- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2000

The reason Republicans were so pliantly willing to deep-six their differences and deep-freeze the red-meat specials that political conventions normally serve up (Richard B. Cheney's speech excepted) was not just to further the goal of political victory in November. Something else had to account for the relentlessly happy faces, the rhetoric all but devoid of actual political content (Colin Powell's lecture excepted), and the strange reluctance to breathe the names of Democrats now seeking high office or legacy for fear of alienating the Great Center, whose more sensitive souls, pooh-bahs say, will decide the election. Behind this astonishing show of flaccid, if universal purpose in Philadelphia, must lie something greater than party politics the unique prospect of moral, not just political, victory in November.

For that, of course, is what the defeat of Al Gore and the Clinton legacy would mean. Mere political difference has never been the moving force behind the current administration's staunchest opponents, those who are often discounted as "Clinton-haters." It is instead the colossal moral dimension of the Clinton-Gore administration's offenses, the serial affronts to the honor of the presidency and the vice presidency that inspires the depth of feeling against it. And it is that moral dimension, carried to the looming political contest, that sustains and energizes the party faithful at least as much as its enthusiasm for the governor of Texas. That is a fact. It is probably also the reason that the GOP leadership, under Mr. Bush, felt free to de-politicize its political convention and "move to the center," as they say, without looking back.

But that doesn't mean that Mr. Bush and the GOP haven't overlooked something. If it is the moral dimension of this battle that uniquely animates it, then one must question the political expedience of the Republican National Convention's decision to ignore the men who served selflessly and courageously on this battle's front lines from the fall of 1998 to the spring of 1999. These men are the 13 Republican House managers who brought the case against President Clinton to the floor of the Senate: Reps. Henry Hyde of Illinois, Bob Barr of Georgia, Ed Bryant of Tennessee, Steve Buyer of Indiana, Charles Canady of Florida, Chris Cannon of Utah, Steve Chabot of Ohio, George Gekas of Pennsylvania, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, Bill McCollum of Florida, Jim Rogan of California and F. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin. It is their labors to uphold and be guided by the nation's founding principles that crystallized the constitutional case against President Clinton, which even now plays out as the most potent theme in the race between Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore.

The calculated strategy put in place by the political operatives of the GOP not only suppressed all eruptions of natural party fractiousness, but also ensured that there would be no references to past events that could be refracted through the myriad lenses of the media as, gasp, scandal-mongering, or, to use the media's favorite phrase, "partisan attacks." That put the kibosh on even mentioning many of the milestones of the Clinton-Gore years, from suspect White House fund-raising to the president's own impeachment. Describing the resulting "oratorical delicacy," William Safire noted that it was left mainly to the women who spoke at the convention to make the oblique reference. They would speak "of 'restoring respect' or promise Bush will 'tell the truth,' " Mr. Safire wrote, "allowing alert viewers to impute dishonor or untruthfulness to the White House incumbent, whatsisname." In short, it was all rather coy.

When Dick Cheney on Wednesday night drew cheers each time he rephrased the prospect of restoring "decency and integrity to the Oval Office," he was tapping into the moral wellspring that, convention reticence aside, underlies this year's highly unusual presidential contest. How odd, then, that none of the House managers who made the original case for restoring decency and integrity to the Oval Office were barely acknowledged during the Republicans' four-day gathering. (Particularly in the case of Jim Rogan, targeted by Democrats for his impeachment role in a difficult re-election campaign, and Bill McCollum, now running a close race for U.S. Senate, it is fair to say they could use a little party acknowledgment.)

The very unmentionableness of these men who so commendably served their party and their country during the American impeachment nightmare is more than merely odd. It is also troubling. After all, for a party to stand on principle and hope to win on principle, it must embrace and uphold the heroes of principle among it.

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