'Twas A Grand Old Party

Republican running mates George W. Bush and Dick Cheney boarded a 26-car train in Pittsburgh Friday, departing on a whistle stop tour of the Midwestern states that hold the keys to the White House.

The train trip is a last folksy touch topping off a week of TV-friendly spectacle and feel-good symbolism at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

The closest thing to real drama on the official program was Colin Powell's Monday night keynote address that chastised fellow Republicans for begrudging "a few thousand black kids" affirmative action that helps them "get an education," and warning that the new GOP inclusiveness vis-à-vis minorities must be sustained and real, "not just during an election year campaign."

Otherwise, on the political front, the convention was utterly forgettable.

Self-styled crusader John McCain event forgot to say "campaign finance reform."

But on the periphery, it had its moments.

The closest thing to controversy at the First Union Center was the rebellion of the Parents Television Council against a Wednesday night appearance by World Wrestling Federation personality "The Rock," whose act they say is violent and profane.

(Curiously, no one in the family values party objected to a speaking role (!) for Bo Derek, a former soft-core porn actress and Playboy cover model who was billed as a "film icon" by the official convention program.)

Earlier in the week, an off-campus brawl erupted between a couple of heavyweights, when Bill Clinton, the Rowdy Roddy Piper of politics, taunted the Bush camp into an off-message sparring match by derisively characterizing the rationale for Bush’s candidacy as "my daddy was president, I own a baseball team…"

Bush's "daddy"—President George H.W. Bush—bristled well-I-oughta.

"If he continues that," the former president threatened, "then I'm going to tell the nation what I think about him as a human being and a person."

Katy, bar the door!

The weekend before the convention began, there was almost a real, substantive disagreement over policy: pro-abortion rights Republicans, led by a defiant Ann Stone of Republicans for Choice, tried several procedural means to change the platform language that calls for an end to all abortions.

But Michigan governor and Bush lieutenant Tommy Thompson, the man charged with keeping the lid on the platform process, demonstrated a bit of "message discipline."

Like an old-style machine politician, he turned the screws and twisted the arms 'til errant, free-thinking Republicans fell into line.

Also making a fuss—but this one miles off Republican radar—were the thousands of people who demonstrated on behalf of causes from health care to organic food, for six days beginning Saturday.

The largest single demonstration was on Sunday when 5,000 people marched in a peaceful, legal demostration, but the high-water mark for civil disorder came Tuesday, when police arrested 300 people who were protesting

Also downtown, far from the port-a-johns and earnest, T-shirted volunteers of the First Union Center, were the corporate parties that kept delegates, elected officials and the most resourceful interns and College Republican-types dancing, drinking, noshing and networking 'til the wee hours.

The GOP Convention
  • Convention Highlights
    Bush Makes His Pitch
  • Eric Engberg
    Bush Makes The Varsity
  • Daggers Out
    George Sr. And Bill
  • ¡No Mas!
    Gore To Clinton
  • Hope & Dope
    Philly's Poorest Hood
  • Media Bash
    Shadow Conventions
  • Standing By Their 'Man'
    Survey Of GOP Delegates
  • Fat Cats
    Buffet Politics
  • Heavy Bail
    Activist Needs $1 Million
  • George W. Bush
    Speech Transcript
  • Dick Cheney
    Speech Transcript
  • Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts, a member of the House Republican leadership and the African-American component of the black-Hispanic-woman troika that co-chaired the convention, declared himself "guilty as charged" of partying with corporations that give money to local community charities.

    "Put me in ethics jail," he quipped.

    He made the quip, of course, days before it was revealed that bail for some of the other guests of Philly jails—namely two of the protesters—was set as high as $1 million.

    Watts was guest of honor at a few of the week's bigger soirees, where the Temptations and Teddy Pendergrass played, and corporations that give hundreds of thousands of dollars to the GOP paid the tab.

    Some of the receptions were open to all comers. Others, like House Whip Tom Delay’s party with rockers Blues Traveler, were hot tickets. One George magazine party for actor Michael J. Fox was so exclusive that the adorable Bush twins Jenna and Barbara were turned away at the door!

    Speaking of rock 'n' roll, the convention program provided a glimpse of George W's tase. Bush may have quoted John F. Kennedy's favorite poet in his nomination speech, but we don't need to worry about Letitia Baldridge moving back into the White House in January.

    Over four nights, the convention hall entertainment had an unmistakably Texas twang: the music was heavy on country and western, with Brooks and Dunn, Lorrie Morgan and bluesman Jimmy Vaughn warming up the delegates for the politicians who got top billing.

    In a nod to the important Mexican-American population of Texas, with whom Bush likes to communicate in schoolboy Spanish, there were Latino entertainers like Cubano Jon Secada and one Vicente Fernandez, a guy in a truly gigantic sombrero and traditional Mexican troubadour costume, who yodeled a Mexican folk song in Spanish.

    Bush, who spoke unselfconsciously about his religious faith during his Thursday night acceptance speech, disposed of his Bob Jones Catholic problem for good by having priests lead the nightly prayers two out of four evenings (in the calculus of interest group politics, a no-hitter for the Church of Rome.)

    Monday night began with a rabbi and ended with an evangelical. And Wednesday night was blessed by Archbishop Demetrios, who was in Philadelphia representing the estimable Greek Orthodox voting bloc.

    Perhaps understandably, there were no Buddhists on the stage.