Prophets Without Honor

If you've been paying any attention at all to that stately minuet in Philadelphia - the latest poor excuse for a national political convention - you must be asking yourselves the same questions that have been going through my mind the past couple of days.

Where are the Republican leaders of Congress? And where are the fervent crusaders of the Christian Right, who have long regarded themselves as the heart and soul of the Republican Party?

These proud keepers of the flame appear to be just about the only groups to be excluded from major roles at the Festival of Inclusion, otherwise known as the 2000 Republican Convention. And I, for one, find it hard to believe that they're not just a little ticked off by the way they're being treated as pariahs.

For years, political leaders, regardless of party, were guided by a principle of loyalty that was spelled out years ago by the legendary Texas football coach, Darrell Royal. On the eve of a crucial game, Coach Royal was asked if he planned any changes in his starting lineup.

"No," he replied, "we'll dance with who brung us."

The sundry "dancers" who were chosen to perform in the limelight of this year's GOP convention no doubt have many worthy attributes. But hardly any of them can claim to have been a major force in the long campaign that has "brung" George W. Bush to this triumphant moment - his party's presidential nomination.

On Monday night, for example, the speakers included an African-American state lawmaker from Virginia, a Hispanic child singing the National Anthem, an Asian-American woman who called for making "America more welcoming to immigrants" and another woman who, having been a foster child, advocated more efficient adoption procedures.

The headliner that night was Colin Powell who, among other things, echoed Bush's line to NAACP of "the party of Lincoln has not always carried the mantle of Lincoln."

That "not always" was a deft touch, for Powell must surely know that the GOP has not "carried the mantle of Lincoln" since the end of Reconstruction in the 1870's.

Tuesday brought another strong dose of diversity. The speakers included an African-American woman who addressed the problems facing black families and a gay congressman whose subject was international trade.

Representing the party's traditional mainstream were the two Doles, Bob and Elizabeth, and the star performer Tuesday night was Sen. John McCain, who waged such a vigorous campaign against Governor Bush in last winter's primaries.

McCain, in fact, was the headliner from Capitol Hill, quite an honor for a maverick who is notoriously unpopular with most of his Republican colleagues in Congress.

So where are those colleagues, especially the party leaders who fought so hard over the past eight years to resist the Democratic policies and initiatives of President Clinton?

Or, to be more specific, where are the holy warriors who led the effort to imeach Mr. Clinton and thereby eradicate the moral stain he inflicted on the White House? Where, in other words, are those entertaining Savonarolas - Henry Hyde, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay?

For even though they piously insisted that the impeachment fight had nothing to do with politics, that was palpable nonsense, as we all discovered when the votes split firmly along party lines.

And even though their effort to drive Clinton out of office ultimately failed, the impeachment alone was enough to seriously wound the president, and who can say how much of that damage spread to his designated successor, Vice President Al Gore?

So don't these stalwart House leaders deserve their star turn on the center stage of this week's convention? Apparently not.

Okay, then what about Pat Robertson, the zealous leader of the Christian Coalition? More than most, he truly deserves a lion's share of the credit for having "brung" W. to this grand victory dance in Philadelphia.

Back in the dark days following Bush's defeat to McCain in the New Hampshire primary, it was Robertson and his legions who mobilized the right-wing faithful in South Carolina and put the governor back on track toward his nomination.

Had McCain prevailed in the critical South Carolina primary, that would have been a huge boost to his already soaring momentum and, in all likelihood, the Bush campaign would have been crippled beyond repair.

So George W. Bush owes Pat Robertson and his disciples big time. But has a leading member of the Christian Right been invited to bask in the spotlight at the GOP convention? No way.

Those looking for Robertson on Tuesday afternoon would have found him presiding over a gathering of his Christian Coalition followers in a ballroom at a hotel in downtown Philadelphia.

There, in an impassioned speech, Robertson called, once again, for the repeal of Roe v. Wade and - in defiance of the 2000 Republican platform - for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education.

Otherwise, he did not stray from the new party line and, on the surface at least, evinced no irritation at having been excluded from a major role at the Republican conclave. Still, in his heart, it had to gall him that the featured speakers at the First Union Center that night included a gay congressman and Senator McCain, his bitter enemy from the primary campaign.

Yet Robertson and his loyal Christian soldiers can take comfort in their profound faith, as can the House Republican leaders.

For these are all righteous men who know the Bible well, and as such, they understand, better than many of us, that "a prophet is not without honor, save in his own country" - or, in this case, party.