- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2000

The political parties can't figure out what to do about their national conventions this year, and it's their own fault.

With both nominations wrapped up already and both presumptive nominees poised to name their prospects for veephood before the first gavel falls, you can't blame the television networks for bailing out. Everybody else has.

Something called the Vanishing Voter Project at Harvard announced the other day that 43 percent of all voters plan not to watch any of the Republican convention, double the number who said they wouldn't watch four years ago.

Naturally there's a wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth over how to get these people to rejoin the voting public. But why should we dragoon anyone so uninterested in public affairs into watching a television show with no nudes, no blood and very little thunder? There's always the risk they might vote in November.

George W. is expected to name his man (it won't be Jennifer Dunn or Liddy Dole) on the eve of the Philadelphia ritual, and Al Gore is expected to name his man (Dianne Feinstein is out, too) during the Republican convention.

This is meant to "take the edge off Philadelphia." Just what that "edge" would be isn't clear.

So desperate are George W.'s handlers that they're toying with the idea of spreading the ritual, since there is so little substance, over the first three days of the convention. Even the roll call of states, the climax of all conventions, would be spread over three nights. This would inevitably lead to speculation that the Republicans are doing it because they can't count all the way to 50 on one night, and by spreading it out they can get a little remedial help in arithmetic.

The abominable primary system, which has given us the likes of Jimmy Carter, Mr. McGoo, the little Duke, Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, has robbed the conventions, which gave us Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR and Harry Truman, of all significance. Both parties now try as hard as they can to rob the conventions of any excitement, seeking to recast them in the mold of a corporate stockholders' meeting where all the news is good and nothing disturbs the peace.

Nevertheless, both George W. and Al want the traditional "convention bounce" in the public-opinion polls, without going through the pain of a real convention. They want to eat their cake without baking it (just like the rest of us).

A little honest disclosure here: the newspapers and television networks want a rowdy convention, with lots of angry fights punctuated by the throwing of chairs, even a few bloody noses and in the best scenario a walkout by delegates shaking their fists at the podium. It's a lot more fun to cover a train wreck than a revival meeting. But just when television, which is merely an entertainment medium after all, deserts the conventions and turns them back to newspapers, which entertain whilst informing, the prospect of either news or entertainment is gone with the wind.

George W., who got in trouble listening to his handlers during the early primary season and almost paid with his life, or at least the half a life of presidential politics, seems to be listening to the wrong ones again. Some of them are telling him to sit on his shrinking lead in the polls, to take the safe running mate he may not really want merely to avoid damaging his prospects. This is why Frank Keating, who was left for dead by the Great Mentioner only a fortnight ago, is suddenly back in the running to make what might be called the Cow Pie Ticket. Q: How do you get to Texas? A: Walk west until you smell the cow pies. That's Oklahoma. Turn south until you step in it. That's Texas. (This is cheap and vulgar, but Arkansas has had to take stuff like this for eight years, so why should Texas get a pass?)

The irony for George W. is that he has the opportunity to take whomever he wants. He really doesn't have to impose a litmus test. Sweet reason has settled over the party, at least for now. He could probably get by with choosing Christine Whitman. All but the hottest of the red-hots are so determined to take back the White House from the Children's Hour that they'll take what they can get to avoid not getting anything.

Beyond the appearance of pandering, George W. would assume personal risks in taking the Oklahoma governor as his running mate. The Secret Service surely has. No disrespect to Mr. Keating, whose record as a governor is a good one, but with a strong right-to-life vice president at his back a new President Bush would have to be concerned that one of the cretinous nuts who so far have restricted their "principled terrorism" to bombing abortion clinics and shooting doctors might try to take out a president to get a president they imagine, however falsely, would be one of them. It's something W. must think about.

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