Those of us who follow politics because we take our profession and/or our citizenship seriously lament that the Republican National Convention appears to have been Clintonized. The physically challenged, racial minorities and plenty of children and women will be featured. Some Democrats call it window dressing, implying that the GOP doesn't care about such people. It is window dressing, but Republicans are dressing the window not to fool voters but to fool television.
Because most people get their news only from television, their impression of Year 2000 Republicans will be largely shaped by the coverage, such as it is, of the Republican convention. Gov. George W. Bush is determined that Republicans will not look all white and male, all old and rich. Neither will there be any angry people, such as Pat Buchanan declaring war (cultural or otherwise) or Newt Gingrich announcing revolution (political or otherwise).
Sure, I'd like to see ideas floated from morning until night. Yes, I'd prefer nonstop bashing of failed liberal programs. Of course, I would appreciate marathon speeches characterizing the Clinton-Gore years as a 24/7 "Animal House" frat party with supposedly responsible men in positions of influence shirking responsibility, violating their oaths and behaving as if their offices were the spoils of war.
It would be nice to hear how the welfare state, so favored by liberals, has sentenced the poor to a life of poverty and dependency. It would be wonderful to hear how liberal Democrats stole credit for economic prosperity from the Republicans and how Gore adviser Bob Shrum must be auditioning for stand-up comic when he claims the Clinton-Gore administration should get credit for the current boom. This from a man who never saw a dollar he wouldn't tax or one he couldn't spend. This from a man whose party controlled the House for 40 years and never cared about the deficit or national debt until Republicans took over. Name the last tax-cutting Democrat. It was John F. Kennedy.
This is not your father's Republican Convention. Since Republicans in the post-Reagan years have lacked a candidate with the personality and skills of the former president's, they cannot win without appealing to the mushy-middle folks. They represent about 20 percent of the voting public, and they decide elections. And they mostly respond negatively to the politics of anger. One Buchanan speech is enough to pin the "hate" label on the GOP and sink them. Bush has made sure that won't happen at this convention.
The Philadelphia convention will be about understated contrasts. Everyone knows what Clinton-Gore have done, from illicit sex to illicit fund-raising. What this Bush production will show is decency, integrity, honesty and fidelity. That's why Laura Bush will speak on the opening night. Look for her to subtly present her husband as a man who can be believed and who is not only faithful to his word but also to his wife.
Media types will complain about a convention without content. That's because they won't be able to tag Republicans with their usual labels. Smearing Republicans is the only way they can hope to get their preferred candidate, Al Gore, elected.
The other parties the ones with free food and drink might be more fun and exciting than the one inside the hall, but George W. Bush is betting that a convention without controversy gives him the best chance to move into the fall campaign with a focus on his ideas rather than his having to repair a bad image. Political junkies may wish it weren't so. But until the public wants red meat again, they'll get the pablum they're asking for.
Cal Thomas is a columnist for Los Angeles Times Syndicate.