Vol. 8, No. 30
July 27-Aug. 2, 2000
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’Tis the Season for Sizing Them Up

When Gov. George W. Bush and running-mate Dick Cheney travel to Philadelphia next week for the Republican National Convention, it will signal the opening of a three-month sprint that is vitally important to us all.

Two weeks afterward in Los Angeles, the Democrats will convene formally to anoint Vice President Al Gore as the party’s nominee in November.

And don’t forget the Reform Party’s Pat Buchanan, the Green Party’s Ralph Nader or the Libertarian Party’s Harry Browne.

The quadrennial goings-on called the presidential election haven’t attracted much attention this year in Chesapeake County. It has to do partly with these prosperous, peaceful times. Part of it, too, is the sheer length of our election process, which began in Iowa in January when all of us were much younger. (In Britain, the whole shebang goes six weeks.)

But that’s no excuse for what we see as general laziness afflicting voters sizing up candidates. We hear glib remarks like: “Gore is too stiff” or “Bush is too dumb” or Buchanan and Nader “are wackos.”

We haven’t heard too much from people about who among these White House aspirants offers appealing visions. Truth be told, we haven’t been focusing too much on these matters either. But for all of us, now’s the time to tune in. But how do you do that in a useful way in this era of scripted stagecraft and made-for-TV politics?

How can we learn what we need to know without feeling like we’re fed snake oil?

It used to be, the television networks would cover these political conventions almost gavel to gavel. You could tune in between picking tomatoes, walking the dog and living your life, and by the time each convention was over, you had listened in on a bunch of speeches on a host of issues so you had a pretty good idea of what each party stood for.

This year, each of three major networks will devote less than five hours to each convention. Good thing there are options: PBS, CNN and C-Span will be offering much more from the convention floor for those of us who want a broader view of what the leading lights of the major parties are thinking.

Also this year, the Internet will be a bigger feature at the conventions. In 1996, there were a half-dozen or so Internet reporting operations at the conventions in Chicago and San Diego. This year, there are dozens that will be sending streams of info into cyberspace. (Among them next week: GOPPhilly.com for planning; Pseudo.com for viewing; thepartysover.org for raising hell.) There are also Internet magazines like Slate and Salon.

Of course, there’s a more traditional means to learn: newspapers. We Marylanders are blessed with some of the finest dailies in America (The Washington Post and The Sun), which have resisted the news trend of infotainment and will have full staffs in Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

So for measuring political horseflesh, there’ll be no shortage of sources. You can sort out who among this year’s crop will do right by your family, your community and your Chesapeake Bay. It’s time to pay attention: to worry about who will be the last candidate standing Nov. 7 rather than who will be the last “Survivor” on that island.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly