Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

The GOP's Conventional Wisdom

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

The GOP's Conventional Wisdom

Article excerpt

PHILADELPHIA -- The purpose of a political convention used to be to select a presidential candidate. That ended a generation ago, but three other purposes remained:

First was to have the party identify what it stood for, as state leaders and national candidates hammered out internal compromises on the anvil of the party platform.

Next was to draw a sharp contrast with the policies and priorities of the other party. The final purpose of a convention, especially in modern times, has been to enable candidates to introduce themselves to a national audience. In this vital showcase of acceptance, the chosen leader is supposed to unify his party and, with the nation paying attention, smite the political foe and present his own vision.

But this week we endured a non-political political convention. No contesting views means no news; this leads to less coverage and diminishing interest. What is politics without the clash of ideas? What's the use of a great political showcase without a partisan show?

By vitiating the first two purposes of a convention -- no internal dissent allowed, and then no external issues clearly drawn with the opposition -- George W. Bush offers voters in a prosperous time little compelling reason to switch control of the White House. That, in turn, undercuts his ability to showcase both what's in his heart and what's on his mind.

Here is the tactical reason Bush operatives give for repressing internal GOP dissent: If, for example, the anti-abortion plank had been amended to make it palatable to most Republican voters, pro- life absolutists in at least seven states would have triggered a floor fight. That would have negatively dominated news of the convention as well as alienated the "base." (By such hardball did Pat Robertson get his payoff and do the Democrats keep their powerful gender-gap issue.)

But what of the traditional role of the party out of the White House in carrying the battle to the Ins?

Again, the tactical, practical reasoning: Voters are turned off by partisan bickering. Because impeachment was not popular, overt criticism of any Clinton scandal, from lying under oath to illegal Asian fund raising, is taboo. …

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