Suzanne Fields

The Republicans have changed their image, big time. They've tacked toward the times while trying to hold to a grasp of traditional values. Not easy to do. They've moved toward diversity.

The protesters, on the other hand, showed themselves last week in New York to be behind the times and out of touch, screaming for peace while throwing punches at cops, delegates and anyone else foolish enough to be on the streets around Madison Square Garden in a jacket and tie.

This time the Republicans really did present a big tent. And if at times it seemed like a tent over a three-ring circus, it looked authentic, with a selection of voices and styles expressed with a robust meaning of E pluribus unum.

They've lightened up. Mike Huckabee, the governor of Arkansas and an ordained Baptist preacher, even joined Gov. George Pataki of New York for a set with a rock group called Capitol Offense. "We manage to offend just about everybody," he said, tweaking an electric guitar.

The Bush twins created the real buzz. They offended some delegates (and a lot more of the prissier pressies) with giggly attempts to needle their kin with sexual innuendos and rebellious bons mots. (The author of most of the speech was Karen Hughes, a grown-up.) Their message seemed to be that you can be hip, trendy and even a little silly if you know enough to express it within the context of solid respect for the family that brought you up.

They weren't forced to be miniature politicians. They will no doubt look back at their appearance with some embarrassment, but they can be pleased that they showed that a Bushie can be in touch with the pop culture without dissecting it. If they lacked the poise of the Kerry sons and daughters, who are older and more experienced on the campaign trail, Barbara nevertheless wielded a sharp needle for the opposition, gently mocking Alexandra Kerry's story about her father heroically jumping into the lake to save a pet hamster.

"We had a hamster, too," she said. "Let's just say, ours didn't make it."

If the twins' vaudeville routine wasn't boffo, it wasn't bad. These were the girls, after all, who had to suffer through "photo ops" two hours after they were born because their grandfather happened to be vice president at the time.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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