Campaigns/Elections

The Best of Slime, The Worst of Slime

Winners and losers at the national conventions

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Best Button: Democrats

The Republican entries were formidable, including "Wake Up–And Smell the Clintons," and "Annoy the IRS–Support the Flat Tax." But the Dems really have a flair for viciousness, and that's what good buttoneering is all about. "Nuck Fewt" seemed rather popular, and "Nobody Ever Heard of a Good Piece of Elephant" is sure to rile the animal-rights crowd. One button worn by a Democratic delegate also made a big impression: "HEY NEWT–CALL YOUR PROCTOLOGIST–THEY FOUND YOUR HEAD." This was proudly displayed as we were leaving Mr. Clinton's acceptance speech, with his pledge of a "campaign of ideas, not insults."

But in my estimation "Dole IS 96" was the perfect lapel-wear for the Dems' Chicago Convention. It points out that the opposing candidate is far too elderly to assume high public office by employing the same commitment to truth and accuracy the Clinton White House has relied on in compiling its deficit reduction numbers (Dole is, in fact, 23 years younger than 96–the same age gap between him and Bill Clinton). More important, the slogan subtly makes the crucial distinction that cynical references to a person's physical characteristics are rude and insensitive, except when that person is a mean-spirited Republican attempting to impose an extreme right-wing agenda on an innocent America.

In any event, Bob Dole is probably no older than the majority of the '60s rockers who hobbled around Chicago, missing performances (Stephen Stills was a no-show at a party I attended). Then too, the Bobster is still on his first liver.

Best Bumper Sticker: Republicans

"VISUALIZE IMPEACHMENT" is to a GOP activist what a bleached blonde with a twang is to Mr. President. Indeed, the fantasy-prone Republican insiders have been sporting fender-wear proclaiming "PRES. GORE: DON'T PARDON HILLARY" for some months now.

Of course, the various crimes and misdemeanors of the Clintonites have now been turned into campaign talking points for the Democrats–as in Tipper Gore's applause line in her convention paean to Hillary as "a woman who always maintains her grace, dignity, and humor, even while being subjected to the most unimaginable incivility." Placing New York Sen. Al D'Amato in charge of the Whitewater hearings, of course, was a stroke of evil genius by GOP operatives who desire to lull their opponents into thinking that they are pure imbeciles. Although I am not privy to the long-run strategy involved here, look for something really huge to take us all by surprise in the moments leading up to election day.

Worst Bumper Sticker: Democrats

The Republican entry, "SAVE THE WHALES. Until We Get More Tartar Sauce," made a noble bid for this title, and I actually liked "STOP GLOBAL WHINING."

But the '60s crowd hovering in the smoky confines of a Chicago jazz club topped these mightily. Confirming the suspicions of the crack REASON espionage team that the Democratic Party serves as a cover for agents provocateurs opposed to any hint of space-age capitalism, I was handed a bumper sticker reading: "FED UP WITH 'PROGRESS'? Write-in UNABOMBER For PRESIDENT '96." Yeah, that's the ticket for a far-out fireworks show. And if he loses in a close race to Bill Clinton, he might just snag an appointment as Postmaster General.

Best Protest Sign: Republicans

In the designated protest area, a leftist bore the following poster: "WE DEMAND HUMAN RIGHTS, LAND, MONEY, NEW HOMES, NO THREE STRIKES." Fair enough. But how many square feet? Who pays for carpets and drapes? And how many strikes?

Best Street Pamphlet: Democrats

In the tradition of Thomas Paine, the conventions are always surrounded by scores of leaflet distributors attempting to communicate their views to the movers and shakers of America. The Democrats had two bold entries, beating the San Diego pamphleteers hands down.

The first was a Teamster flyer (a stapled stack of pages, really) which detailed the juicy details of criminal actions being taken by an opposing union official. It began: "IMMEDIATE PRESS RELEASE. Enclosed is the immunity document signed by Teamster President Ron Carey to save himself from prosecution for embezzlement while in turn selling out 1.4 million Teamster families. Also enclosed are the articles documenting his shady inheritance of $395,000 from an elderly woman in New York and his use of trusteeships to further his own political career at the expense of the U.S. taxpayers." A Teamster official mixed up in questionable deals? Go figure.

