Harry Shearer

Episode Three
Wednesday, Aug. 14, 1996

They agree with me, but there’s nothing they can do. Every journalist I talk to, like the two affable CNN hosts I began the morning with, agrees that the exorbitant amount of time, money, and energy spent “covering” this “story” is a joke. One producer pointed out that there has to be some news presence here, just to cover the “God forbid” factor. Yet, I said, you don’t need a sky box to be on the bomb watch. But just like the local TV news people who privately tut-tut about how horrible it is to ask a recent accident or crime victim the inevitable, “How do you feel?” these folks shrug as if to say, “There’s nothing we can do.” As a result, my function is to help them fill the achingly empty hours. And their function is to help me get my face on TV one more time.

By the way, I knew I shouldn’t have bragged yesterday about my parking place. All today offered was a space with a two-hour meter, and I took it, calculating that the cops were too busy with security matters to bother writing parking tickets. I was wrong.

Newt Gingrich has got to stop following me around. We had two more close encounters today. After the CNN interview, and another at NPR, a pedicab driver who recognized me offered a ride over to the trendoid district for lunch. We got to the hot corner, Fifth and F (San Diego is famous for its romantic street names), and police were blocking off access. I went into one of the 10 million Italian restaurants in the district, and the hostess told me that Bob Dole was lunching in another, Bella Luna. I asked her why he’d chosen that one. “He probably liked the name,” she sighed. He may just have been betting that lunching at Bella Luna made this a story Tom Brokaw just couldn’t report.

Anyway, I finished lunch just as Dole did, apparently, because as I went back out on the street, there were his prandial partners, Newt and Haley Barbour, striding past me to their waiting cars. Maybe I’m reading too much into these encounters, but Newt looked glad to see me. The two women standing behind me were glad to see Gingrich, too. “Newt, he’s so cute,” one of them gushed, providing a gender-gap-bridging slogan if ever there was one. Her friend replied with yet another critique of the media: “They look so much younger than on TV.”

Newt looked even gladder to see me this evening when he brushed past me on the convention floor on the way to his speech. You know, if I can make just one speaker of the House just a little bit happier, this has all been worthwhile.

Today I started acting like a journalist, which is to say, asking questions of other journalists. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times buttonholed me for a data dump, where I gave her all the witticisms I’ve either already given SLATE or am about to (by the way, note to Microsoft: She has a SLATE baseball cap, and I don’t; please rectify, preferably not by taking hers away.) Once in the Times sanctum, I was able to ask Andy Rosenthal, Abe’s son, whether in fact the lack of Timeses at the stands where the nation’s other papers are freely offered to us did, in fact, reflect insufferable hauteur. “World’s best newspaper,” he shrugged, verifying the hauteur theory. Then I asked Maureen why Bill Safire’s language column isn’t on the Times Web site. Just by chance, sitting next to Maureen was a producer of the site. Sitting down next to me, just after I asked, was Safire. Safire, not knowing he was un-Webbed, feigned outrage. Producer produced an answer which even the author of Internet for Dummies wouldn’t fathom.

I also began asking journalists, and a whip for one of the larger state delegations, to help in what I believe is this week’s most important quest: to find a high-ranking Republican official at this convention who will admit to having read the Republican platform. It may be the most unread volume since Gingrich’s novel. Dole says he hasn’t read it. Haley Barbour likewise. I’m convinced that Jack Kemp did read it, but when he was added to the ticket, he proved he’s a team player by immediately unreading it.

The quintessential moment of this week for me occurred in midafternoon. I was standing in the foyer of the south tower of the Marriott–specifics are important, because historians will want to know–and Mike Deaver walked by. Deaver, of course, is the image maker of the Reagan years, and he has returned from obscurity (which followed his guilty plea to certain little things) to be the–I guess you’d have to say, given this convention’s pastel hues–the éminencecerise of the Bob Dole nomination. As Deaver passed, going south, an acquaintance walked by him, going north. “Good show, Mike,” the acquaintance called out. “Thanks,” Deaver answered. That’s this week, in a nutshell.

Something, by the way, is terribly wrong with the BellSouth press hospitality lounge. When I came by this afternoon around 2:30, desperately in need of hospitality, the lounge was closed, with a sign on the door announcing, “Will reopen at 4.” Four would be just before the convention reopened for business, meaning that BellSouth seems to be catering to journalists who want to cover the story from a hospitality lounge.

Perhaps responding to my comment yesterday, or perhaps responding to complaints from every other person in the hall, the managers of the convention brought the air-conditioning back to a relatively sane level this evening. Which was unfortunate for me, since I was hoping to store some lambchops at my workstation for later.

Okay, back to the illusion of substance. The 5:30 p.m. slot seems to be reserved each night for the guys who were on Dole’s short-list for veep to deliver speeches that prove how right Dole was not to choose them. Last night, John Engler did a good imitation of the late Ray Goulding’s (Ray of Bob &) imitation of a bumptious Rotary Club luncheon speaker. Promising that Republicans would roll up their sleeves, Engler dumped his jacket at the podium and laboriously rolled up his sleeves. Fortunately, he did not, like Ross Perot, also promise to get under the hood, or they would have had to tow a Buick to the podium.

Tonight, Engler reprised, but kept his coat on. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin also made a speech, climaxing in a moment where his emphatic gestures and his spoken words were weirdly out of synch. Apparently, this stuff isn’t as easy as it looks. Tom Ridge joined in the Let’s Prove Kemp Was the Right Choice parade; even the NationalReview editor sitting next to me whispered, “Looks kind of satanic, doesn’t he?”

The fact that Engler made it to the podium twice must be a bitter pill for Pete Wilson to swallow. He’s the governor of the host state; he helped bring the convention to his home city in the first place; and he doesn’t look like either Bob or Ray; yet he’s been less conspicuous at this event than Dan Quayle.

Some rhetorical high points: Newt Gingrich offering the Beach Volleyball Model of Freedom; John Kasich promising to let God know that “He’s welcome back in American life.” Politicians have talked for years about sending Washington a message. It’s good to know they’re finally setting their sights a little higher. While sending God a message, Kasich also quoted the Beatles. It’s been, he said, a long and winding road to a balanced budget. In a Republican Party still rent by controversy over whether the rock ’n’ roll culture is something conservatives should embrace (see this week’s WeeklyStandard), this could count as daring. My bet is that Kasich, known to be a Deadhead, originally wrote the line as, “What a long, strange trip it’s been to a balanced budget,” but the Dole people made him change it.

I heard Susan Molinari’s keynote speech on the radio, and later watched a tape of it. As I said yesterday, she’s a likable woman, but … aside from initially neglecting to remember that she smoked marijuana several times two decades ago, she did imply that she was moved by Colin Powell’s speech last night. If so, she was watching a tape of it. While Powell was speaking, she was in makeup for PoliticallyIncorrect, and there were no TVs in the makeup room.

The day’s best news came as I was finishing taping a chat with the co-anchor of ABC’s WorldNewsNow. Leaving the studios of the network’s local affiliate, I was stopped by one of the many people who brighten my day (no irony intended) by telling me how much they enjoy ThisisSpinalTap. This was a producer of Nightline, who also informed me that he was on a flight the following morning. Ted, he said, had decided that the show should blow this particular popstand, because there is no news here.

There was something he could do, and he did it.