- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2000

PHILADELPHIA Honk if you like carrots and bean sprouts. The Republican National Convention is Cynicism with a Purpose. Together.

Colin Powell enlivened the first night, with a ringing defense of those who like racial quotas and an eloquent disdain for those who don't, and his remarks were so gratuitous and so out of sync with the love bombing that is laying waste to the familiar landscape that you have to conclude that the attack was designed by George W.'s men.

The general who plotted the Gulf war, and who before that was blooded as an infantry commander in Vietnam, knows that whatever you do, you don't sacrifice your flanks, not unless you want to come home in a body bag. The Washington pol that he has become knows that the conservatives are the troops the party will count on out there on the lonely flanks when the serious cannonading begins after Labor Day.

The general was not even subtle: "We must understand the cynicism that exists in the black community, the kind of cynicism that is created when, for example, some in our party miss no opportunity to roundly and loudly condemn affirmative action that helped a few thousand black kids get an education, but you hardly hear a whimper when it's affirmative action for lobbyists who load our federal tax code with preferences for special interests."

This was inevitably the most memorable line in a memorable speech no doubt the $50,000 speech the general has been giving since he retired from the Army seven years ago and a lot of delegates didn't like it. The television cameras nevertheless caught them applauding, usually with the enthusiasm that the lobbyists in the hall displayed with their applause. In part this was because nearly all of the 2,066 delegates, 92 percent of whom are white, genuinely admire Colin Powell, but also in part because the delegates are united in a desire to throw the Children's Hour out of the White House. "If George W. wants us to endorse necrophilia as the only way to beat Al Gore," a Georgia delegate confided in an elevator on his way to his room afterward, "I'd just ask him, 'which graveyard am I assigned to?' His elevator mates chuckled, nodding in agreement. (One nice elderly lady frowned.)

The general was nevertheless asked yesterday morning why he had done it, and he replied, a little lamely, that well, George W. had invoked the mantle of Abraham Lincoln, so why not? This, like his comparison of conservatives who don't like racial quotas to lobbyists who lust for tax breaks, was a non sequitur, too. If he chides whites for not understanding the "cynicism that exists in the black community," he might also chide those, black and white, who venerate Lincoln, a self-confessed white supremacist who said he was aghast at the idea that blacks should ever get the vote, and who disdain the memory of Lee and Jackson, who never said anything of the sort.

But not this year, not at this convention, where never a discouraging word will be heard. So determined are the planners, in fact, that the Philadelphia convention has been turned into the kind of Oprah-like convention that Republicans have ridiculed Democrats for in years past. Opening night featured the pledge of allegiance led by a blind mountain climber and though columnist Dave Barry is here he did not make this up if the practice sessions go well enough one of Thursday night's speakers will be a young woman who suffers from Down syndrome and who can barely speak. Another speaker is advertised as "a 92-year-old Jewish businessman," and it is not clear whether he is aimed at the elderly vote or the Jewish vote. Mary Matalin, who was President George Bush's press spokesman for the '92 campaign, threw a luncheon for the gay and lesbian Republicans here and one of W.'s gay Texans told a heartwarming story of how, when he told the governor that he was gay, warm and embracing W. was (though carefully, one hopes). Dick Cheney, for convention exploitation purposes, came as a two-fer, and W.'s strategists can't wait for the television displays of his lesbian daughter during his acceptance speech.

Sen. Arlen Specter insists the party is rebuilding itself on the model of Philadelphia itself. "Hard work, tolerance and inclusiveness are the best way to run a city and a country," he says. Agrees Bob Livingston, now a happy lobbyist after he almost succeeded Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House: "This is a kinder, gentler Republican Party." Yes, yes, says Rep. Peter King of New York. "The era of aggressive, negative speeches is over. They were frightening to voters and, at the end of the day, unhelpful." All are willing to honk for for whatever it takes.

Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas put it in plain talk. "We had red-meat conventions in the past and they frightened some people off. This time we're all vegetarians."

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