-called "Delaware Plan" in which states- excepting Iowa and New Hampshire- would have selected delegates in order of population, from smallest to largest, throughout the 2004 Primary Season: a plan not favored by either the Republican hierarchy or Governor Bush), an understanding had been reached with proponents of the Minority Report so that "no action by this Convention will be required". With that statement, the last chance for the 37th Republican National Convention to be a deliberative body on ANY issue of real importance went out the window!
Following this, Mike Grebe of Wisconsin- chairman of the Committee on Rules & Order of Business- came forth to report that there were going to be some rules changes for delegate selection in 2004, including: stricter enforcement of the time window for Republican delegate selection, state party rules taking precedence over state law as regards GOP delegate selection, RNC members automatically serving as delegates to the next Convention (something Democrats did forty years earlier: the beginning of Republican "superdelegates", I would gather!) and increasing the number of base at-large delegates at the 2004 GOP Convention to 4 more per State, 6 more for Puerto Rico and 2 more for D.C. and the other Territories represented at this Convention.
Grebe was then followed by the chairman of the Committee on Resolutions & the Platform, Governor Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and his co-chairs, Tennessee Senator Bill Frist and North Carolina Member of Congress Sue Myrick, all of whom spoke on the Republican Platform. Senator Frist opened his remarks on the Platform by speaking movingly of the late Senator Coverdell- who had been the Senator co-chair of the same committee at the GOP Convention four years earlier- and I found Frist's tribute to be a much better one than the awkward planned one of an hour and a half or so earlier. After these speeches, Thompson moved the adoption of the Platform by voice vote and we were then off on another musical break- one for which the musicians appeared to be much more prepared to "Vamp till Necessary" on the Bob Seger tune Old Time Rock & Roll, though I found myself wondering at this song having been juxtaposed with the adoption of the Platform: just what WAS the message here? was the GOP Platform just adopted one that "just soothed your soul"?? or was the "compassionate conservatism" this year's Republican Convention was promoting that which was to be soothing to the soul, at least compared to the "bite" often found in more recent GOP Platforms?!
While the music played and the delegates danced in the aisles, Vice Presidential nominee-presumptive Dick Cheney and his wife made their way through the hall to the Convention galleries. They were seen by the delegates well before their presence would eventually be formally acknowledged by Permanent Chairman Hastert and an impromptu rhythmic chant of "Che-NEY, Che-NEY, Che-NEY" was heard rising from the Convention floor as they took their seats: the former Defense Secretary- at least judging from the expression on his face- seemed more bemused by the accolades than anything else.
After this second musical interlude, there was the business of the formal placing in name of George W. Bush to be nominated for President of the United States- a procedural action made necessary by the impending use of the "Rolling Roll Call" over several nights, as outlined in my previous Commentary: one can't have a Roll Call of the States for the purpose of voting for the nominee unless and until there is someone already nominated! A delegate from Texas put Governor Bush's name into the hopper to which other delegates gave a lusty cheer, prompting Convention Chairman Hastert to declare, with a smile, that there had, in fact, been "sufficient second". He then asked if there were any other candidates to be placed in nomination, which engendered the first "NO"es of the session: Hastert then wryly noted that "only one candidate has been placed in nomination for President of the United States" (like THAT was a surprise!)
I fully expected the usual nominating and seconding speeches we have grown accustomed to over many a National Convention in many an election cycle: instead, we were greeted with even more political functionaries: Joe Rogers of Colorado, chairman of the newly founded Lieutenant Governors' Association; Kevin McCarthy, chairman of the Young Republican National Federation who held up a CD-ROM disc as a prop as he promoted the use of the Internet for political action by youth and further opined that "We are not your grandfather's Republican Party"; John Wood of London, England- chairman of Republicans Abroad; Fred Brown of the National Black Republican Council who declared: "Blacks should file for divorce from the Democratic Party on grounds of Non-Support"; young Paris Dennard of Arizona, representing Teenage Republicans; Wes Marsh, president of the National Republican Legislators' Association; Joe Briggs, head of the National Federation of Pachyderm Clubs and, finally, Mary Toman- Los Angeles County GOP Chairman- who is also chairman of the Association of Urban Republican County Chairmen. Almost lost in the midst of this parade of GOP functionaries was retiring Governor Edward T. Schafer of North Dakota, chairman of the Republican Governors' Association and his introducing to the Convention both Delaware GOP Gubernatorial candidate John Burris and the Republican candidate to succeed Schafer as Governor of North Dakota, John Hoeven.
None of these people gave anything approximating a typical nominating/seconding speech and it all seemed to me as if the formal placing of the name of the presidential candidate for nomination, once such a keystone to any National Convention, had been rendered so meaningless by this new "Rolling Roll Call" device the 21st Century GOP had come up with only so recently. From the point of view of political strategy- getting the country excited about one's National Ticket- it seemed quite possible that, by so burying the process of choosing the Party's presidential nominee, the Republicans might very well have made a mistake: we would certainly know by the end of the week.
At 2 o'clock P.M. EDT (1800 UTC)- almost like clockwork- Talat
Othman of the Islamic Cultural Center of Chicago and chairman of the Islamic
Institute was called to the dais to give a Muslim blessing which finally
closed the First Session of the 37th Republican National Convention. Jim
Nicholson thereupon gaveled the Convention into recess until 7:30 P.M. EDT
(2330 UTC) that evening (Monday 31 July 2000). It should, however, be noted that- in that very First Session- the Convention had dispensed with all the procedural elements of a more typical National Convention (with the obvious exception of the Roll Call
of the States) as well as all the overtly political elements to which we
have all become accustomed (introducing various candidates for House,
Senate and Congress), clearing the decks for the Themes which would
dominate the remaining Sessions of the Convention.