Committee Of Correspondence

The Republican Convention

Alan Brinkley
8:17 a.m.  Wednesday  8/14/96

Thanks to Newt Gingrich, I now know what freedom really means. It’s what makes possible the rise of beach volleyball from its former obscurity to an Olympic event, all without the assistance of government bureaucrats. The fuzzy, cuddly Newt may be less frightening than the old, snarling one, but he’s hard to take seriously. The convention managers were wise to exile his weirdly out-of-character speech to the non-prime-time slot. As for prime time, the gloves came off a bit last night. It started to sound a little like a Republican convention instead of a group therapy session. The attacks on Clinton were rousing, but far from devastating. Susan Molinari’s speech was appealing, but not sensational. Still, the chosen themes of the convention (and presumably the campaign) began to become visible: Clinton can’t be trusted; tax cuts will restore economic growth; we need zero tolerance for drug use (to what could they be referring there?); Clinton passed the biggest tax increase in American history. (No mention, of course, that none of it fell on anyone making less than $100,000 a year and that it was the “biggest” only because the economy is so much bigger than at the time of any previous increase that even this relatively modest tax hike generated more revenue than any previous one.) It’s going to be an ugly campaign–and (except for George Bush) they’ve hardly even started on Hillary yet. I could see some of these themes working for the Republicans–particularly the linking of tax cuts to a buoyant, Reagan-like vision of economic growth and liberated entrepreneurial talent. What I still can’t see is Bob Dole pursuing them with the ebullience and optimism they need to make them work. But maybe he’ll prove me wrong. Maybe Jack Kemp will teach him how to do it. Herb Stein
8:37 a.m.  Wednesday  8/14/96

My tolerance level has been exceeded. When I took this assignment I didn’t think that I was going to have to watch three hours of convention in a row for four days. The problem is the monotony. I suppose the GOP can’t help it if all Republican governors, except Mrs. Whitman, look alike, but do they all have to wear the same suit? Do they go into a dressing room to change? And do they all have to use the same speech-writer? If this twonstant viewer hears the American dweam once more, twonstant viewer will fwow up. They need some variety. They could have used a juggling act, the way they used to do in vaudeville. They could even have used an economist with charts. He could have produced a chart showing that real per-capita disposable income–meaning after taxes–is now at an all-time high. What are the odds that Jack Kemp will mention the gold standard in his acceptance speech? I was sorry for Ms. Molinari. All the clichés had been worn out before she got up to speak. Alan Brinkley
9:46 a.m.  Wednesday  8/14/96

Herb Stein is not alone in losing patience with the ritualized monotony. Ted Koppel, at the close of last night’s Nightline, announced that he and his staff had had enough and that they were packing up and going home this morning. They’ll cover the convention from Washington, he said with some disdain, if there’s ever anything worth covering. Given the escalating impatience among the press and–if the low and steadily declining ratings are any indication–the public with these proceedings, and the slowly rising chorus of abuse directed at the networks for their slavishly obedient coverage (see this morning’s New York Times), I wonder whether we will ever again see any significant commitment of network time and resources to these events. Nelson Polsby
9:51 a.m.  Wednesday  8/14/96

I have been pondering why paying attention to the full three hours of the convention is turning out to be so boring. Here are some hypotheses: (1) This convention (as is true of conventions generally) has nothing to do, so there is no particular substantive rationale for the pseudo-activities we are watching. (2) Not enough attention was paid to the task of infusing the script with sufficient variety in order to reflect variation in the rhetorical styles of the various speakers. If you are going to do a scripted convention, get more and better script writers. (3) The convention is not meant to be watched straight through, but is targeted at a hypothetical, inattentive TV viewer, who cuts in and out, more or less as the big commercial networks do. Thus the basic presentation requires a degree of redundancy that would be–is–intolerable to the constant viewer. Foreign observers, especially from the United Kingdom, where oratory is taken more seriously than here, have occasionally remarked to me on the dismal standard of U.S. political speechmaking. This week is providing a lot of support for that view. Am I therefore wishing on the Republicans an authentic hate-monger a la Buchanan to come along and give the proceedings a little self-destructive sparkle? That’s not remotely in their interests. So I don’t blame Herb and Karlyn for expressing–what is it? relief? that things aren’t worse. Nelson Polsby
11:19 a.m.  Wednesday  8/14/96

I think Herb has got a promising idea. The GOP might make some soft money by selling medallions to, e.g., Sears Roebuck: authorized tailors to the Republican National Convention, one suit fits all. Bring back the Republican cloth coat. More precious moments: Kay Bailey Hutchison poking fun at Clinton’s $200 haircut from underneath a haircut that looked pretty expensive to me. Christopher Hitchens
1:24 p.m.  Wednesday  8/14/96

After two full days of exposure to the pachydermatous deliberations in San Diego, I have revised my earlier opinion about “orchestration,” “scripting” and “choreography.” It cannot have been by design that the platform wizards put on Susan Molinari, to give her much ballyhooed keynote, immediately after two previous orators had delivered her exact same speech. How must she have felt, waiting to go on, and listening to J.C. Watts and John Kasich working their way through yards and yards of Babbitt like uplift, and knowing that she, too, was about to have to repeat them? Even the most loyal delegates found her “Goodnight Moon” performance a tough one to applaud. Surprise of the day was Newt Gingrich, resorting to beach volleyball as a metaphor for the “dream” (that word again). Murray Kempton observed acidly that you can’t have beach volleyball without a constant supply of deadbeat dads, and you certainly can’t have beaches without subsidies, so this image will need work. Still the seeing-eye dog was a nice touch. There’s a nasty undertone, surfacing in every three or four speeches, of U.N.-baiting. Whenever the speaker needs an applause line, a reference to U.S. troops under U.N. command will trigger it. It’s interesting to see who stomps and waves and who doesn’t, but there is no effort being made by the party elders to keep this sort of thing under restraint. A rather worried meeting Tuesday morning, featuring Alexander Haig, Henry Kissinger, and an assortment of ex-secretaries for State and Defense, tried to reinstate internationalism and diplomacy as enduring Republican precepts, but no major platform speaker has yet done so and it will be worth watching to see how Dole and Kemp handle it, if they touch on the subject at all. Dole failed to show at the Veteran’s Salute to Bob Dole on Tuesday evening, which meant that the event was dominated by Oliver North, Pat Robertson and former FBI White House snitch Gary Aldrich. I have evolved a favorite question to ask of random delegates. If Jack Kemp was the nominee, would he pick Bob Dole as his running mate? No one has yet said yes.