Sunday, August 06, 2000

Parties hope message sticks




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        There might have been real news out of the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia this week if George W. Bush had not gotten a bump in the polls as he pulled out of town on his train trip through Middle America.

        In fact, there is almost no way a presidential nominee can not look like a winner in this day and age, when political conventions look more like a Jerry Lewis telethon with better production values than the conglomeration of sweaty, cigar-smoking fat men in shiny suits they used to be.

        The last time Philadelphia was the host city, it was 1948 and political parties had a habit of going into their quadrennial festivals not quite knowing who would come out on top.

        In those days, few states held primaries that actually elected delegates; the fat men chose the delegates and, thus, the nominee, after a bit of good old-fashioned horse-trading.

        The political parties' conventions have a different purpose these days. If you attend as one of the 15,000 people with media credentials, living on a diet of cheese danish wrapped in plastic and microwaved hot dogs, furiously racing from hotel to convention in search of the elusive real news, you might imagine that the new purpose of political conventions is to aggravate you personally.

        But now it's a place where, for four days, the nominee and his political party get to put out a largely unfiltered message; where they can set the tone for the campaign to come and try, with all manner of slick, carefully scripted gimmicks, to tell the voters who the nominee is and (vaguely) what he stands for.

        Now, the major broadcast TV networks no longer give gavel-to-gavel coverage. The people who are interested — people who vote — will watch more of it on the cable news networks, which were made for political junkies, but even they will see only a portion of the proceedings.

        But the hope of the Bush campaign last week in Philadelphia was that enough of the message would filter through that it would make a positive impression; and, doubtless, it did.

        Thus, they tried to make their case that the Republican Party was no longer just a party of white men in suits but one that welcomed blacks, Latinos, women, and all others who abandoned them long ago for the Democrats.

        They had a convention where one “non-traditional” Republican after another marched to the podium at the First Union Center and said his or her piece — after having the remarks carefully vetted by the Bush campaign, of course.

        They never expected that every American would be watching every minute of every day.

        Here's an experiment in American politics you can try at home that will show you what the Bush campaign was thinking:

        Cook up a great big pot of spaghetti. Take that pot off the stove and heave the pasta at the wall.

        Most of that spaghetti is going to slide down the wall and end up on the kitchen floor. But a few strands will stay plastered in place. And that is all the Bush campaign hoped and prayed would happen this past week in their love-fest — for a few of those spaghetti noodles to stick.

        Howard Wilkinson covers politics. He can be reached at 768-8388 or via e-mail at hwilkinson@enquirer.com.

        Howard Wilkinson covers politics for the Enquirer.

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