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Coming of Age in New Orleans BY LOUIS DUBOSE New Orleans MAYBE THEY have lost their vision. But they haven’t lost their perspicacity. The editors, that is, of The New Republic. Refusing to be beat by a thousand dailies covering the Republican national convention, they turned their staff loose two weeks early to write the convention story before the delegates arrived thus assuring that it would make the cover of the issue scheduled to circulate at the New Orleans convention. And they got it right. So what if they missed completely on their Vice-Presidential pick. So did George Bush. \(Hendrik Hertzberg picked Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson and by now Bush probably beyond that, these four northeastern Cold War liberals wrote the script for the convention. “Hate Week” they augured of the Republican gathering in New Orleans, where we would hear “much about Willie Horton, the famous furloughed first-degree murderer who committed rape while out of jail on a weekend pass provided by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; a good bit about Daniel Ortega; and a fair amount about George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Edward Kennedy, and Walter Mondale .. . we will also hear many incantations of the dreaded ‘I,’ word. . . . And of course we’ll hear plenty about abortion. And about how Dukakis vetoed little children pledging allegiance to the flag.” So there you have it. The Republican convention missing only the Dan Quayle controversy in 200 words. Taking a seat at the Browning-Ferris Industries breakfast for the Texas delegation, on the first morning of the convention, and listening to Senator Phil Gramm begin his speech, I knew already that the story had been written: Michael Dukakis and the Democrats, Gramm said “want to confiscate all the guns in the state then veto the death penalty for drug peddling . . . to let out murderers and rapers to practice their trade.” And from Governor Bill Clements: “George Bush is a conservative. His opponent, Dukakis, is a flaming liberal from Boston where else? . . . Mr. Dukakis will go over like a lead balloon in Texas.” But it would be televangelist Pat Robert son who would most closely follow the formulaic script anticipated by New Republic writers. Robertson was not two minutes into his prime-time speech when he went after three of the four horsemen of Democratic apocalypse: “The message of the Democratic Party is a message of defeat, division, and despair. They did not speak for the American people under McGovern, or Mondale, or Carter. And they do not speak to America today .. They are ashamed to mention the word that describes who they are and what they really want to do. They don’t say it, so they just call it the `L’ word.” \(As Robertson spoke, “L word” appeared on the screen And it was by Robertson’s speech that lib-bashing would become red-baiting: “As an aside, I should mention that Michael Dukakis is a card-carrying member of the ACLU, an organization dedicated to removing all public affirmation of religious faith in America.” Robertson might have been born again on Thursday, but it wasn’t last Thursday. He, of course, remembers Joe McCarthy and understands perfectly what the phrase “card-carrying” implies. And Robertson wasn’t content to take on only latter-day liberals. He wanted, it seemed, their ideological antecedents, Danton, Marat, Caritat, Rousseau and the rest the grandfathers of secular humanism. Robertson strung his speech around Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities, comparing decadent, atheistic Paris of the French Revolution with London in 1789, where John Wesley presided over a spiritual revival and “there was self-control and selfrestraint. ” His twin cities theme allowed him to work in the obligatory references to what the religious right calls the social issues, the family, abortion, and drugs. Here Robertson envisioned a Republican city, set of course, on a hill: “A city where husbands and wives love each other and families hold together. A city where the elderly live out their lives with respect and dignity; and where the unborn child is safe in his mother’s womb. A city where the plague of drugs is no more and those who would destroy and debase our children with illegal drugs are given life sentences in prison with no chance for parole.” In his defense of the ancien regime Robertson, perhaps unwittingly, stumbled into an attack on capital punishment, describing Paris, during the Reign of Terror, as a place where “no one’s life was safe from the dreaded guillotine.” And when Alexander Haig described Michael Dukakis as a “diminutive clerk from Massachusetts,” then compared the Democratic ticket to a bat that hangs “upside down for extended periods, in dark, damp caves up to its navel in guano,” you could almost hear Jeane Kirkpatrick whispering: “Talk dirty to me, Al.” BUT TEN STRIDENT speeches do not a convention make. And no one came to New Orleans expecting the Republicans to be anything but mean and partisan. The Democrats in Atlanta weren’t exactly generous to their rivals either. Isn’t that what national conventions are all about? So what really happened here? Well, George Bush’s surrender of the Vice Presidency and the platform over to the conservative wing of the party. And the beginning of Phil Gramm’s Presidential campaign. By 1992 \(or ’96, depending on remember this convention as the start of the Gramm campaign. Midway through Gramm’s speech to a National Rifle Association luncheon in his honor, it was obvious that Gramm is running for higher office. His message is Presidential; avoiding parochial issues like an oil import tax, Gramm first begins with containment, reiterating the President’s line about “not an inch of soil on this earth” having fallen to the communists since 1981. White sauce on 3,000 seafood crepes cools and congeals as Gramm enumerates the themes of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 agenda: SDI; competition for the hearts and minds of the people of this world; competition with no rest until “all the world is free including the people of Central America, and Cuba, and Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union themselves.” Then, as bread pudding in rum sauce is served, and containment has become expansion, the Senator moves on to the cake in the slum metaphor. His vision is one of this Republic as a “rich kid with a cake in the middle of a slum.” The cake, of course, is small relative to the needs of a hungry 6 SEPTEMBER 16, 1988