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The professional pundit class in Washington has always made fun of
George.

The magazine that has always proudly carried the subtitle, “Not Just
Politics as Usual,” is not sufficiently stultifying — excuse me,
weighty and serious — for the folks who make their living covering the
political industrial complex in D.C.

But you know what? JFK’s son JFK Jr. — who as the universe knows
died a year ago — didn’t start George so the hotshots of the chattering
class could have something to snicker at while waiting for a periodontal
checkup.

As the magazine’s fun-filled special political party convention issue
proves,

George
is aimed at normal people (i.e., those not carrying the deadly Russert-Novak gene).

In this case, normal people can be defined as those billions who are not already weak-kneed at the coming of the Republican National Convention next week. To them, politics is not a cute national pastime. It is a national virus that has given the American body politic a bad infection, taken over its once-sound mind but will never kill its host (see last week’s

column on Discovery’s cover piece on parasites
).

The August issue’s cover story, “Who Will Make Us Proud Again?” upholds George’s worthy tradition of bipartisanship — perhaps to a fault. To its subscribers, it offers President Kennedy on the cover. Newsstand buyers get a choice between the Kennedy campaign shot and a handsome Ronald Reagan portrait.

Inside are parallel articles about men George says were two “great leaders” and “symbols of our nation’s power”:

President
Kennedy,
who rejuvenated the country’s “great optimism and pride,” and

President
Reagan,
who “radiated happiness and hope and got us out of the Cold War.”

The idea that we need great political leaders to make us a great nation is annoying to individualists who think in less stately terms, but it is perfectly understandable as we prepare to enter the age of either Bush or Gore. And partisans from both of the increasingly indistinguishable major parties will argue that JFK and Reagan do not make a very fair matched set. But both articles are good reads.

The issue’s centerpiece is a 16-pageguide to the conventions. It offers politics-watchers of various levels of expertise and disinterest valuable tips on how to enjoy (without once falling asleep) the Republican gala (starting Monday in Philly) and the Democrat extravaganza (starting Aug. 14 in L.A.).

The guide, aimed at both political junkies and people already sick of Campaign 2000, gives valuable advice on what TV channels and websites to turn to for serious or silly coverage. The Big Three broadcast networks know a pair of predictable, over-produced ratings disasters when they see them coming, which is why they’ll only cover the acceptance speeches and do breaking news. Thank God for C-SPAN, Comedy Channel and E!, all of which will provide coverage.

Sandwiched between layers of full-page ads from MSNBC and NBC News, the guide also tips viewers off to where it says the best political pundits (e.g.,Tim Russert, William Kristol, Brit Hume and Dick Morris) and the worst ones (e.g., Sam Donaldson) will be doing their pundificating (cq).

If you suspect that the highest praise given to NBC star Russert is a result of all those expensive ads, don’t. Another NBC hireling, Howard Fineman of Newsweek, is listed as a commentator who is to be wary of because of his alleged coziness with John McCain.

George, which looks reasonably healthy advertising-wise and may survive the death of its founder/editor after all, is filled with other political stuff you’ll never find in The New Republic. That includes Queen Latifa explaining why everyone should go online and register to vote and Homer Simpson’s rather lame hints for potential presidents.

But for those who don’t like politics much, the cleverest thing in George this month can be found in a minimalist Volkswagen ad. Mostly two full pages of expensive white space, it includes a small photo of a VW Turbo bug on one page and the words “Uncorrupted by power” on the other.

But wait, there’s much more
For those who can’t hold out until next week, when the saturation coverage of the snoozefests begins in the weekly news and think magazines, there’s always

The New
Republic.
This week’s edition includes Michelle Cottle’s nicely balanced convention-preview analysis, “Hide and Seek,” which offers some hope that they won’t be as dull as everyone is predicting.

“There’s always the chance,” she says, “the candidates themselves could provide some genuine spontaneity — by screwing everything up. And, since Bush and Vice President Al Gore have their own unique sets of flaws, the two parties have diametrically opposite convention nightmares.

“The Gore folks worry that their charismatically challenged candidate will get lost in the convention hubbub, thus cementing his image as a nonleader. The Bush team frets that its star, with his boatloads of charm and little else, will reveal too much of himself and convince voters there’s no there there.

“Much of the glitz you see at the conventions, then, will be a high-tech diversion meant to hide the nominees’ weaknesses. The main difference is that the Democrats will try to hide Gore’s blemishes by focusing the spotlight on him, with no unflattering contrasts, while the Republicans will try to hide Bush’s by just, well, hiding him.”

If Cottle’s insights still don’t satisfy you (or make you run out and sell all your U.S. Savings bonds), buy a $5 copy of

Campaign &
Elections,
which is put out by Congressional Quarterly and finds no embarrassment in billing itself as the “Magazine for People in Politics.”

Its editors devoted their June and July issues to covering the death out of the Republican and Democrat conventions, supplying its specialized readership with everything from inside analysis and street maps to free tips from big-time political consultants.

Not to be mean, but the most valuable pre-convention information C&E provides — for the political pros, anyway — is something New Republic or even George didn’t think of: a guide to each host cities’ restaurants and bars.

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