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Jewish World Review August 9, 2000 /8 Menachem-Av, 5760

Paul Greenberg

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The back of the book:
Notes on a convention

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- ONE NATIONAL CONVENTION has ended, and another is in the offing. In this calm between two storms, it's time to throw away the used-up spiral notebooks filled with scrawls that seemed important at the time, but that never made the daily dispatches. For example:

The stupidest comment I heard in Philadelphia, and there was considerable competition for that dubious honor, came not from the convention floor, but from a young lady on a television screen I passed. This talking (but clearly not thinking) head was saying that all the promises about education being made by these Republicans were just a show. After all, she said, most of the delegates here were white, middle-aged conservatives who couldn't care less about the education of black and brown children.

This may have been the only racial stereotype I overheard during the entire convention. And it was a twofer, since it was also ageist.

I wondered if the lady had actually talked to any of the delegates, or taken the buses with them, or fought through their sardine-packed ranks on the convention floor, or rubbed shoulders and ideas with any of them. Among the folks I met here were schoolteachers, professors, Sunday school superintendents and lots of parents.

The one thing that seemed to light these delegates' ire at this feel-good convention was what is being done to black and brown children sentenced to failing schools. These folks weren't happy about white kids who can't read on grade level, either. But on this subject they were completely colorblind. Which is more than one can say about the smartly dressed lady on television. (Her clothes may have been the only smart thing about her.)

I wondered where this superior, omniscient, see-into-the-uncaring-hearts-of-white-folks commentator had been when Laura Bush, a school librarian by trade, got up in front of all these Republicans and repeated her husband's goal: to have the kids in our schools reading at grade level by the third grade. The hall went wild.

I'd never heard such a sustained outbreak of applause, cheers and whistles for a simple, declarative sentence you might ordinarily find in a nondescript pamphlet from a state department of education. For all the reaction she sparked, Miss Laura might have been Ike telling a Republican convention: "I will go to Korea!''

You just don't fake the kind of instantaneous, roaring reaction that Laura Bush's single sentence drew that night; it had to have been brewing for some time in the hearts of those people -- yes, those cold, old, white Republican hearts.

I'm at least middle-aged and conservative, if not reactionary (what with there being so many things to react against), but nothing makes me angrier than the crime and sin being committed daily against these kids. But the blank-faced moderator of the talk show didn't even raise an eyebrow at the young lady's racial slur.

Stereotyping white folks, or at least white folks with some wear on 'em, is perfectly acceptable in our oh-so-serious public discourse. In a way that stereotyping almost anybody else would get you shunned by decent folk.

It helps the stereotype go down if you're a nice-looking young commentator with a full supply of the conventional, acceptable prejudices of America 2000. But even someone so young should know better.

Conclusion, or rather diagnosis: In America, senility sets in remarkably early. Sometimes it even takes the form of juvenilia. Maybe it's our educational system.

Second place in the stupid category goes to that standard contender, the New York Times, which ran a front-page expose on the opening day of the GOP's national convention revealing that most of the delegates at Philadelphia were richer and to the right of your average Republican.

What next? Will the New York Times reveal that most of the delegates to the Democratic national convention next week are richer and to the left of the average Democrat?

The best thing about this convention is what it doesn't have: Pat Buchanan. The least his former party could have done was pass a resolution thanking him for leaving. He's improved the atmosphere considerably by his absence. Whenever he was mentioned, it was with an air of relief. And he wasn't mentioned often. He's so far down in the polls, he's not worth attacking.

As cloying as this four-day, perfectly choreographed performance was, it sure beat the bad feelings Pat Buchanan has made the core of his political appeal. John McCain never looked better than when he urged Pat Buchanan to leave the GOP, and George W. never looked more indecisive than when he didn't.

As it turned out, Buchanan's departure was the best gift he could have given his party, which no longer has to explain him. The other party still has to explain Al Sharpton. Democrats will be making the same serious mistake the GOP did in '92 if they turn their national convention next week into a hatefest.

****

Ran into Ralph Nader, almost literally, as he was leaving the convention hall one evening. Somehow I wasn't surprised he was there; he's the Republicans' not-so-secret weapon, the way Ross Perot was the Democrats' in '92. If Ralph Nader can draw enough votes away from poor Al Gore, he could assure W.'s election.

"I hear you're going to win California for George W. Bush,'' I tell him.

"I will if Gore doesn't start really running,'' he says on his way out, followed by television cameras, booms, interviewers and other impedimenta. It was the contemporary equivalent of that priceless Shakespearean stage instruction: Exit, pursued by a bear.

Republican pollsters at Philadelphia were delighted with their latest samplings, which showed Rich Lazio pulling away from Hillary Clinton in New York, and George W. Bush lengthening his lead over Al Gore across the board.

But of course these were Republican-sponsored polls. Next week in Los Angeles, Democratic pollsters will be crowing over polls that show showing Al Gore getting a huge bounce from his convention, and Hillary Clinton, that lifelong Yankees fan, doing well in New York.

Something there is about polls I just don't like -- apart from the rationalizations the pollsters offer later for any results that prove ridiculous. Polls offend human dignity in some way. Maybe by presuming to predict human behavior. We all want to think of ourselves as unique, not just part of a statistical category like soccer moms, angry white men, the new investing class, Reagan Democrats, the black bourgeoisie, white middle-class Republicans, and so Galluping on.

But there was one much-leaked poll that should give anybody with a sense of fairness a certain satisfaction. A GOP pollster told me that, according to his sampling, the Democrats' great ad blitz against Dick Cheney wasn't having any effect -- except that of a boomerang.

It seems the masterminds at Democratic headquarters decided to spotlight a handful of Cheney's votes that sounded exactly like any you would expect from a Wyoming congressman and backbencher 20 years ago. (His record on abortion, for example, pretty well tracked Al Gore's at the time.) The result of the War Room offensive? According to this poll, Dick Cheney now has a higher favorable rating than either major presidential candidate.

Maybe you can't fool all the people all the time after all. Or at least that's what another of those uncaring middle-aged conservative Republicans used to say. It'd be nice if Mr. Lincoln turned out to be right this year.

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