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A Grand Ol' Block Party

The GOP is coming. If there are elephants on the streets, it must mean the circus is in town.

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At the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego, Ted Koppel made big news by taking a powder on day two, announcing in a huff that there was "no news to report." A mini-debate ensued about the propriety of his decision, but not a soul disputed his assessment.

Odds are, Koppel won't be bored when the GOP gathers here in 2004. The proceedings should offer a garden of amusements. Imagine, for starters, the rowdy face-offs that will unfold on that democratic laboratory known as the New York City sidewalks. There will be gauntlets of outlandish protesters, representing every known gender and some that may be specifically bred for the occasion, straining to offend the bewildered delegates, about 60 percent of whom, if recent history is a guide, will be Christian evangelicals and thus firm Old Testament literalists ("the Big Apple" may mean one thing to us, but to students of Genesis, it means quite another).

The cosmic nature of the culture clash is, at bottom, what makes the choice a daring, and even confrontational, one. It takes some moxie to decamp in so solidly Democratic a fortress, the place Bill and Hillary Clinton decided to call home. Democrats would never have the bravado to convene in Birmingham, say, or even a more cosmopolitan GOP stronghold like Dallas. But Republicans are more aggressive, and smarter, gamblers. In 1996, Governor Bush, asked whether he'd be attending a Texas Rangers playoff game against the Yankees, averred that "I don't want to go to Yankee Stadium and have to arm myself." Now he proposes to play Broadway.

Of course, it was September 11—more accurately September 14, when Bush first visited ground zero—that changed Bush's relationship to the city. September 11 imagery, and Rudy Giuliani imagery, will be a constant, as will trips to the podium by police officers and firefighters. That will give the show resonance across the country. Resonance here in New York is another matter. We may have a Republican mayor and governor, but they are hardly the kinds of Republicans "real" Republicans adore (the Republican paper, the Post, is far tougher on the Republican mayor than a certain Democratic paper Republicans love to hate). These chasms will probably just be papered over. But if Bush uses this convention to tell America that New York–style Republicanism is, as it were, kosher, then he won't be just whistling—as it were—Dixie.


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