- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2000

PHILADELPHIA.It's 4 a.m. Tuesday in "the City of Brotherly Love," and having just returned from Arianna Huffington's Shadow Convention party at the White Dog Cafe (where the scruffy and the slightly less scruffy hipped and hopped their way through bad food and worse music), I now am ready to settle into a series of observations from my mental notebook and a few inseriatim rants.Even as I start typing, in the background is a replay of Gen. Colin Powell's speech, which, just like Gen. Douglas MacArthur's speech to Congress a half-century ago, left barely a dry seat in the house. The moistest moment came when, after a stirring call to help educate the children of America, the general concluded with a call for vouchers for children currently not receiving an adequate education.There is little more reassuring to us conservatives than hearing our fondest policies endorsed by a card-carrying moderate. And when that moderate is also a bemedaled four-star general well, that's what makes the moment moist. What Vice President Al Gore and his band of Democratic naysayers were feeling at the time, I can only guess but I'm sure it was beyond moistness.

Among Republican conventioneers, there is a bubbling optimism about the November election. "W" is ahead in the polls by up to two dozen points. As word of the Zogby poll putting the dreaded Hillary Rodham Clinton down 50 percent to 42 percent to Rep. Rick Lazio circulated this morning, we all shared a communal moment surpassed only by the apotheosis of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem "Beowulf," when the monster was slain.

From across the country, the Republican delegates have come here to nominate themselves a president. They are supremely uninterested in fighting among themselves over anything. Reporters lope around the facility trying to encourage a fight but the delegates are remorselessly cheerful. If a reporter were to claim that Mr. Bush had endorsed ritualistic cannibalism on the Sabbath, every delegate instinctively would assure the reporter that Mr. Bush must have his reasons, and isn't Laura lovely.

Even the hard-boiled Republican political operatives, who in the past carried the shrunken skulls of enemies on their belts, have developed the beatific countenance of a country vicar and are expressing their heartfelt concern for not leaving a single child behind.

This is a well-managed convention. If any news breaks, there will be hell to pay. The Republican Party and its supporters are spending $100 million to ensure four days of non-news. And all the news outlets this side of Outer Mongolia are spending an equivalent amount to cover it. (The same numbers will apply to the Democratic National Convention in two weeks.) The preferred metaphor among the elite reporters is that coverage of the convention is an exercise in anthropology, not journalism.

The worst moment of the convention, for me, occurred when one of the young, innocent (apparently non-TV-watching) stafferettes saw me walking out the press pavilion and asked me whether I was Rep. Jerry Nadler, the vastly corpulent Democratic congressman from New York, who was there spinning for his party. I told her, "No, he is even fatter." I humor myself by assuming that he had been inadequately described to the child (he is at least a size 68, while I am a trim 46). Nonetheless, I immediately went on a lettuce-and-vodka diet.

Earlier in the evening, my wife and I dined at a restaurant that lived up to its reputation as the best French restaurant west of New York and east of Pittsburgh. However, my new diet was not seriously disjuncted.

Beneath the surface optimism of the delegates, the professional Washington politicians are asking one another whether Richard B. Cheney is in trouble. Of the 40 percent of the public familiar with him, he is "aces" (60 percent approval -15 percent disapproval). But the professionals are worried that the 60 percent of the public that doesn't remember, or never knew, him may be affected adversely by the barrage of Democratic attacks on his congressional votes from two decades ago.

I think those fears are, largely, misplaced. While Mr. Gore and the Democrats inevitably will make some points on Mr. Cheney, they would find or make up something rude to say about anyone Mr. Bush selected. More importantly, the very vitriol of the Gore attack only emphasizes his nasty partisan habits. At a time when the public (and particularly the vital independents and soft, moderate Democrats) are disgusted by mindless partisanship, the stench of Mr. Gore's instinctive lurch toward the repulsive will linger long after Mr. Cheney's votes are forgotten.

The delegates here are entitled to their optimism. Mr. Bush has taken an important step closer to victory.

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