resolved to avoid the conventions this year, and for the most part, I kept my vow. Apart from the major speeches, so-called, I broke down only once. Late one balmy afternoon, I turned on C-SPAN's gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Chicago gala just in time to catch an address by--good lord. Was that supposed to be FDR? Yes. For several minutes I listened to some poor hack dressed as Roosevelt declaiming the proud Democratic tradition to a milling and soporific audience that naturally did not include Bill Clinton. The president had busied himself in the weeks prior to the convention with the eradication once and for all of the last tattered remnants of the New Deal; he then announced he would undertake a whistle-stop tour around the country in the spirit of FDR and Harry Truman. His acceptance speech sounded the same themes, reminding us all of our responsibilities to those unfortunate Americans he so cheerfully consigned to oblivion when he signed the welfare bill.

          The Republican version of this gambit--which consisted of dusting off Mary Fisher, a white middle class hemophiliac with AIDS, and of salting the floor with a handful of black delegates to whom the network cameras dutifully panned--was pale by comparison. In both cases, it was reminiscent of a plotline common to b-movie science fiction from the early days of computers:
A machine intelligence grows fiercely powerful and threatens to take control of humanity. The beleaguered humans finally outwit the machine by posing a logical contradiction that it cannot resolve. The machine, in its confusion, finally shorts out, and the humans are restored to their rightful place. In this analogy, the party machines and their corporate underwriters are the humans; the evil machine that must be vanquished at any cost is you and me.

          Both parties took great pains to show that they care about the afflicted and the common folk, for one simple reason: They don't. And everyone knows it. A latter-day Tocqueville viewing the proceedings could only conclude that the essence of democracy was carefully staged bathos--a good cry followed by a diffuse and lingering confusion, and then off to bed with the lot of you. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Christopher Reeve. Heckuva guy. Credit to his disability. And never a day on welfare.

          In the face of their own irrelevancy, even the delegates looked dazed. At least one caught the spirit of it: the woman at the Republican convention with her Dole/Kemp banner hoisted high in one hand, and in the other a hand-lettered placard that read Interviews with mainstream ordinary common Kansas delegate, $10. In sorting through the prints and proof sheets Terry Gydesen brought back from San Diego and Chicago, it quickly became obvious that there was no point in separating the shots of Republicans from the ones of Democrats; they mostly tended in the same direction. Welcome to democracy's dada period.

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