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Instant Analysis With The Post's Robert G. Kaiser

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Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2000; 11 p.m. EDT

John McCain was George W. Bush's chief rival for the Republican presidential nomination. On Tuesday, the Arizona senator takes the convention stage on which he had hoped to claim his party's mantle to instead pledge his support to the Texas governor.

The other major speakers on the second night of the GOP gathering in Philadelphia include Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, Elizabeth Dole and her husband, former Senate majority leader Bob Dole, and Bush foreign policy adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Robert G. Kaiser (Post photo)

Discuss your reactions to this week's Republican National Convention in a nightly live online discussion with Washington Post senior correspondent Robert G. Kaiser. Kaiser is The Post's former managing editor and was an early proponent of online journalism. The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Robert G. Kaiser: Good evening. We're back for a second night of comment, reaction and analysis of the Republican National Convention. We welcome your comments and evaluations of tonight's convention session, and we'll try to answer any questions you may have.

Washington, D.C.: What did you think of McCain's speech tonight? Think he really could be laying the groundwork for a candidacy four or eight years from now?

Robert G. Kaiser: I thought McCain's speech was quite remarkable. I also think it may read even better tomorrow morning than it sounded in his delivery. To my eye he never seemed entirely comfortable up there tonight. But his message was strong, and yes, I think it sets him up very nicely for a future run. Eight years from now would be a long time for someone his age to wait, but four years from now he would be a formidable challenger to Al Gore -- if Gore were the president. But with or without such considerations in mind, McCain used his chance tonight to put down some powerful markers on his issues, and his view of the country.

Bethesda, Md.: Former President Bush, his wife, and other members of the Bush family were a very conspicuous presence at the convention and in television interviews today. Is this convention turning into a coming-out party for the incipient Bush dynasty?

Robert G. Kaiser: This is an interesting question. I remember when Edward Moore Kennedy ran for senator from Massachusetts in 1962; he was just 30, and had no real political experience. His opponent had the bad manners to suggest that if his name was Edward Moore, he'd be a laughable candidate for the Senate. Of course Teddy Kennedy has now served nearly four decades as a senator. If George Walker Bush had been George Walker, would he have been governor of Texas or be running for president now? I guess I doubt it. Does that mean that the Bushes -- with their governor of Florida, Jeb, as well -- are our new Kennedys? I certainly don't know. Stay tuned.

Norwood, Pa.: I live in a suburb of Philadelphia. After watching the 6 o'clock news tonight, I am shocked at what is going on in Philly. The protestors have been an ongoing thing, but tonights protestors -- that are joined by PVC piping -- are being hauled away to either Holmesburg prison or the main police department known as the "roundhouse." I'm puzzled. Is this going to be a strike against Philadelphia's name? Especially after the controversy arising after the police were so brutal to a car hijacker a few weeks ago. It certainly made national news! I somehow don't remember protests to this extreme in other cities holding conventions in the past.

Am I just tuned in to this because it's taking place in Philadelphia or does this go on in other cities? Will we see this in Los Angeles?

Robert G. Kaiser: The demonstrators in Seattle for the World Trade Organization meeting, the demonstrators in Washington for the World Bank meetings, and now these demonstrators in Philadelphia this week seem to be a new phenomenon in our recent experience. There's a new fashion out there for strong action in the streets to express strong displeasure for the status quo, particularly as regards globalism and corporate influence. I suspect we'll see more of these demonstrations, perhaps starting in Los Angeles.

Santa Rosa, Calif.: How does one separate the candidate from his party? George W. seems to be an all-around capable and decent person but his party is anti-gun control, anti-environment and anti-abortion -- all positions that the majority of U.S. citizens disagree with.

Robert G. Kaiser: Interesting question. What is the significance of the party these days? I think we're being reminded by this convention that the presidential candidate has an extraordinary power over the party in modern politics. A lot of people in that hall in Philadelphia are swallowing their tongues rather than rain on Bush's parade. On the other hand, Republicans in Congress, each of them elected independently, can be expected, I think, to continue to vote as they have in the past on the issues you list and many others. And it's also true that on abortion and gun control, Bush himself is with them; the environment is much more complicated, and his positions are less clear to me.

Philadelphia, Pa.: Why oh why oh why do they keep playing that damn Star Wars music when McCain comes out? As a Star Wars fan, I'm insulted.

Robert G. Kaiser: Anyone out there know the answer to this momentous query? I certainly don't.

Framingham, Mass.: Now that Bush is moving toward the center with education and minority inclusiveness. What are the issues Gore needs to address to move to the center as well? and he is capable of doing it.

Robert G. Kaiser: Beginning with his choice of a running mate, I think Gore faces some difficult choices on how much of a "New Democrat" or centrist he is prepared to be. If he is still running behind in the polls when he chooses a vice presidential candidate, will he risk alienating the Democratic base on the left by picking a moderate, for example? Will he try to echo Bill Clinton's '96 rhetoric in 2000? To me this remains an intriguing mystery. Gore has a lot of advantages in this campaign, at least on paper, beginning with the fact that the country may literally have never been in such good economic shape as it is today. But he hasn't been able to translate these advantages into political facts yet.

Philadelphia, Pa.: Could be a silly question, but don't you think the set on that stage leaves a little something to be desired? Not exactly a great TV backdrop.

Robert G. Kaiser: I'm with you. I thought of Las Vegas hotel lobbies when I saw that cross-hatched blue background last night. And the speakers all look so lonely and remote up there. This week's U.S. News & WOrld Report has a wonderful photo on its cover of the 1948 GOP Convention in Philadelphia, when Tom Dewey was nominated. The podium is crowded with people, and the audience is jammed up around it. That's the way a convention ought to look, don't you think? But not in the age of Michael Deaver and his disciples.

