Eye on the Capitol|
Both candidates convey impression they want change
The public will vote based on what they've heard, so the candidates must deliver
By John Huebscher
For much of our history, conventions picked the nominees for
President and Vice President. Now they serve a different
purpose. Today, presidential nominees use their party's
convention to present their vision for the nation's future
and the themes of the campaign they are about to wage.
The conventions this year convey the impression that both
Gov. Bush and Vice Pres. Gore want to offer the nation
something different from what their respective party
leadership has offered of late.
Gov. Bush defines himself as a "compassionate conservative"
committed to reaching out to those the party may have
excluded in the past.
Sen. John McCain, his principal opponent in the primaries,
and Colin Powell, one of the most preeminent moderates in
the party and an African-American, enjoyed prominence as
"prime time speakers."
The leaders of the Congressional Republicans, more
conservative than most of the voters whose support Bush is
now seeking, were conspicuous by their absence.
For Democrats, convention week included numerous references
to faith and family values and a more wholesome popular
culture. Party faithful applauded Sen. Joseph Lieberman's
public discussion of how his faith informs his public
In his acceptance speech, Vice Pres. Gore proclaimed that
introduction of a bill to reform our campaign finance laws
will be the first order of business for his administration.
Why would Bush and Gore do what they did?
It seems reasonable to assume that Gov. Bush is not
comfortable with the type of conservatism offered by Newt
Gingrich's heirs in Congress. He may also conclude that he
cannot court Hispanic voters in California, New Mexico,
Florida and other states with the same anti-immigration
message his party has offered in recent years.
He also seems to have determined that a candidate cannot
appeal to women voters with a theme that government help to
families and education is a bad thing.
As for the Vice President, perhaps he has concluded that the
nation wants more than material prosperity from its next
President. It is reasonable to think the elevation of
campaign finance reform to "job one" for a Gore Presidency
reflects the Vice President's view that voters want no more
of the tacky venality of the incumbent.
One also senses that Gore's emphasis on family and morality
reflects the conviction that voters want to repudiate the
squalor that has characterized too much of the news
emanating from the White House.
The selection of a running mate who is open about his
religious faith may reflect a judgment that moderate voters
are uneasy with a Democratic Party that has become so
secular as to seem hostile to religion.
Of course, it is possible both conventions were mere
shadows, designed to cloak the two parties' real plans until
after the election. If so, such insincerity will carry a
A hundred years ago, few people were present to see or hear
what happened at a convention. But in the television age,
the promises made at conventions are seen - and remembered -
by millions of voters.
Today, the promises presented to the nation in those four
days of prime time theater are, for better or for worse, the
ones the nation will consider binding on those who make
them. And both men know that to deny that message will
undermine their legitimate title to the office they seek.
So let's hope what the candidates displayed was their
mission and not their mask.
(Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic
Conference, the civil arm of the state's five diocesan