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Democrats' national conclave : ANONYMUS (THE REPUBLICAN)

It's Your Party, So Why So Glum?

August 17, 2000

Last week, NBC aired four hours of its new political drama, "The West Wing." This is slightly more time than the network devoted to either of the actual political conventions.

Not that I'm complaining. I'm the original political crack head, but if "West Wing" hadn't been a rerun last night, I probably would have left the convention early myself. And nobody in the hall would have had a problem if they'd tuned a couple of those big TV monitors to "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

Not that we Republicans are any better at this. The only fun in Philadelphia was realizing that if George Costanza, Seinfeld's little buddy, ever grew up and got a real job, he'd look and talk exactly like Dick Cheney. That, and explaining to our delegates that Chaka Kahn is a singer, not a Sichuan dish.

It's not the networks' fault. Political conventions are boring, and they're boring on purpose: Better to bore, from the parties' perspective, than to go "off message." In any case, voters are bored. The reporters are bored. Even many of the participants are bored.

And if you doubt that, then you clearly missed Bill Bradley's talk the other night. The only thing that kept me awake until he finished was wondering whether he'd be able to stay awake until he finished.

But the delegates themselves aren't supposed to be bored. They've spent their whole lives stuffing envelopes, walking precincts and picketing my friends' businesses, just so they could attend their party's national political convention. So why does everybody look so glum during the speeches every night?

You really can't blame them for not being more excited. After eight years of Bill Clinton emoting, lip-biting, pain-feeling, loving, touching and squeezing, they've gotten a little bit spoiled. We Republicans went through the same kind of pre-electoral separation depression at the end of Reagan's second term. We liked George Bush (or, as we now refer to him, "Bush Classic"). But he never stole our hearts like the Gipper.

So pity the politician who has to take the reins from Brother Clinton's Traveling Love and Salvation Show. By the time the Clintons left the stage in Michigan on Tuesday afternoon, Al Gore looked like he was ready to pull the trapdoor out from under them. And Tipper looked like she was going to pull a gun and order them back to Chappaqua, N.Y.

*

The delegates are also conflicted. Like their Republican counterparts, these delegates are much more ideologically extreme than either their party or their country. Most of them look like they'd be a lot more comfortable painting signs for a nuclear freeze rally than listening to another candidate for governor telling them about targeted tax breaks and mandatory sentencing. If you listen to the buzz in the hallways, it's clear that most of them think that Gore and Joe Lieberman are only slightly less conservative than Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.

And they're nostalgic. Aside from Clinton's speech, the only thing that got these delegates going were the video tributes to Jimmy Carter and JFK. (An Eleanor Roosevelt slide show might have brought down the house). But no other present-day politician got anywhere near the kind of response that the heroes of old received.

But this is what happens when you've been in charge for awhile. Staples Center has the same kind of vibe this week that the Houston Astrodome had in 1992, when Bush Classic was running for reelection. We'd been going to White House parties for 12 years, and we were tired. We all liked Bush, but most of the delegates weren't all that excited about him. The only thing that seemed to motivate the crowd was trash-talking about the governor of Arkansas.

And now, eight years later, these Democratic delegates only get excited when one of the speakers is taking down the governor of Texas. They don't like George W. Bush (or "New Bush"). And they'd rather have Gore. But they'd really, really rather have Clinton. Or Carter. Or a Kennedy. Any Kennedy.

I knew when I got here last weekend that I wasn't going to fit in. And that's just what's happened. So if you're trying to pick me out of the crowd tonight, I'll be easy to find. I'm the guy who's actually listening to the speeches.

*

"Anonymous" is a Republican political consultant. His identity will be revealed in his final column on Friday.

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