PHILADELPHIA -- Though they will not admit it, most of the principals here at the Republican National Convention -- the journalists and the conventioneers -- are exhausted. The city itself is like a vast steam room. Once inside the First Union Center, the air conditioning serves as a restorative for a few minutes. Then one is overwhelmed by the throngs of politicians, media crews, security personnel, freaks and simple hustlers. The consequence is dizziness and fatigue.
This is not to say that the politicians on active duty are fatigued. The true politician swims eagerly through the throng. Photo-ops, media interviews, a fleeting schmooze with an admirer in the hallway -- all such encounters and more merely charge the pol's batteries.
Decades ago, during another presidential campaign, Gov. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's boast that he relished the grind of the campaign trail was cited by his supporters as a mark of his superior humanity. They still cite his boast as somehow unique, but actually all true politicians relish that grind. It leaves the rest of us reeling and weary, but not the real pol. And so Rep. Bob Barr is cruising through the chaos of First Union Center, and various luncheons dinners, and receptions across town in downtown Philadelphia. There is a smile on his face and a scheduler at his arm to see that he gets to his next appointment on time.
I am following Barr, but I can tell you every other pol -- from the ebullient Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, to Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, to the lowliest campaigner for a seat on the school board in Podunk -- is brimming with energy and expectation for the next opportunity to press flesh. I have been watching them.
Some journalists have this high energy level, but not many. To the trained eye they all look frayed and slightly under the weather. The prose that I have been reading from them reveals their weariness. Did you see Maureen Dowd on the op-ed page of The New York Times, dateline Philadelphia? Doubtless you have seen someone, late at night, sleep-walking. Now on the op-ed page of the Times, droning on about the incipient spat between Bush the Elder and Clinton the Has-Been, Dowd can be seen sleep-writing.
Yet Dowd is not the only journalist here wilting beneath the sun and the chaos. On the op-ed of the venerable Washington Post Broder, Dionne and Cohen have been dozing off. The television commentators do not so easily betray the weariness that crept over the print journalists. But that is because they are kept cool, rested, away from the hubbub and close to the make-up artiste. Also their jobs are comparatively easy. Seated before a microphone, the humming cameras off in the darkness of the studio, they pose and say something simple, slightly provocative, usually inaccurate and occasionally completely wrong. Who cares? No one is going to do an instant replay when they think they hear Dan Rather say: "Welcome to Philadelphia. The Republicans are slime balls."
Give the print journalists their due. Writing is more laborious and more wearying than smirking and saying something simple and prosaic into a camera. The television screens shimmer, their speakers echoing with the same truisms they apply to the Republicans presidential year after presidential year.
Once again we hear: the Republicans are "white guys" -- a trendy nonce phrase at this convention; the Republicans are suppressing their political extremism; the Republicans are ducking any mention of the Clinton scandals.
All three themes are misleading and essentially wrong. Most politically active blacks favor big government and entitlements. They choose to vote Democratic. The Republican Party favors limited government and devolution of government power. Racial prejudice has little to do with the Republican convention. Libertarian-conservative blacks become Republicans. In fact, a growing number of Americans have become Republicans since the 1980s as the Democrats decline.
As for the Democrats' charge that Republicans are extremist, the journalists should be more critical. Since the early 1980s, the Republican Party has increasingly gained the electorate's trust. Throughout the 1990s it gained control of Congress, most governor's mansions and many state legislatures. It has become the majority party. If it is extremist and reactionary, so is the voting majority that elected these Republicans. And as for the canard that this Republican convention is ducking the Clinton scandals, the scandals are yesterday's new -- at least until Bill Clinton erupts again.
There is something distinctly passe about the journalists here. They act as though nothing has changed since the 1960s. Yet much has. The hold of major media has been reduced by the competing utensils of the rising information age. Yet what will this mean for convention coverage in four years? No one really knows. For a multitude of reasons this convention and the upcoming Democratic one may be the last of an era.