For a political reporter looking for a good story, a national convention has become a pretty barren field. Journalists typically just enjoy the expense account, skip most of the scripted, focus-grouped speeches, and listen instead to Jack Germond or David Broder reminisce about the Taft-Eisenhower floor fight of 1952 or the Chicago riots of 1968. In New York this year, even the protests were made for TV.
The oasis in recent Republican conventions has been the platform committee. In these hearings, the week before the convention, conservative activists and local party officials would spend four days hashing out the party’s official stance on such issues as taxes, defense, abortion, and education.
In contrast to the convention proper, where every word is vetted by the campaign and the party to make sure it will appeal to the undecided voters watching on TV, the platform hearing provided debate, ideas, substance, and (something certainly not found on the podium at the convention) actual conservatives.
Predictably, the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign put an end to that. Beginning with the party’s refusal to give platform delegates the names and contact info of other delegates, it was clear that things were going to work differently this year.
The typical four days of debate was cut down to two. The platform was a monstrous 90-page document drafted by Bush-Cheney...