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Jewish World Review August 31, 2000/30 Menachem-Av, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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Rising suns of the conventions -- CARMEL, Calif. | Political conventions and campaigns are microcosms of the manners and morals of the larger society. In a country as large and diverse as ours, they offer snapshots of what the American people will and won't accept.

The speakers push the envelope of their different constituencies with appeals to ideals and aspirations at the same time they expose the vulnerable underbelly of the nation's flaws and failures. The candidates offer glimpses of the sociological and psychological changes in the political landscape.

Or so a columnist, attempting to unwind and debrief herself after the bread and circuses of the August political season, thinks. The gorgeous California coast line from Los Angeles north to San Francisco, with its black rocks, white sand and turquoise sea, provides the perfect backdrop for such rumination.

Philadelphia, the city in which the Founding Fathers wrote the constitution, the symbolic city of brotherly love, is not nearly as far from Washington in habit and urbanity as Los Angeles. Philadelphia was the cradle that Walt Whitman saw as "endlessly rocking.''

California, was the last stop, the end of the line for the pioneers who crossed this expansive country. The City of Angels lies at the water's edge, the point of no return, the make it or break it for those who get this far. It was a fitting symbolic spot for Al Gore and his band of Democrats who entered Los Angeles behind in the polls and emerged "within the margin of error.''

George W. Bush and his wife Laura presented themselves in a traditional context of marriage and family. She's the bright understated schoolmarm whose impact on her husband's life is to provide the intelligent love that made him want to curb his flamboyant ways.

Al Gore, who never needing curbing, had to show his flamboyance, placing that much remarked-upon passionate kiss on his wife Tipper, to call attention to his image of manhood. It was pure Hollywood.

George W. appealed to diversity from a white male base in the Republican Party. He showed how the Grand Old Party had grown in appeals to inclusiveness. The starring supporting roles were played by Condoleeza Rice, the black woman who would be his national security adviser and Colin Powell who would be his secretary of defense.

Al Gore had to capitulate to Maxine Waters, the radical black California congresswoman who doesn't like his running mate's views against affirmative action and Jesse Jackson, who doesn't like a lot of things about the moderate New Democrats. The party that dominates the black vote must follow the black leadership rather than lead it.

In these dramatic convention-fests blacks rather than black issues took center stage and show how far theatricals can camouflage the black reality. One of the most disturbing facts to emerge post-convention week is the widening disparity of reading abilities between black and white students. The average black 17-year-old reads at the reading level of the average white 13-year-old, according to national test scores described in a federal report. Even more shocking, the gap is the widest among those children whose parents are the best educated. Is this what George W. means by the "soft prejudice of low expectations?'' Black IQ has not gone down, but the quality of black education has.

By all accounts, the most crucial issue in America is that of education. One of the most promising approaches for getting at the failure of public schools is the use of vouchers, enabling parents whose children are stuck in bad public schools to take a voucher to a better school where they can pay (with some of their tax money) for an education more like the education available in the private schools Al Gore and Bill Clinton chose for their children. In one major new study black students in three cities with voucher programs scored considerably higher on standardized tests in math and reading when compared with their counterparts in public school. Joe Lieberman understood the value of vouchers, and said so, before he became Al Gore's running mate and hostage to the teachers unions.

George Washington, in Philadelphia, sat in a chair before a painting of the sun. The delegates debated whether the sun was rising or setting. After the constitution was signed Benjamin Franklin declared that it was definitely a rising sun.

Driving up the California coast, a visitor observes a remarkable light, provided by a golden rose-bright setting sun. Art and nature, east and west, connect the country with rising and setting suns, metaphors of possibility and closure. Soon we'll decide again whether the sun is rising, or setting, from sea to shining sea.


08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate