After two rancid meals, a feast

Posted: Aug 04, 2000 12:00 AM
How hungry is alternate Celeste Grieg of Northridge, Calif., for a GOP victory? "I'm starving," she answered. This is a hall full of a hungry Republicans, and the White House is the Big Enchilada. "We have been waiting for eight years, and we are ready now," said Grieg. For eight years, Republicans have stood like poor, country hicks outside a fancy city restaurant. While their stomachs growled, they stared through the window to watch the Dems feast. The Repubs have missed the cloak of respectability that comes from having their team in the White House. Cynics may scoff that government doesn't matter and all pols are the same, but these people know that the president sets the tone for public discourse. Own the White House, and the public will respect your authority and your mandate to lead. Lose it, and you spend years feeling like the unpopular kid in junior high. Arizona Sen. John McCain captured that sad aching when he spoke to the gathering Tuesday night. "National pride is as indispensable to the happiness of Americans as our self-respect," he said. That pride is vital to partisans as well. This week, the sheen is back. Delegates are jazzed because Texas Gov. George W. Bush has given them something that was missing in the last two confabs. The San Diego convention in 1996 echoed with the sound of grumbling and grousing about what a truly pathetic candidate Bob Dole was. The only respite came when Dole named Jack Kemp as his running mate. The Houston confab in 1992 was worse. Pat Buchanan's peasants-with-pitchforks speech sent a chill through moderate delegates. Team Bush sicced delegates on the press -- blaming reporters for the campaign's many deficiencies. In an attempt to make others pariahs, the GOP turned itself into the odd man out. George W. Bush has delivered the party from that evil. You could see it in the sparkling eyes of Kitty Murphy, a Pennsylvania flight attendant who sneaked out of the US Airways hospitality suite to watch and applaud Colin Powell address the throng Monday night. "This is history, to me, in the making," she beamed. She was thrilled to see Powell and others talk about education. Say what you will, critics won't be able to dismiss the party as a refuge for racists and right-wing radicals with any credibility. That's what Bush has done. Delegates are so grateful they are willing to give the nominee a pass on pivotal issues. Many disagree with his anti-abortion posture; others would like to see Bush talk about cutting government as well as taxes. But why quibble when for the first time in years, the party has a glow? Thus, the aroma of victory wafts through this happy town. They were bone hungry, but now, the hunger has the pleasant feel of anticipation. Imagine the famished gourmet about to dig into the perfect steak. Ask folk what they think the odds of a Dubya victory are, and they'll tell you 65-35, some a little less, some even more. The campaign suits know that winning will be harder than that, and expect to win only by a tight margin. But they, too, taste a victory feast. For the last two races, California wasn't on the menu. This go-round, many even expect California to be their dessert. Last night, as I watched delegates rub their hands together, lick their chops, and unfurl the table cloth for a celebratory banquet, I was left with one question: What will these people do if the voters snatch this much anticipated meal away from them?