Judging a party by its protesters

You're tired of conventions. You believe the Democrats and Republicans have become shady reflections of one another. You wonder if the two-party system is obsolete.

I come to you with good news gentle voter. It is not true. There are differences, substantial differences, between our two parties. And to understand them all you have to do is ride the shuttle bus service to and from the Staples Center here.

If you can find a bus that is. And if it is going in the right direction. And if the driver, who supposedly is charged with driving your route, knows where your hotel is.

We can talk about the style of the conventions all we want. We can talk about their substance. But what I want to know is: How is it that the Democrats, the champions of government action, don't even know how to create a simple shuttle-bus system? Why were the Republicans, who so fear any centralized control, so adept at it - and at other things like keeping their convention on schedule?

After a few days here you begin to wonder if the Democrats and Republicans have their roles reversed. Logistically, each party does a better job of making their opponents' points than their own.

The truth is, Democrats and Republicans excel at different things. Republicans know how to put on a show like clockwork. And Democrats, well, they thrive on disorder - at the convention and outside of it. We're talking here, of course, about the protests. If you've been paying any attention to this thing so far you have undoubtedly seen the footage - the intersections being clogged, the Rage Against the Machine concert, the rocks, the rubber bullets.

The scenes may be making you wonder if we're headed for another melee-filled convention like we had in Chicago in 1968. You can relax. As former Ambassador Robert Strauss, who was at the 1968 convention, told the assembled here at a Monitor breakfast, "Comparing what's going on out there to 1968 is like comparing chicken with chicken salad."

The protesters here are holding a series of rallies to raise awareness on different issues - many different issues.

On Tuesday, the protesters marched their way through the streets to decry America's handling of the poor and mothers - a worthwhile topic.

Now here's a sampling of the signs they marched with: "Iraq, Lift the Sanctions," "Kids Count," "Double Day, Half Way, No Way," and the always popular "Free Leonard Peltier."

Now we can discuss any of these ideas, even all of them. But together?

That's not chicken salad - it's a five-course meal ... thrown into a Cuisinart.

The protesters here are simply called that: "the protesters." Because that's all we really know about them. They protest.

Against what? Well, what have you got?

But their name is not just fitting because it's all encompassing, but because in the end, it is essentially so large it's meaningless.

They are "the protesters," no adjectives, no descriptors. It's almost as though they have arrived from central casting, as in, "We're shooting the Democratic convention scene over here. Can you get me 'the protesters'?"

In the end, the message they offer is so diffuse that they will likely be most remembered for causing traffic jams. And in L.A., that's not exactly a major league accomplishment.

Most ironic though, is that the protesters who are here to talk about substance have done little more than add to the carnival. The puppets are back. The slogans are catchy. The music is raucous. And the hair is interesting.

And in the end that's why the Democrats and Republicans are different - at least where conventions are concerned.

The Democrats are more fun. Their convention may be just as scripted and less well organized, but it's two shows in one.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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