- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2000

PHILADELPHIA. Bobby Feller's fastball still has a little stuff on it, and a good thing, too.

The Hall of Fame no-hit artist, who threw fire at Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams for the Cleveland Indians two dozen national conventions ago, boasts that at 82 he can "still get it across the plate without a bounce."

He threw out the first pitch for a Phillies-Dodgers game yesterday at Veterans Stadium before retiring to an American Conservative Union party in a suite of luxury boxes upstairs, to sign baseballs with Cecil Fielding, late of the Detroit Tigers, Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma and the Righteous Brothers of Arkansas Tim, the senator, and Asa, the star of the House impeachment team. Rapid Robert's pen-and-ink crew was the most exciting game in town.

Arianna Huffington, the sometime columnist and full-time doyenne of dabble-and-gabble chic who opened her "alternative convention" across town, campaigning as the Sparkle Plenty of the new millennium, and several hundred motley demonstrators for earth, wind, vegetables, loud music, goodness, mercy and muskrat love provided little of the promised dissonant counterpoint. Hardly anybody knew they were here.

Politics, in fact, has taken leave of the Republican National Convention, which is missing all of the usual tense anticipation of contentiousness and conflict. If George W. and his men are determined to put the party to sleep as a means of soothing the presidential campaign of the new century, they are well on their way to success.

John McCain, who promises to be to the double-oughts what John Anderson was to the 80s, may be wondering what he has wrought. He was the star of Mrs. Huffington's Sunday-afternoon salon and when he offered a fairly mild endorsement of his party's prospective nominee he was hissed, booed and all but hooted down.

"I am not obliged by party loyalty but by sincere conviction to urge all Americans to support my party's nominee," he said. "I believe sincerely that he's the candidate for change and that the vice president is the candidate of the status quo."

Hardly the stuff to send wool hats flying into the treetops, but the boos and catcalls were long and loud.

"If you like," he said, with the disdain that comes with senatorhood, "I do not need to continue."

He even got a little help from Mrs. Huffington. "This is a convention where everyone is treated with respect," she said.

This only provoked more rude merriment, but finally the senator managed to continue. The senator's own folks one New Yorker among his 160 delegates in Philadelphia insisted that he had not come all the way from Gotham, all of 128 grueling miles down Interstate 95, just to vote for the governor of Texas were close to getting on the fightin' side of the warrior senator. They reminded him, the senator said, of the diehard sons of Nippon who refused to quit after everybody else went home after World War II, slipping off to live on bugs and berries in the jungles of the South Pacific.

However it may have irritated John McCain, this was thin stuff as convention counterpoint goes, and W.'s men might be grateful for Mrs. Huffington and the scruffy demonstrators for lending the convention a little verisimilitude. And if George W. is not, the Philadelphia cops would be lonesome without them. Indeed, Philadelphia probably never knew it had so many cops. They're on every street corner, looking for something to do. Some of them, to the consternation of the Secret Service, have disguised themselves as Secret Service look-alikes, down to the robotic expressions, off-the-rack suits from K-Mart and even tiny little badges at their collars.

The real stuff begins today, with a speech on tax policy by a single mother from Arkansas, a man who holds the seat Thomas Jefferson once sat in in the Virginia assembly, and a California assemblyman who will deliver his entire speech, all three minutes of it, in Spanish.

So this is definitely not your father's convention, and certainly not George W.'s father's convention. The roll call of states will be spread over two days at least, Dick Cheney will make his acceptance speech before he is even nominated. George W. is said to have balked at the idea of making his speech over two days.

Bill Clinton stole the Republican agenda, so perhaps it's only fair that now the Republicans steal his strategy from '92. It's hard to argue with success, and certainly with an electorate drugged on sleep. Or as sluggers from an earlier era might have said of Bobby Feller's fastball: "You can't hit what you can't see." Someone mentioned Hank Greenberg. "Well," the old fastballer said, "Hank was my friend, but he couldn't hit me with an ironing board."

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