Look at those awful Republicans (imitating us demo

Posted: Aug 01, 2000 12:00 AM
"Republican Pleasantries." "A convention stage-managed to reclaim moderate voters." "Conservative Wing Dominates Philadelphia as Bush Tries to Appeal to Moderates." "Bush and Cheney, blanding their way to victory." And that's just the New York Times -- a rag that I love, owing in part to the stylishly brazen way it promotes its viewpoints. (They've also got good arts and books sections ... But I digress.) Democrats have their noses out of joint over Mr. Bush and the politics of compassionate conservatism. Not long ago the complaint was: Ooohhh, those nasty, gun-loving, voucher-promoting, school-prayer-supporting, tax-cutting, poor-people-bashing right-wing bigots. It seems you can't always count on bigots. This particular set decided some new emphases might not come amiss. As politicians are rumored to do, in a democratic/commercial culture, Republicans have undertaken a new strategy. They talk about compassion. They identify themselves with concerns on which Democrats had supposed they held the copyright. Naturally, Democrats go ape. They know it's all an act. How do they know? Because they know Republicans, at heart, are nasty, gun-loving, voucher-promoting, tax-cutting et-ceteras. They just won't own up to it. Their opponents' refusal to play the game is what drives Democrats nuts. It's so unfair! Why don't the Republicans just tell us they hate everybody but Bob Jones U. alumni? Al could then wrap up this election. Thus the Democrats this week initiate a series of ads attacking Dick Cheney, whose soft-spoken Gulf Warrior image the voters can't be allowed to fall for, when, as everyone should know, he's just a fat, fat-cat oilman! A declaration is fighting for air. I thought it never would come to this. Maybe it is time after all for True Confessions on the part of an unreconstructed Grover Cleveland/Barry Goldwater Democrat/Republican. (Contrary to rumor, I voted for only the latter candidate!) Politics is the supposed "science" of self-government -- a solemn and moral duty for us all. This solemn duty involves, much of the time, shameless posturing and gamesmanship. In the big-government era, we take politics more seriously than it deserves, most of the time, to be taken. Most of the time, I say, because politics can corrupt, debase, and destroy. Mexico, having come painfully to this realization, is finally doing something about it. The ordinary run of dogmatic, manipulative French politician can make you yearn for a Bourbon comeback (the family, not the beverage). Still, it isn't apparent that either of the two great American political parties is bent on the destruction of America. It should be noted that Bill Clinton, for all his departures from moral norms, came to appreciate that the economy didn't need left-wing tinkering. He thereby appropriated a useful conservative insight: Less is more. The Democrats' ever-so-public dissatisfaction with the Republicans -- see above -- can set teeth on edge. It's a little kooky to lament the lack of moderation in one's opponents, then, when said opponents take a moderate turn, decry them immoderately for doing what you said they should do all along. Of course the Democrats' point is that the Republicans don't mean a word they say. Thus the New York Times' Monday story on a poll of Republican delegates: Most -- despite the party stage managers' hopes for a moderate, inclusive convention -- "are notably conservative in thought and spirit." Oh, my! Send for the exorcists! The thing to do, it seems to me, as we progress through the electoral season, is to climb high over the tumult -- the top row of the stadium, as it were, so as to see the brawl below in proper context. What politicians -- ours, anyone's -- do is what you expect: They attack, they belittle, they denigrate. Sometimes they uplift and affirm. You never know when or why. On the matter of political makeovers: Nothing is new here. English Tories bragged about "stealing the Whigs' clothes." Horrors! Politicians stealing from other politicians? A tendency to appropriate others' goods has been observed occasionally in history. Check out the Ten Commandments. In truth, we might not be having this conversation at all but for the magnificent act of thievery perpetrated by W. J. Clinton as, rhetorically or substantively, he affirmed various Republican goals and won handsome plaudits for same. Idea-thieves? Maybe it takes one to know one.