I kind of like Republicans.
And before the theatrics begin (I can hear the shrieks from my McGovern-supporting parents now: "We have no daughter! Our daughter is dead!"), I'd like to reassure my family and the New York State Democratic party that I have no intentions of declaring membership in the party of Gingrich, Burton and Goldwater. But I am taking my critical first steps toward adopting a kinder, gentler dare I say more compassionate take on selected members of the Grand Old Party.
Covering this convention has thrown a wrench in the machinery of my anti-GOP bias: Despite my predictions, after spending five days surrounded by Republicans I am still alive. No one tried to bite me or kick me in the shin. In fact, I have met some truly delightful, charming, personable and humane folks. I should add, of course, that those particular people tended to be pretty moderate party members, or even lapsed Republicans spurred into renewed action by either the Bush candidacy or an overwhelming disgust with Clinton's peccadilloes. I've talked to women, men and even a few teenagers whose opinions on education, literacy and child care jibe fairly close to my own. I went to a TIME lunch with Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel and, I am embarrassed to say, have developed a little crush on his straight-talking ways.
In the midst of this multimillion-dollar extravaganza, I've spoken with folks who've made their first trip to "the big city," laughed with them about the elaborate expense of the events and even amiably shared bar space with retired Reagan appointees.
Oh, I've seen the dark side of this week, too: Too many rich white people swilling $400 bottles of champagne, barely veiled sexism, homophobia and elitism. I've struggled to maintain my objectivity as I covered pro-choice protests outside Philadelphia's most exclusive restaurants and clubs, fighting the urge to throw down my pen and paper, toss aside my press credentials and join the fray.
And I am well aware that this environment is hardly representative of reality. When everyone is well-fed and impeccably clothed (OK, with some notable exceptions in the Texas delegation who seem to have an unhealthy relationship with sequins), it's easy to forget that there are millions of Americans who are still suffering from horrible economic inequities, and who have been left behind by the recent boom. I remind myself that outside the walls of my hotel, there are people sleeping in doorways who don't have anything to eat let alone the bootstraps that are so popular here.
But even as I emerge from the thick haze of highly seductive rhetoric that's enveloped this week's proceedings, I'm left with a grudging respect for people who fiercely defend their involvement in the Republican party as a vehicle for national improvement. (I don't agree with them, mind you, but at least I no longer respond to the presence of a Republican by sticking my fingers in my ears and singing tunelessly "La la la la I can't hear you la la la la.")
And while it will take a lot more than a week of pageantry to change my voter registration, my recent softening should serve as a potent warning to the Gore camp: They'd better put on one hell of a show out there in Los Angeles. Because if the GOP can charm the likes of me, it's going to be a very tough ride into November.