NEW YORK -- Pardon the rant here but my colleagues in the media have lost it. After attempting to ignore and then reluctantly being forced to cover the charges of the Swift boat vets about John Kerry's lies about Vietnam, charges which have absolutely hammered him in the polls, reporters have seized on the disconnect between the conservative Republican platform and the RINO bent of many primetime speakers like a bunch of crazed wolverines.
Huge protests full of lewd sentiments, teeming with barely controlled rage? Yes, but what about Republican hypocrisy? Former New York Democratic Mayor Ed Koch endorses Bush as the convention opens? Right, but what about Republican hypocrisy? New Yorkers commute much easier than the nightmare they were promised? That's all well and good, but tell us about Republican hypocrisy.
Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Donna Brazile, and other Democratic heavy hitters have been all over the television, warning us all about the nasty conservatives hiding in a Trojan horse that Arnold Schwarzenegger will ride in on.
Don't misunderstand: I was at the front of the line of agitators calling for a more conservative primetime lineup. But where were my colleagues' hypocrisy detectors last month in Boston, when the overwhelmingly anti-war Democratic delegates nominated two candidates who not only stand by their votes to allow President Bush to go to war, but promise to send more troops in a positively Johnsonesque escalation scheme?
FULL STOP: END OF RANT. But I wanted to learn how moderate Republicans feel about serving as a lightning rod for liberal criticism at the convention, so I attended a panel discussion Monday put on by the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership.
In its press releases, the Partnership complains of having to defend incumbent moderates from nasty conservative challenges. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich and Former Governor Christie Todd Whitman were the guests of honor. It was supposed to be a debate.
It was not. Moments into the event Gingrich, in that strangely endearing gruff way of his, jumped on the Main Street bandwagon. He told the gathered (some clearly surprised) that it would be "impossible to create a right only majority in America" and that a party that didn't invite someone as popular as Governor Schwarzenegger to speak "wasn't fit to win." With a nod to some of the journalists in the room, Newt declared, "There is a narrow-minded, bigoted party in America. It's called the Democratic Party."
Later on, when a Time magazine reporter made the foolish mistake of dissing the Contract With America as outside the mainstream, Gingrich didn't even let him finish his question. First he reeled off the major components of the Contract. Then he listed the polling numbers showing the vast majority of Americans were on his side in each instance.
Gingrich punctuated each of these with a loud question: "So if I stand with 86 percent of Americans on welfare reform, does that make me a right-winger? Or does that leave my opponents on the left?" Finally, he noted that Democrats don't allow pro-lifers to speak at their conventions. Note to self: do NOT attempt to zing Gingrich in a public forum.
WHITMAN FOUND LITTLE IN the former Speaker's remarks to disagree with. She gently chided Republicans who want to define the party "more narrowly" (i.e. conservatively). Then, after praising the President to the heavens, she acknowledged some disappointment with the platform concessions to conservatives.
"When you start getting very specific on issues [in a party platform], you start excluding people," she said. "That's not what we're about as a party." The question of at what point a platform becomes so broad and watered down that it ceases to matter was not addressed.
Of particular interest were Gingrich's comments at the end of the session on conservative 527s in general, and the Club for Growth in particular, which he described as "explicitly wrong" in its approach. Conservatives should not be recruited to run against moderates, Gingrich said. "The key to me is to elect more Republicans, build a bigger majority, and be more inclusive," he said.
It sounds great, but clearly the majority voters have handed Republicans as of late has been less than ideal. There is no balanced budget. There has been no de-escalation of the growth of government. There has been no visible spending restraint on the part of the GOP. In short, what are we waiting for?
EARLIER IN THE DAY I sat in on a meeting of the much-maligned Club for Growth titled "It's the Bush Economy, Stupid!" Economists Larry Kudlow and Arthur Laffer, and Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot expounded on the underreported positive aspects of today's economy. It was all as delightful and engaging as one might expect.
But the thing that got the audience riled up was the preview of a couple of Club's hysterical new anti-Kerry ads, pushing fiscal conservatism all the way home. In one, Kerry serves as one of those rooster wind charms atop a house, swaying back and forth in his decisions whichever way the breeze blows.
In the cheers I could understand the Club's fundraising success. Yes, they are funny and sharp. But more than that, the group advocates conservative causes in a way the Republican Party establishment refuses to.
Clearly, at least a couple hundred of the folks who traveled to Fortress Square Garden approved. For others who would like to have a big enough tent for Howard Dean and Ted Kennedy eventually to switch parties, maybe the rhetoric was too off-putting. It's so hard to please everyone.