Republicans Flee C-Word As Demonstrators Bathe

After the big demonstration in Philadelphia on Sunday, the Gore-Bush mud wrestlers from the street theater walked down Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia to the fountain at Logan Square. They were covered head to foot with orange mud, the fountain water was full of chlorine, and there was a kind of be-in. I heard the commotion from afar and as I moved through the crowd said, “What’s their issue?” Someone said, “They’re hot.”

Everyone went in their underwear. One guy was wearing women’s red lingerie. A couple of the women went bare-breasted. It was cool to walk from the girl climbing naked from one tier to another in the huge sunlit fountain to the silent crowd outside the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, a couple hundred feet away, holding their “Abortion Kills Children” signs. I walked through that crowd then back to the fountain, bathing my spirit in the American passion play of white intensity and laughing puckery flesh.

You can say it wasn’t George W. Bush’s bare-breasted fountain, it was the anti-globalists’, but Governor Bush is trying to sneak credit for a sexy convention. In the giant realignment of the Republican Party he is trying to pull off, there are all kinds of winks to the alienated Left, in the same way that John McCain, war hawk, kept saying last spring he wanted vegetarians-and got them. Many of the old Democratic issues, having been abandoned by the Democrats 10 years ago, are up for grabs now, and you can feel George W. Bush making subtle feints to at least neutralize Al Gore’s base.

The news here is that the Republican party is running away from the “C” word, conservative , the same way the Democrats ran away from the “L” word, liberal , back in 1992, and it’s driving the corporate liberal media batshit. The New York Times has gotten irritable and nervous like a gray lady waiting for the bathroom, and middle-aged media dudes with stock options pull you aside to tell you the Republicans don’t believe what they’re saying about the poor.

The Wall Street Journal surely fulminated in the same way when the Democrats talked about crime and deficits in 1992. Something is happening here, and you don’t know what it is.…

The convention has already produced one great political moment: when Colin Powell angrily turned on the Republican crowd at the keynote speech and, his warrior eyes going pupil-less, attacked them for being against affirmative action. This was a progressive deal going down before your eyes, right on television, not in the Lincoln bedroom. Gen. Powell was saying, “Yes, you can use me, as you have used countless other people of color this week on your happy mosaic TV show-but you will pay a price, and I will hold George to it.”

Just as all the corporations in China held Bill Clinton to his deals.

Colin Powell is not the only one to say Stop building prisons for black men . The exciting thing about the Philadelphia Republicans is how many of them are mouthing dangerous progressive ideas. At a Republican National Committee lunch to celebrate what R.N.C. co-chair Patricia Harrison called the “wonderful mosaic” of American diversity, one politician talked about the Indian suicide rate and another told a joke deriding Christian symbols. (A Jew and a priest go to a boxing match. A boxer gets to his knees and makes the sign of the cross, and the Jew asks, “What’s the significance of that?” The priest: “Not a damn thing. He can’t fight.”)

After that lunch came an Independent Republican Institute forum on foreign policy, where George Shultz, Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger called for an open Cuba.

“No politician in his right mind would say this,” Secretary Shultz said. “But I would simply end the embargo.”

“I totally agree with Secretary Shultz,” Secretary Eagleburger said.

“Cuba is no longer a foreign policy issue, it’s domestic American politics,” Gen. Scowcroft chimed in-and then went on to piss all over plans for a national missile defense.

Cuba, S.D.I. The Clinton coalition was so frightened by the loser Left, they walked away from such issues years ago. Now the Republicans are picking these issues up and at least looking at them.

It may be just straws in the wind, but consider Tom Campbell, who is running against Dianne Feinstein in California. Tom Campbell is a Republican that a left-winger can love. He is aces on campaign reform and thinks the drug war should be virtually abandoned in favor of aggressive treatment. He opposes normalization of trade relations with China (Senator Feinstein is for it), sought a Congressional vote on the Kosovo war, and compares the military aid to Colombia to getting into Vietnam.

So progressive is Tom Campbell on crime, you’d think that Floyd Brown, the conservative sloganeer who destroyed Michael Dukakis 12 years ago over crime issues, would have problems with him.

“A great candidate,” Mr. Brown said, at the Citizens United party in the Marriott Hotel.

“He’s pro-choice,” I said.

“There are a lot of things I don’t agree with him about,” Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Brown had just warmed up the red-meat conservative crowd by giving awards to Congressmen Bob Barr and Dan Burton for their willingness to sacrifice all to principle.

The only principle the Republican Party will sacrifice all for right now is to win the Presidency. “We’re focused like a laser on that,” Mr. Brown said.

Meantime, Tom Campbell was addressing the reformist “Shadow Convention” being held at the University of Pennsylvania. There was a lot of crossover between Republican ranks and the Shadow Convention-John McCain, Shadow czarina Arianna Huffington herself. Even the rock band Interpreters USSA, which warmed up the conventioneers for Gen. Powell with a love song called “The ABCs of U and Me,” then went over to the Shadow Convention party. (“It was just a fucking opportunity to play rock ‘n’ roll,” Herschel Gaer said-and by the way, they’re playing Arlene Grocery, on Stanton Street on the Lower East Side, Thursday night.)