North Mankato, Minn.: I'm overwhelmed at the professional way the convention has been conducted. Rather than listening to old politicians boring blabber, I'm hearing from the team that's going to lead this country into the 21st century. Bush is leading the party to center and I don't think the Gore clan has a chance.

Robert G. Kaiser: Here's an interesting comment from Minnesota...

Washington, D.C.: What was the story behind some controversy over Rep. Jim Kolbe speaking to the crowd?

Robert G. Kaiser: You can read about this flap in a Congressional Quarterly story that's posted right now on our OnPolitics convention page. It says that some conservatives, beginning in the Texas delegation, were upset that Kolbe, who has said publicly he is gay, was given a prominent role in the convention.

Mount Airy, Md.: First an answer to the Star Wars question. McCain feels the responsibility of slaying the evil empire of special interest groups and soft money -- hence the theme song from Star Wars. Second, what is your take on the notable absence of campaign finance reform from McCain's speech? Does this show McCain's continuing dissatisfaction with Bush's fund-raising during the Republican primary? Finally, McCain seemed teary eyed when discussing that he may have reached the end of the road and will be unable to see over the horizon. Do you believe there is a hidden message here or this simply McCain's form of acknowledging defeat and endorsing a younger Bush?

Robert G. Kaiser: Here's one of two helpful answers I've received on the Star Wars issue. I'll post the second one, without comment, in a moment. Personally I thought I heard McCain discussing campaign finance, but artfully, without using the usual vocabulary. Wasn't that what he had in mind when he talked about the corruption of American institutions and the rise of cynicism? I think so. We should both re-read the text tomorrow. Was there a hidden message? I don't know. I took that as a graceful nod to the younger man.

New York, N.Y.: Dr. Rice gave a great explicit message of support for Gov. Bush's abilities in foreign affairs. She gave a great implicit message that Gov. Bush has top advisors based on merit regardless of race or gender. Do you think she'll be active on the campaign trail (not just as an advisor, but as a campaigner?)

Robert G. Kaiser: I don't know. Ms. Rice is a formidable person. She has been working hard juggling foreign policy advice from a great many would-be advisors to Gov. Bush. I haven't heard of any plans she may have to campaign actively, but after tonight, perhaps she'll be drafted.

Norwood, Pa.: Last night...a Philadelphia choir...and another entertainer whose name slips my mind. Must we have entertainment at these conventions? Just boggles my mind, the money that is spent! Unless these entertainers are donating there time? It just ticks me off, all the hoopla!

Robert G. Kaiser: Politics has been entertainment in America since the birth of the Republic. Why did all those Illinoisans come out to hear Lincoln and Douglass debate slavery and other issues of the day? Because it was fun, I suspect; not because they were all a bunch of policy wonks. I'm afraid you'll have to find another hobby if you don't want to see entertainment mixed in with politics.

Houston, Tex.: So what did you make of the Texas delegation bowing their heads in prayer during the openly gay congressman's speech? Sure beats a floor fight. Maybe these guys can hold together. But if Bush loses, I think the fissures could come back?

Robert G. Kaiser: I'm sorry I didn't see the prayer. If it happened as you report, I endorse your analysis.

Washington, D.C.: Do you think Bush is getting a bad rap on the foreign policy front? After all, Clinton had virtually no experience and he turned out to be very good.

Robert G. Kaiser: Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton -- none of them had meaningful experience in foreign affairs before becoming president in my view. I think American voters don't take that very seriously, or so it would seem from the historic record. Was Clinton "very good" at foreign policy? I'm not convinced. But we can't answer such questions definitively for a while.

Arroyo Grande, Calif.: Does anybody know exactly know what George W. would do in international policy? Condoleezza's promises may not come true, you know.

Robert G. Kaiser: Does anyone know what the issues will be that the next president will face in the world at large? Of course not.

Robert G. Kaiser: Here's the other answer to the Star Wars question that I promised to post:

Norwood, Pa.: What are your thoughts about Bush's nephew coming forth with his good looks and speeches endorsing his uncle?
A nice touch for the young voters?

Robert G. Kaiser: This brings us back to the earlier question about a Bush dynasty. This isn't just a nephew, this is the third George Bush! He seems like a bright, personable and poised young man to me. How about 2024?

Philadelphia, Pa.: Other than messing with my commute, what are the protesters accomplishing? By God, I'll buy them new puppets if they'd just let us through. I think they're caricatures of civil disobedience protestors of my youth. Or am I just getting old and cranky?

Robert G. Kaiser: Hard to answer -- particularly the last part. But it is noteworthy, I think, that after the demos in Seattle and Washington, the World Bank started to talk very earnestly about doing more for the world's poor people. It's my perception that a lot of the winners in the current economic boom, in this country and globally, share a certain degree of guilt, or at least concern, about the fact that there are still lots of losers who aren't partaking of the new wealth. And to some extent, that's a point these demonstrators are trying to make, too. But they make it in an angry, sometimes ugly way, and we learned in Washington that a lot of them are actually very privileged young people themselves.

Washington, D.C.: The Star Wars theme was started by the McCain campaign, when Senator McCain likened himself to "Luke Skywalker" destroying the "Death Star" of the establishment and campaign finance. A stretch, by any Star Wars fan's imagination. Yes, they must stop playing it.

Robert G. Kaiser: The technology is making it hard for me to post this comment. I will try again...

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks again for all the good questions and comments. We'll try this again tomorrow night at 11, EDT. Good night.

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