Report From Philly: What's Wrong With Rabble Rousing?

It will take at least another four days for me to snap out of the four days of anesthesia otherwise known as the Republican National Convention. No rancor. No conflict. And with the exception of parts of Dick Cheney's and George Bush's speeches, no red meat.

Philadelphia is always humid in August, but inside the First Union Center, site of the convention, things were more ... hazy. What was said? It's hard to say. It was all just very Nice. An oppressively soothing Nice. Next time I need a sedative, I'll ask my doctor to prescribe Compassion.

Although there were three times as many press as delegates, none of the journalists I met seemed particularly upset that they had little to pick apart. Is this because the celebrity worlds of politics, media, and entertainment are merging into one harmonious blob? Indeed I kept forgetting whom we were there to cover: Bush and Cheney, Brooks and Dunn, or Hannity and Colmes?

And outside the F.U. Center? The closest thing I saw to a protest was a mariachi band. And even that was menacingly muted (although it did seem very inclusive to hire them.)

After the fire-breathing 1992 convention, it was probably smart to keep the party's lightning rods off the stage. But a little rabble-rousing would have been appreciated. What happened to conservative firebrand Lynne Cheney? When she introduced her husband, I expected her to make at least one controversial proposal. (Anyone for blowing up Health and Human Services?) But no, she wouldn't go there. (Please note: I still believe in a provocative Lynne Cheney. It's my fantasy that Rick Lazio drops out of the New York senate race and Lynne takes his place against Hillary Clinton. And Robert Aldrich comes back to life to produce it.)

While the convention was free of conflict, it was not free of surprise. One surprise was how well our crew from Comedy Central was treated by the press and politicos. Read on because the newswires might not have picked all this up.

It didn't look too good for us in the beginning. We were housed in University of Pennsylvania college dorms, miles away from the action. (The floors were still sticky from the end-of-year beer bashes and a fire alarm got pulled early the first morning.) As for our access to the First Union Center, it was "Limited," the lowest grade.

Perhaps it was our rockin' Monday night party at Drexel University (less sticky floors), but we made friends fast. More likely, it was because we offered a glimmer of hope that the monotony could be broken for a couple of minutes. Whatever the reason, most Republican leaders were willing to field our questions, even the hard ones:

I asked conservative surfing congressman Dana Rohrabacher if he supported quotas on Mexican waves which are currently flooding Southern California's shores. (For waves, he rejects restrictions.)

I wanted Rick Lazio to tell me if Dick Cheney's gravitas is meat-based or cream-based. (He thinks it's meaty.)

And I managed to catch up with Governor Paul Cellucci of Massachusetts and ask him about the emerging hot-button issue of Cheney's gender: Since Governor Bush has chosen Dick Cheney as his running mate, can we infer that the Republican Party is now in favor of same-sex tickets? (Cellucci would only say my question was "not funny"--a typical dodge.)

None of these issues caught fire with the rest of the convention, though, so I decided to venture onto the floor, in search of feistiness. I traded my "limited" access pass up to a coveted floor pass (courtesy of Alan Rosenblatt of Media, one of our many fans on "Internet Alley"). It was during Dick Cheney's speech and I ventured into the Texas delegation, surely the most potentially explosive spot on the floor. None of my initial questions seemed to ruffle their feathers. Finally I pulled out all the stops and asked a hulking Houstonian in a ten-gallon hat if he expected Cheney in his speech to unveil a "specific" plan for returning Nelson Mandela to prison.

But all I got was a smile. A big faith-based, full-of-heart, compassion-induced smile.

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