But the clear winner in this category has to be the photocopied brochure I received pushing "A Long Overdue Bill With Teeth"–a constitutional amendment to the effect that "EACH AND EVERY AMERICAN CITIZEN MUST BRUSH THEIR TEETH AFTER EACH AND EVERY MEAL AND BETWEEN EVERY SNACK." While the need for such a "long overdue" amendment may seem obvious to many, the brochure nicely detailed that a "MANDATORY TOOTH BRUSHING LAW" was, in fact, a "FEDERAL EMERGENCY," and thoughtfully included diagrams as to proper brushing techniques. The political argument was compelling, as well: "Effective use of tartar control now will prevent the need for crowd control later on." The pamphlet established that forceful measures might be necessary, including "Formation of elite dental commando squads to perform random house-to-house no-knock dental inspections." Perhaps somewhat more controversial was the advocacy of "Utilization of recombinant DNA test tube gene splicing to create an army of winged monkeys to aid in this effort (hereafter to be referred to as 'tooth fairies')." But, as to the essential premise that "Proper dental hygiene is essential to proper social order. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of flesh," there could be no escape. Just like HillaryCare.

Most Hazardous Duty: Republicans

Getting between Billy Baldwin and some women at the Planet Hollywood in San Diego. Don't try this without shoulder pads, and a canister of mace wouldn't be a bad idea in case it gets ugly. This was at a fundraiser for the Creative Coalition, a group of Hollywood leftists (Baldwin, a Democrat, included) who strongly advocate the downfall of the free enterprise system, making just one tiny exception concerning the enforcement of monopoly rights to intellectual property–a philosophical abstraction they are apparently willing to die for.

Best Weather: Chicago

Even without adjusting for degree of difficulty, the Chicago weather was actually cooler and more pleasant than hot and steamy San Diego. Is Bill Clinton the luckiest man in America, or what?

Weirdest Special Effect: Republicans

When House Majority Leader Dick Armey gave a talk at a party at Planet Hollywood, his visage was available to most partygoers only on the big screens placed strategically throughout the drinking hall. The backdrop for Armey was a montage of various celebs, including Demi Moore, Mel Gibson, and Roseanne, who appeared to be smiling and genuinely interested in the message delivered by the professor-congressman from Texas. The magic of technology!

Best T-Shirt: Democrats

Bearing the logo of the Chicago Police Department, it read: "Democratic National Convention–1996–We kicked your father's ass in 1968–Wait 'til you see what we do to you!"

Best Spin: Democrats (in San Diego)

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman of the Democratic National Committee, roundly thwacked Bob Dole for his plans to campaign in Chicago during the Democrats' convention. This, according to Dodd, was the height of rudeness and political insensitivity. He issued the blistering rebuke at a press conference held in San Diego–during the GOP Convention.

Best Commercial Tie-In: Republicans

Immediately adjacent to the San Diego Convention Center is the Baja Brewing Co., a superbly managed facility which employed the following banner during the festivities: "We Don't Need No Stinking Donkeys." No doubt, this company will soon be featured in a Tom Peters special on PBS.

Best Balloon Drop: Democrats

This key category was no contest. The Robert Reich-sized San Diego Convention Center simply had no vertical leap. In fact, the San Diego complex was a shockingly inadequate facility all the way around, and the Republicans have only themselves to blame for snuggling into such a cozy dormitory. I clocked the actual hang time at the GOP Con at just 4.0 seconds–that's the interval between when a balloon is released until it hits a delegate in the head. (Red, white, and blue orbs all appeared to have approximately equal trajectories.) The Democratic balloon drop, in stark contrast, was the best I have ever witnessed, a plush sea of bouncing patriotism. Hang time was an incredible 23 to 34 seconds (the wide variance owing to the occasional downdrafts some balloons would be pulled into). It was magnificent–and remains the best reason I can think of to be a Democrat.

Best Confrontation on First Principles: Republicans

Here was the theological stand-off of the season: A Buchanan supporter totes a sign announcing, "GO TO CHURCH, NOT HELL." Close by, a long-haired American answers back with his: "JESUS IS DEAD. HAVE FAITH IN YOURSELF." I'll tell you how this is resolved just as soon as I hear anything.

Best Corporate Promotion: Democrats

The Pacific Bell folks were out in force for the GOP Con, all excited about being able to introduce their new PCS (digital cellular) wireless telephone system to the rich and famous. Their scheme, however, was boneheaded: They handed out about 600 phones free (for the week) to those considered political big shots (then charged 15 cents per minute for access time). This only led to a bunch of knuckleheaded congressmen who don't ever see their cell phone bills–and have no idea that they're even using a new product–getting to employ the service, while a whole long list of the rest of us got furious for not being offered the chance to even buy service.

