Prague, 31 July 2000 (RFE/RL) - The quadrennial presidential nominating convention of the Republican Party, one of the two U.S. major political parties, gets underway tonight in the eastern U.S. city of Philadelphia -- with the Democrats due to follow in two weeks' time. There is little doubt about the Republicans choices: Texas Governor George W. Bush has won the primary balloting, and therefore the nomination, and he has chosen former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney as his vice-presidential candidate. The lack of suspense, however, has not kept Western press commentators from expressing their views on the media-oriented convention, Bush, and the current state of the Republican Party.
Britain's Financial Times writes of "image-making in Philadelphia" in an editorial today. The paper says flatly: "Electoral cycle by electoral cycle, the once vibrant, unpredictable and politically consequential process that was the presidential nominating convention has been reduced to a well-orchestrated, ultimately meaningless television spectacle."
"This year's Republican convention," the editorial goes on, "promises to be the ultimate triumph of form over substance. There will be no real debate on the controversial questions of social policy -- abortion, homosexuality, feminism -- that have riven the national party for the last decade. Worse," it says, "there will be barely a hint of the important differences over taxation, the budget and campaign finance reform between the half a dozen candidates who fought for the party's nomination in the primaries earlier this year."
But, the paper argues, "however tempting it might be to dismiss this week's events, there is still one critical point to the proceedings. When Mr. Bush gives his acceptance speech on Thursday, it will be the first time millions of Americans have heard the front-runner in the presidential race. It will be the moment that defines the candidate in the public's mind as the campaign enters its last, crucial phase." It adds: "The overwhelming impression from polls is of a public not engaged in the electoral process. The challenge for Mr. Bush is to find a way to re-energize those disillusioned voters. Voters are looking for change and commitment to real reform. Mr. Bush should not squander his chance to offer a lead."
Wall Street Journal:
The Wall Street Journal focuses on the political platform the Republicans have already put together in Philadelphia. It writes: "The GOP [Grand Old Party, the Republicans' long-time nickname] platform supports broad cuts in tax rates. It lets parents of children in badly failing schools use a portion of federal education money to put their kids in the private or public school of their choice. It prefers teaching abstinence in schools instead of contraception. It continues its complete opposition to abortion and opposes new gun control laws.
"The platform" the editorial continues, "would expand NAFTA to the entire South American hemisphere, welcomes legal immigrants who 'strengthen our economy and enrich our culture,' supports a 'robust missile defense' and the entry of both China and Taiwan to the World Trade Organization, but wants to keep up pressure on China's human rights record and sell weapons to Taiwan."
In conclusion, the paper says: "The Republicans have come to believe that Bush really will take them politically where they want to go. That in turn means that the issues that have divided Republicans in the past, such as abortion, have been willingly subsumed in a larger enterprise. In sum, this convention reflects a party no longer willing to settle for the politics of insurgency. It seems to believe it is getting close to stitching together a majority that can last. Thus the smiles in Philadelphia."
New York Times:
The New York Times -- traditionally, more supportive of the Democrats than the Wall Street Journal -- is less enthusiastic about the Republicans' meeting. In an editorial, it says: "Bush knows that he cannot be elected president unless he gets votes from many people who do not agree with him or the Republican Party platform on issues such as abortion, gun control, capital punishment and the privatization of Social Security.
"That," the paper argues, "is why today is gear-shifting day in Philadelphia. The selection of Cheney as his running mate and the deliberations of the platform committee all emphasized the conservative part of Bush's background and core vote. But once the convention's first session opens this evening, the nation will see four nights devoted to what Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster, calls the politics of pleasantry."
The paper suggests that Bush has what it calls an "iron-fist rule" about not attacking the sitting U.S. President, Democrat Bill Clinton, during the convention. It says the Bush campaign "will try to be more deft in invoking Clinton fatigue. Cheney has taken to depicting the president as a tragic figure. In a television commercial, Bush speaks of the Clinton years as bringing a budget surplus, but a deficit in values." The paper concludes that if Bush "succeeds this week in having undecided voters focus on his soothing, positive statements about education, health care, Social Security and taxes, then he will be able to count this convention a success, and the almost certain Democrat candidate for President, Vice-President Al Gore can count on having his hands full this fall."
