Behind the Spectacle Are Very Real Policies

Those Bush Republicans certainly know how to put on a cute convention. With the prime-time emphasis on colorful symbolism-or tokenism, as the skillful deployment of minority and female faces used to be known-the Republican Party is now marketing the imagery of inclusion and compassion that once belonged exclusively to Democrats.

Instead of performances by Patrick Buchanan or Pat Robertson, the preferred entertainments were provided by black dancers and gospel singers. When they did their stuff before the almost lily-white and mostly male audience on the convention floor, the proceedings in Philadelphia came perilously close to the political equivalent of minstrelsy at an Elks Club smoker.

Nobody decried this strange spectacle as pandering, presumably because the notion of a less exclusionary and bigoted Republicanism is so appealing after decades of racially divisive rhetoric. Regardless of party, every decent American naturally prefers to see Colin Powell rather than Willie Horton, and to hear about homeless advocates instead of welfare queens.

Having the Pledge of Allegiance recited by a blind mountain-climber (and why didn’t they find an Asian-American or Hispanic blind mountain-climber?) was perhaps slightly over the top. But even that touch of soap opera evoked a fine moment in George Herbert Walker Bush’s presidency, when he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Amid all the uplifting, optimistic pageantry, however, it was hard not to imagine that Congressional bosses Tom DeLay and Dick Armey-as well as the corporate chieftains who bankrolled this multicultural show-were somewhere backstage laughing. Messrs. DeLay and Armey come from Texas, after all, and therefore have intimate firsthand knowledge of what “compassionate conservatism” has meant in practice over the past five years. Like the lobbyists and executives who so eagerly pour millions of dollars into the crusade for a Bush restoration, they understand the difference between propaganda and policy.

Propaganda says that “no child will be left behind.” Policy, in Texas and on Capitol Hill, leaves millions just like the kids posed with George W. Bush in crowded and crumbling schoolrooms, deprived of proper textbooks and preschool education.

Propaganda, in the pages of the new Republican platform, vows to “preserve and improve Medicare” and to honor “a commitment to all Americans” for “affordable, quality health insurance.” Policy opposes national health insurance, cuts Medicare funding, guts the Patients’ Bill of Rights, stalls prescription-drug benefits and blocks enrollment in the Child Health Insurance Program. Propaganda rants incessantly about “saving Social Security.” Policy would turn Social Security over to fee-hungry and fraud-ridden financial companies. Propaganda promises “significant tax relief [targeted] especially toward low-income workers.” Policy attempts to cut the Earned Income Tax Credit which benefits those workers, attempts to abolish the minimum wage, plans a Treasury-busting $1.3 trillion tax cut skewed toward the most wealthy Americans, and provides special tax breaks to political contributors.

Propaganda pledges “stewardship of our natural resources” and the use of “public lands for the public good.” Policy undermines the Environmental Protection Agency, weakens clean-water statutes, allows corporate polluters to write regulations and regulate their own industries, and results in a permanent cloud of lethal smog over Houston.

Although the Republicans subtly (and not so subtly) disparage Bill Clinton for his personal weaknesses, they are blatantly imitating him in this attempt to blur partisan distinctions for political purposes. Despite the President’s speechifying about the end of “big government” and his deft appropriation of conservative issues such as crime and welfare, Clinton Administration policy has shifted the nation decisively away from the stagnant conservatism of the Reagan and Bush years.

Mr. Clinton sounded jarringly conservative when he spoke about balancing the budget and cutting programs, but the deficit was closed mainly by raising taxes on the wealthiest segment of society, even as tax benefits for the poor were increased sharply. He promoted a business-friendly image for the Democratic Party, even as he required corporations to accept the costs of the Family and Medical Leave Act and a steadily increasing minimum wage.

Now Mr. Bush sounds jarringly liberal when he unveils a new and costly literacy initiative, or suggests he will spend more on Head Start.

Despite all the little insults that are and will be tossed in Mr. Clinton’s direction by Republicans, their nominee blatantly flatters the despised President by imitation. Intelligent figures on the right hear those echoes; quite understandably, a few of them cannot suppress a disdainful grimace while enduring all the mush in Philadelphia.

But they yearn for the White House. They too know policy from propaganda. And they are hoping nobody explains the difference to the rest of the country before November. Behind the Spectacle Are Very Real Policies