In Chicago, Ameritech happily offered one-week wireless phone rentals with pre-paid time cards. For $20, the Dems went for the deal Big Time. Result: Cell phones were ubiquitous in Chicago, rather rare in San Diego. This should be a major embarrassment for high-powered Republican executives coast to coast.

Worst Felony Committed by a Delegate or Dignitary: Republicans

After a wonderful party thrown by National Review on the first night of the GOP Con (beautiful backyard, with a gorgeous view of San Diego Bay, at a house owned by a rich Republican who no doubt dreams of capital gains tax relief), I go to redeem my vehicle from the valet. I travel just three blocks before discovering that I had been delivered a white Avis Thunderbird that only looks like my white Hertz Thunderbird. Upon returning to the scene of the crime, I am told that my car has already been issued to someone else. By the time I stumble into my hotel room at 2 a.m., I have discovered circumstantial evidence which indicates that the person who has apparently traded automotive units with me is staying at the Marriott.

Sure enough–it turns out that the Right Honorable Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn of the state of Washington, a leader of the freshman class of '94, is the thief in question. (My diligence in solving this case is not, I should add, an altruistic defense of the Hertz Corp. My briefcase and cell phone are in the absconded vehicle.) Ms. Dunn is not happy to hear from me. Upon learning of the situation, she admonishes: "Couldn't we please take care of this in the morning? I have to give a speech at 9 a.m. and I would really like to get some sleep. I will have my staff trade the cars later, if you don't mind."

I am stunned by the unrepentant attitude. "I would like to point out that you have taken my car, and my personal effects are in that car," I politely caution–omitting any mention of the California Code covering grand theft auto. While the cars are later exchanged without further excitement, I am shocked by the rapidity with which the Republican revolutionaries came to view the people's property as their own.

Best Corporate Reception: Chicago (Sprint)

The Democrats are so boisterously in favor of the "public interest" that they are tempted to boast about their big business connections. Banners all about Chicago proclaimed "THE 1996 DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION PROUDLY RECOGNIZES ITS OFFICIAL SPONSORS." The party of the common man is delighted to have the active assistance of United Airlines, GM, AT&T, Bay Networks, Xerox, Ameritech, Lucent Technologies.

But the best party was hosted by Sprint. The Shelter was totally groovy, a cave-like club with lots of rooms, lava lamps, and little nooks where it looks like you're not supposed to go. Two rock bands. Dancing. Open bar. Good eats. And they let me in without an earring or a ponytail!

Worst Corporate Reception: San Diego (Sprint)

Really, this is a little harsh. Everyone put on terrific spreads in both cities this year. Being a telecommunications wonk, I applaud the Nynex Crystal Garden reception in Chicago for its outstanding Chinese cuisine; the Ameritech spread for journalists in Chicago was equally fulfilling (and crowded, as the press really lives for the proverbial free lunch); the Pacific Telesis hospitality suite in San Diego offered up consistently delicious hors d'oeuvres–and great souvenir baseballs. But the damn weather in San Diego was steamy hot, and having to sweat for cocktails and tasty treats, not to mention being subjected to some gratuitous country and western crooning, was very nearly too much for this freeloader to endure. Nearly.

Best Remodeling: Republicans

Dick's Last Resort, a chain operation made profitable by the large gross margins available on liquid refreshments, was to host the Texas delegation's Wednesday night party when it became known to certain members of the Christian Coalition (which surely maintains an alert intelligence staff to sniff out just such potential breaches of national security) that the establishment was famous for its collection of women's bikini tops tacked to the bar, ceiling, and other structural foundations. So as not to insult (or otherwise excite) the sensibilities of their visitors, Dick's personnel untacked these decorator items and stored them neatly away. That, needless to say, was a smart housekeeping decision, although my suspicion is that at least a few of the pious partyers may have noticed something amiss.

Most Improbable Interest Group: Democrats ("Smokers for Clinton.")

Actually, I just made this up. But there was a ton of smoke being puffed in Chi-town, and I would bet that, President Clinton's firm desire to light up his poll ratings notwithstanding, Dems outsmoke Reps 2 to 1. That's in the cigarette category. Republican women were often seen in San Diego toting stogies, and one can only guess what the source of that purple haze was in Chicago. One suspects that, when it comes to cigarettes, the Democrats were rolling their own. The season's easiest bet: They inhaled.