Christian Science Monitor:
In the same vein as The New York Times, the U.S. daily Christian Science Monitor writes: "Beneath the carefully choreographed convention lies a shrewd political strategy. A mere year ago, Republicans might have been raring to blast the Clinton-Gore record. Scandals from 1996 fund-raising infractions to Monica-gate would have been targeted, moral outrage front and center. Now," the paper says, "keynote is education and the need to leave no American child behind in this time of economic prosperity and transforming technology. At his insistence, the party is dropping its call to do away with the federal Department of Education. He's gone out of his way to talk to voters who are not usually in the Republican column."
The paper continues: "These steps are welcome, and they reflect Bush's genuine inclination as well as campaign tactics. He recognizes that, scandals aside, the incumbent president is highly regarded by many voters. The electorate is in no mood for vicious attack." It adds: "The Bush camp hopes Mr. Gore will be the one forced to bare his teeth. Bush's task is to show how he can perpetuate the economic gains of the last eight years, setting a course just right of center, rather than just left."
Still, the paper concludes, "the party gathered in Philadelphia rests on a staunchly conservative base. Its platform leaves no doubt of that. The Education Department may be spared, but there's no give on issues like abortion. The Democrats are already taking aim. But, although the more conservative Cheney could easily be attacked, Bush himself could prove a difficult target."
There are also press comments today on the efforts of North and South Korea to warm up their once frozen relations -- and the U.S. role in that rapprochement -- as well as on British Prime Minister Tony Blair's recent proposal to create a two-chamber European Union parliament.
On the two Koreas, Norway's Aftenposten daily writes in an editorial: "For the past 50 years, North Korea has formally been in a state of war with the United States. The situation appeared to be changing last week when U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met in Seoul with her North Korean counterpart Paek Nam Sum -- who had icily ignored her at the United Nations just a year ago. At the same time," the paper notes, "representatives of the two Koreas began discussing cooperation in the economic affairs, politics, culture and sports, and the construction of a railroad linking the two states. This is the first such discussion since last month's historic meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas."
The paper goes on to warn: "While there is no doubt that North Korea -- which tops the U.S. list of rogue states -- is trying to move toward limited democratization, it is important to assess the dangers that lurk behind every corner during its transition. North Korea is a country in a deep crisis: according to the international charity organization Caritas, some 2 million people have starved to death there in recent years."
The editorial then sums up: "The gap between North and South Korea in terms of living standards is much greater than it was between West and East Germany in 1989-90. There are no guarantees that the transition in North Korea will go ahead as smoothly as it did in Germany -- with the help of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachov. The international community," it concludes, "must now watch North Korea with even greater attention."
Britain's Daily Telegraph criticizes Prime Minister Blair's suggestion to create a second EU parliamentary chamber, made up of nominated delegations from member-states' national legislatures. The paper says Blair's proposal "is no doubt well-intentioned. He understands that national parliamentarians, lacking the 'gone native' mentality of their European, would bring a healthy sense of reality to Brussels."
But, the paper argues, "Blair's proposal would be a step toward a European federation, a polity where powers are divided between a central authority and subsidiary provincial authorities." It adds: "When they speak of federalism, most European leaders have Germany in mind. They see the European Commission as the government, the European Parliament as the Bundestag the European Central Bank as the Bundesbank, and the European Court of Justice as Bundesverfassungsgericht."
"Now," the editorial goes on, "Mr. Blair proposes to add the final element: a Bundesrat, representing the interests of constituent states. There is nothing," it comments, "especially discreditable about this. The trouble is that, unlike Germany, the EU is not a nation. Its peoples speak some 20 languages and dialects." What's more, it says, "there is no European public opinion. Federalists are no doubt genuine in their desire to build a European democracy, but they overlook the fact that there is no European demos."
(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report)