- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2000

That grumbling you hear is from the reporters, correspondents, editors, pundits and other pontificators and maybe some of the delegates packing their bags for Philadelphia and Los Angeles. The political conventions, drained of all drama and suspense, just aren't as much fun as they used to be.

But is that true? It may depend on how old you are.

Republicans in Philadelphia, for example, are big on celebrities who can charitably be called golden oldies. A celebration honoring Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma features "The Temptations." Here's a few clues for Generation Xers: Think Motown, the first four-headed microphone and the tune "My Girl."

Bobby Feller "Rapid Robert" of the Cleveland Indians of the World War II era (and just after) will be in one of the party boxes at Veterans Stadium for a Phillies-Dodgers game. (I'm taking my baseball with the Lou Boudreau autograph to get another signature on it.)

The Old Geezer Chutzpah of the Season Award goes to the Democrats, and to Rep. Loretta Sanchez, who defeated Bob Dornan in 1996 (the aroma of the result can still be detected in her Southern California district after a hard rain). She will host a fund-raiser on behalf of Latino voter registration at Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion. The veep, who, it says here, is big on feminism and the family, insists he won't go near it.

Some Hispanics aren't so happy about it, either. Corporate sponsors include distributors of beer, wine and liquor and the operator of a gambling casino. Says one critic of Ms. Sanchez, vice chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee: "Sanchez's message seems to be that the way to energize Latino voters is with booze [and] slots."

The Republicans, who are hustling to get a bigger piece of the Hispanic vote, have enlisted Hispanic youth choirs and Hispanic veterans to decorate their convention hall. "Could the differences be any more stark?" asks Leslie Sanchez, deputy press secretary for the Republican National Committee and, she wants everyone to know, no relation to Rep. Sanchez.

None of the Democratic feminists, of whom there are many, are hopping to get into the Playboy party. Gloria Allred, outspoken feminist lawyer, demands to know how the Democrats could put themselves in a position which exploits the abundance of female flesh.

"It's not just exploitative it borders on the pornographic," she says. Pornography, the Supremes (the court, not the singers) have said, is in the eye of the beholder. And there, in the Democratic eye, will be the aging Hef, wrinkled and 74, in his red silk pajamas with his four new sweeties, Mandy and Sandy, who are identical twins, and Brande and Jessica, who are not. None of them are wrinkled and none of them are 74.

Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, wants all the dough he can find in his quest to win back the House, but agrees that Hef's party strikes a bad public image for Al's party. None of this has stopped Al and Mr. Kennedy's committee from taking thousands of dollars in contributions from the Hefners.

But maybe that image is more appropriate than he likes to think. It wasn't the Democrats, after all, who first grew concerned over "family values." Hef told his first editors at Playboy back in the buttoned-down 1950s that he didn't want them marrying anyone and getting a lot of foolish notions in their heads about "togetherness, home, family, and all that jazz." Forty years on, Hef was an aggressive defender of the president during that scandal over sex, lies, Monica and all that jazz.

The real message of Playboy, as Barbara Ehrenreich has noted in her book, "The Hearts of Men," is not eroticism but "escape, literal escape, from the bondage of breadwinning." Playboy fed on male fantasies of selfish indulgence, and when the male fantasy that permeated the culture insisted that manhood no longer required responsibility to a family, families across the spectrum of the economy suffered. The welfare state gradually assumed the role the father once enjoyed. At last we're trying to repair the damage, but we're still a long way from home.

There's something sad, even pathetic, about convention party-goers paying $5,000 to get into a party thrown by a tired old man hooked on Viagra, surrounded by the residue of five decades in the skin trade. Maybe Bobby Feller has enough left on his fast ball, the one he blazed past all those White Sox, Yankees and Tigers in his no-hitters, to tempt me.

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