Freed up from conventions 


I don't go anymore to big, noisy parties, where people wear funny hats, eat and drink to happy excess, and take endless photographs of one another amid showers of confetti. I've also stopped attending loud music concerts in giant halls. Lately, I've even given up going to political conventions. But wait -- I repeat myself.

OK, it's not as if every single political convention is "all balloon and no ballast." In fact, out of the six convocations I was able to virtually attend this season (through the good graces of C-SPAN and the World Wide Web), only the Democratic and Republican bacchanals were, in fact, no more than expensive TV shows controlled by their respective party's media elites, and thus devoid of any real decision-making on the part of the delegates.

As "show business," the Republican bash was little better than a cheesy Vegas lounge act. Wrestlers, crooners in giant sombreros, country singers (and every third African American in Philadelphia!) were all bussed in to entertain a crowd of happy, rich, white revelers, who know that George W. Bush really doesn't mean all that "compassionate" stuff about inclusion and diversity, but will, if elected, continue the GOP's assault on Clinton's morals and the "liberal" redistribution of their money.

Broadcasting from L.A., the Democrats chose the Oprah route. Elected officials strode the podium with mike in hand, moderating panel after panel of ordinary citizens whose lives have been or will be changed for the better, if Al Gore gets his chance to "fight for the people and not the powerful." (Although with a record convention-week take that out-fund-raised the Republicans for the first time in history, it's hard to know which people were powerful and which were just ... people.)

In contrast, the Libertarian Party convention in early July was all business. In addition to the expected renomination of quadrennial sacrificial lamb Harry Browne as its presidential candidate, the delegates gave their nod to their party's "Don't Tread on Me!" platform. Libertarians pledged to eliminate the income tax, abolish Social Security and repeal all restrictions on gun ownership.

Libertarians are an ... interesting group. They are fiercely dedicated to their particular literal interpretation of the Constitution, and while they admit their passion for dismantling government may be "throwing the baby out with the bath water," they just don't see any problem with that -- since they view the federal apparatus as Rosemary's baby, anyway. And occasionally, they do stumble upon a worthy plank. Their loud opposition to the losing "war on drugs" displays great courage, not to mention a little plain common sense.

Of course, the Green Party pretty much owns the common-sense thing. The Green platform of egalitarian democracy; protecting the environment; an end to corporate welfare; universal health care; a guaranteed right to a job; a 30-hour work week; free child care; free education through graduate school; public financing for all campaigns; elimination of the payroll tax; ending the "war on drugs"; supporting fair-trade policies; abolition of the death penalty; ending all gender, racial and sexual inequality; and a 100 percent tax on all income over 10 times the minimum wage of $12.50 per hour (!) sets an agenda for the kind of world I want to bring my children up in.

I applaud the Green Party's vision of a just, clean, truly democratic state. Its presidential candidate, Ralph Nader (who endorses only parts of the party platform), is the only person in the country who can truly claim the mantles of both protector of the environment and champion of the people. But Greens, take off your rose-colored glasses and look around: You posit a national destiny based on the intelligence of caring, civic-minded, self-disciplined adults. This, in a country where 51 million people watched the last episode of "Survivor!"

Which brings us to the Reform Party. Until this year, Ross Perot's creation didn't know what it stood for. Now it stands for two things! The Reformers split apart at their convention, with one faction supporting John Hagelin (creator of the Natural Law Party) and the other backing neo-fascist Republican émigré Pat Buchanan, whose nomination of a black, female, ultraconservative running mate fleshed out a truly bizarre chronicle.

Finally, on the outskirts of both Philly and L.A., were Arianna Huffington's two "Shadow Conventions," which, she thought, could force the two major parties into discussions of substance. Poor Arianna. Doesn't she know by now that when it comes to the "party," nothing's more important than the balloons?


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