Partisanship is getting low billing at the Republicans' most partisan event, their national convention. Candidate George W. Bush has made it clear he wants to convey an image of inclusiveness. The days of "culture war" and fiery attack are over. This is a new Republican.
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 '96 fund-raising infractions to Monica-gate would have been targeted. Moral outrage front and center.
Now, a purposefully genial GOP standard-bearer appears to be setting out to "out-Clinton" Clinton - or at least his heir apparent, Al Gore. Mr. Bush's 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.
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. 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.
But the party gathered in Philadelphia this week still 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 same traditional conservative stance is seen in the congressional voting record of Bush running mate Dick Cheney. The Democrats are already taking aim.
Bush himself, however, could prove a difficult target.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society