Sunday, July 16, 2000

House GOP leaders too scary-looking for convention

        Here's a little game you can play if you and the kids are watching the Republican National Convention from Philadelphia on cable television a couple of weeks from now.

        Hold a contest to see who is the first one to spot a member of the Republican congressional leadership on the podium when the TV cameras are rolling.

        Be patient. It may take a while.

        George W. Bush is a Republican, a governor and his party's likely nominee for president. He is running for president with a Republican majority in both houses of Congress — majorities that, presumably, he would like to preserve.

        You might think that he would want to campaign with them, commune with them, break bread and be seen by the masses with them.

        But he hasn't. And he won't.

        George W. Bush wants to be seen campaigning with the likes of House Majority Leader Dick Armey and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay about as much as a 14-year-old boy wants his mother to be a chaperon at the school dance.

        Congressional leaders aren't really the cool thing these days.

        It's not hard to understand why. For the most part, they have managed to put a gruff, grumpy, nay-saying image on what could have been a rather positive political philosophy — that government ought to stay out of the people's way as much as possible.

        Bill Clinton whipped these guys at almost every turn, beat them like a tied-down goat, over and over again.

        Think back to the Clinton State of the Union address in January, his last as president. The speech may have been full of promises a lame-duck president can't possibly fulfill, but he delivered it in classic Clinton style — all sincerity, soaring rhetoric, flawless timing, exquisite body language.

        And, every once in a while, the camera would pan the audience and catch the Republicans with their arms folded across their chest — jowly old Dick Armey and pinch-faced Tom DeLay, looking like they'd just smelled something really bad.

        Well, you won't see those two in Philly.

        And it won't be like four years ago when the Republicans were in San Diego and poor old Bob Dole had to kow-tow and turn the podium over to House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

        You remember Mr. Gingrich. If not, go to your neighborhood bookstore. You'll find his books in the bargain bin, with holes punched through the cover. They sell for about $5 a ton right now.

        Newt is long gone but there will be some GOP members of Congress on the podium in Philadelphia.

        We would be willing to wager that, at some point in the proceedings you will see the likes of Jennifer Dunn of Washington state and/or Anne Northup of Louisville, two congresswomen whose presence might help Mr. Bush's standing among women voters.

        You will certainly see J.C. Watts, the Oklahoma congressman who chairs the House Republican Conference and is the only African-American Republican among the 535 members of Congress.

        You may even see Cincinnati's own 2nd District congressman, Rob Portman, an amiable, articulate fellow who can talk about pension reform, the budget, Social Security — you name it.

        And, unlike some leading Republican congressmen we could mention, you can put him on television without frightening the children.

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


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