People take losses very differently. Madame Roland, the “muse of the
Girondins” on the scaffold cried out before the guillotine fell on her
neck, “Oh, Freedom! The crimes that are committed in thy name!”
It was a stirring line, earning her a place in all French history
books. By contrast, Madame du Barry, Louis XV’s last mistress, when
dragged to the guillotine, screamed and howled for mercy. The crowd at
Place de la Revolution (now Place de la Concorde) still roared its
approval of her execution. The Committees for Public Salvation demanded
In these less bloody times, the fall of Bill Clinton provoked far
less emotion. Nor were his defenders more stalwart. There can be no
argument that the impeachment of Clinton — although brought about by a
storm of disgust on a national scale — has left America a somewhat
better place. Politics, of course, is played for much smaller stakes
these days (or not only Clinton but Monica Lewinski would have lost a
It is worth noting, however, that during the recently concluded
Republican Presidential Convention in Philadelphia, although the
Republicans were not shy about stressing Democrat shortcomings, the
impeachment scandal, Monica Lewinski, and the whole long list of people
of various reputations connected with the scandal were not mentioned,
not even once. Also not mentioned, even more curiously, was Henry Hyde
of Illinois, who led the House Managers into the well of the House of
Representatives to conduct the impeachment trial of President Clinton.
Nor were any of the other House Managers: James Rogan, Asa Hutchison,
Lindsey Graham, Bill McCollum, and Bob Barr. Nor were certain prominent
Republicans like Rick Lazio, Hillary Clinton’s Republican opponent in
the upcoming election for Senator from New York.
It was as if with all the convention cries for a restoration of
“honor and dignity” to American politics required a whiting out of all
the sins of the opposition as well. Because the American population has
shown a marked distaste for a detailing in political debate of a woman’s
sexual parts, all references to President Clinton’s hijinks have been
tastefully deleted. For other reasons, no doubt, his habit of lying
shamelessly to American government officials has also been deleted.
Another salient characteristic of the Bush speech at the convention
was its steady attack on issues that Democrats have complacently thought
their own. In a ringing acceptance speech, Bush promised to “tear down
the wall” of poverty and prejudice that cut-off too many people from
sharing in America’s good life. Some of the goals Bush stressed in his
acceptance speech had their apparent origin in Democratic doctrine:
expanding Medicare, reforming education and strengthening Social
Although the non-white attendance in the hall in Philadelphia was not
much over four percent, Republican determination to make dramatic
inroads into these constituencies was very evident — not only from the
words of the speeches but from the very composition of the audience.
Another singularity of the audience was the presence of a previously
unpublicized member of the Bush family: candidate George Bush’s
Latin-American nephew, who, although speaking perfect English, bid
Godspeed to the convention in Spanish.
New York Gov. George Pataki was among the many who noticed the ethnic
shift in the convention. “I’m very encouraged,” he said, “by the
evolution of the Republican Party from an angry, nay-saying outfit
challenging the American people … into one offering fresh solutions to
Surveys, meanwhile, suggest that Bush has already eroded some
Democrat strongholds. A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken in mid-July
showed Gore reaching only a statistical dead heat on two subjects on
which Democrats traditionally lead: Social Security and Education. But
Bush also had a 10-point lead on the handling of the economy, decreasing
Democrat confidence that the country’s historic prosperity would
inevitably aid Gore. But, on health care — apparently the country’s
Number One concern — the Democrats still lead.
Bush’s plans for financing his big tax cut — which might have
produced the biggest ovation of the night — are not clear along with
his plan for introducing personal savings accounts as part of Social
Security. The prescription drug benefit that Bush had promised the
elderly also remains hazy.
But Bush said he was ready for a “relentless” counterattack on
tonight’s proposals and on his record of six years as Governor of Texas.
“Their war room is up and running.” he said.
Ralph Reed, a consultant to Gov. Bush and formerly head of the
Christian Coalition, said he thought the Democrats were making what he
called a “mirror image” mistake, trying to use the old “right wing”
label against a man who calls himself a “compassionate conservative,”
and who sponsors bold reforms, especially in education.
From where we stand now, it looks as if the Republicans have seized
the initiative in the presidential race — something they failed to do
at least at this point in 1992 and 1996. Bush, his campaign manager
says, will now concentrate on three groups of swing voters:
Suburbanites, Catholics and Hispanics — and even there only in the
“battleground states.” Currently, 18 states are considered