Of course, there will be tons of crossover between the Democratic National Convention and the Shadow Convention in Los Angeles later this month. Surely Warren Beatty will show up. But how much passion will those progressive Democrats have for Vice President Gore?

The best sign of how vulnerable Mr. Gore is among his own crowd is Joe Eszterhas’ new book American Rhapsody , whose simple theme is, Bill Clinton is such a pig for puss that he broke his trust with the people. The political significance of this obvious statement was made clear by Hendrik Hertzberg’s vicious mockery of Mr. Eszterhas in The New Yorker ‘s prominent Comment space last week. Mr. Hertzberg’s attack was so angry it wasn’t funny. He knows what a threat Mr. Eszterhas’ defection is to a whole way of thinking, the liberal defense of Bill Clinton, all the people who sniggered at the Clinton scandals as Flytrap. Now that Ken Starr is gone, Mr. Eszterhas can say that he believes what Juanita Broaddrick said, that Bill Clinton raped her. American Rhapsody is a sign that Hollywood is checking out of Hotel Clinton when Al Gore still needs California.

The chief sources for Mr. Eszterhas’ account-he ripped off their books-are Dolly Kyle Browning and Gennifer Flowers. Back during impeachment, you heard endless liberals casually saying that these women were crazy-good corporate journalists trying to write off the women as nutbags. They were putting out toxic bullshit from the White House, and now those women’s stories give Mr. Eszterhas’ book its life and meaning.

Clinton hatred-excuse me, I meant Clinton fatigue!-is so widespread in the body politic now that Governor Bush only has to lose the grin and use code words-”integrity,” “respect”-to keep the Clinton-haters happy. And the other part of that is he knows he’s going to make the Naderites a little happy too. The Naderites also think that Bill Clinton’s a pig. The best joke at the Shadow Convention, or at any convention for that matter, came from 90-year-old Doris (Granny D) Haddock, a long-time leftie who told of her recent walk across the country for campaign finance reform.

“After that I stopped in the beautiful town of Hope, which as you know is famous for its watermelons,” she said in a lilting ladylike voice. “I spit seeds at the annual watermelon festival. Everyone in that town has gotten quite good at spitting.”

In a weird way, Bill Clinton even sold out progressive ideas about sexuality that were so central to the counterculture in the 60′s, or ruined them in the Democratic Party. You can’t talk about Clinton’s El Camino with the Astroturf in the back without sounding like a pervert now. Al Gore, control freak and grandfather, is a walking, talking advertisement for family values. He hits you with a parental warning label.

George W. Bush gets to be more complex and sexual. He was a bad boy in his youth and seems a little devilish now, he gives off a free-floating pussy-eating vibe the protesters were picking up on. “Bush and Dick, One Fucking Thing After Another,” said one woman’s poster, mocking the Republican ticket with helpful illustrations of pudenda and an erect cock. “Lick Bush,” said a T-shirt. “We Like Bush. Just Not Yours,” said a lesbian’s sticker. I bet George W. Bush would grin seeing those signs, want to give them the old college thumbs-up.

Mr. Bush’s convention has actually been a little bit sexy. Going into the Marriott for the Clintonite American dreamers lunch, we were greeted by two busty women in short white jersey dresses handing out buttons and brochures for Delilah’s, a strip club. The Republicans just walked by this display grinning, as if that were something else George W. Bush had cooked up to sell America. Even the people wearing the white vests with the words “Life of the Party” on them, the anti-abortion movement’s gesture at marketing. The pro-lifers are bearing everything in silence this week. Get them in a corner and they say, “But we have Cheney!”

Just as lefties in 1992 clutched the belief that Al Gore was a social-justice Democrat.

That’s the reason Ralph Nader is flourishing and Pat Buchanan isn’t-all of George W. Bush’s traditional base is on board, but a good part of Al Gore’s traditional base could give a shit. The anti–death penalty Left. The anti–drug war Left. The anti-billionaire Left. Those were the mud wrestlers demonstrating out on Ben Franklin Parkway. They had a truck trailer piled in mud with giant bags of money and were staging battles between half-naked Gore and Bush actors, where you couldn’t tell the difference.

Not long ago in Slate , Mickey Kaus wrote that the way for Al Gore to defeat Ralph Nader was to say, “We’ve made the country richer and I’m for the death penalty.” That’s exactly why Vice President Gore’s base is in sorry shape-he’s for the death penalty and he’s a corporatist. Why not vote for Governor Bush?

George W. Bush has sensed that indifference, and is doing everything he can to make sure that Al Gore isn’t able to nail that part of his old base down. He’s cunning. The band Interpreters said that no one had told them what to wear on stage, so they wore old T-shirts, one torn, held with safety pins. At the Shadow Convention party, singer Herschel Gaer said that they’d sent a tape along to George W. Bush and he loved the music, wanted their “spirit” to represent him. “To me it’s another fan, I don’t care.”

This winking alliance has generated the best conspiracy theory making the rounds at the Republican convention: that there’s soft money from Republicans going quietly to causes that could give Ralph Nader more prominence. I didn’t see any evidence for it, I can’t believe it’s true. But I can tell you this. I saw George W. Bush wearing red women’s underwear, in a fountain, with a half-naked woman.