The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 8, 2000 Issue
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 service.

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 price.

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 bishops.)

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