Single Worst Line: Republicans

This was a very, very tough category. The Clinton video actually had Hillary's mom saying that she loved Bill "for the way he's defended and loved my daughter." Yeah, he's quite a hubby. Then there was Hillary's incredible "it takes Bill Clinton" to raise a child. Millions of concerned moms and dads exclaimed, "Not with my child you don't."

But Newt the Magnificent topped them all. Gingrich intro'd his convention address by bringing on an Olympic gold medalist in beach volleyball and then wowed the crowd by noting: "That's what freedom is all about." Well, those East German muscle-women, and Romanian gymnasts, and Bulgarian weightlifters would like to second you on that one, Newt. In fact, even Hitler proved an impressive athletic supporter, if you catch my drift. It turns out that the well-defined, unimaginative, no-brainer rivalry which comprises sporting events generally, and the Olympic games in particular, is tailor-made for the slavish devotion of totalitarian whip crackers. Back to the zoo, Newt; your animals are calling!

Most Embarrassing Speech: Republicans

I know: Too much competition. But the Committee must award this to Robin Dole, candidate for first daughter. It really wasn't her fault that the candidate desperately needed to display his family values on national TV, but telling America why dad would make a swell president is a goofy way to talk to America (and recounting how he kept losing his daughter at a state fair is hardly inspiring). Especially at age 40. Next time, Bob and Liddy: Adopt a teenager. You can return him/her after the campaign is over (the biological parents will probably make it easy by suing for custody, which would even give you some extra face time on Ricki Lake). Better yet, just do it like the Clintons, exploiting Chelsea with reference after reference in the prime-time speeches. That way, the daughter can just wave into the camera and flash a big, happy, "Thanks, Pop!" type o' smile.

Most Embarrassing Line by a Reporter: San Diego

Ted Koppel's decision to pack up the Nightline motorvan and to putt-putt home in mid-convention was a truly frightening glimpse into the mindset of one of America's best broadcast journalists. I really hope it was the humidity and not the stupidity, but here is what Koppel said when storming out in Day 3: "Nothing surprising has happened. Nothing surprising is anticipated."

Yes, Ted, that's about the dictionary definition: If it were anticipated, it really would not be a surprise. But you've circled yourself on this one. If nothing surprising occurred, you must have seen what you fully expected. So, why storm out? To say the conventions are scripted is to be literally correct. I've been attending these things since 1980, and it has always been so. Speakers read speeches from the podium as the press reads the prepared text right along with them. In fact, the Koppel hissy fit was most bizarre in that something surprising had happened: The Republicans put on a good show. To some, that's worth leaving town to avoid.

Best Music: Democrats

The Republicans did introduce Bob Dole with a swell tune, "Gonna Fly Now," the Rocky theme, but the orchestra was weak and the acoustics dismal. Moreover, Dole's speech led into a very elevatorish melody which, in turn, was prelude to Travis Tritt (ubiquitous in Republican San Diego; whatever happened to Tanya Tucker and Lee Greenwood?) who inexplicably took every thing straight south with one of those melancholy (i.e., depressing) country songs. This, remember, was at the climactic, ultimate celebratory moment when the pom-poms, confetti, and screamers were at full throttle.

The Democrats, building on their upbeat 1992 Fleetwood Mac score, "Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)," had only to show up to beat the downbeat GOPers. Not only did they show, they grooved again–with Aretha, Kenny G., and a phalanx of rockers, gospelers, jazzers, and grungers, culminating in a post-Clinton acceptance speech burst of Chicago's reliable hit, "This Is the Beginning."

Best Elitists: Democrats

Consider James Carville in San Diego. A reporter there saw Mr. Matalin buy a bottle of French wine for $48.48 on his credit card. We're Rich, They're Not for your next best-seller?

Best Deaf Captioning: Republicans

The GOP closed-caption display on the convention center big screen seemed reasonably close to what was being said, but the Democrats had trouble. Sensational gaffes appeared regularly, as when the Chicago policeman's reference to "jack-booted thugs" was translated as "jack-buddhist thugs." Or when the term "anti-racketeering law" came out as the "anti-racket earring law." A product of NEA-backed schools?

Contributing Editor Thomas W. Hazlett (hazlett@primal.ucdavis.edu) teaches economics and finance at University of California at Davis.