There are times when the life of a political reporter is so marvelous that you feel like a criminal taking money for doing the job. Thanks to the wonders of jet aircraft and an employer who believes in a full workweek for everyone, it has been possible for me to cover both the Republican platform commitee meetings here and the Democratic rules committee sessions in Washington in the same week. My cup runneth over.

Ambience-wise, the Mayflower Hotel, where the Democrats met, has it all over Detroit's Cobo Hall. There are carpets in the Mayflower, and tile walls here. But the bar was close to the hearing-room door in Cobo Hall; at the Mayflower, when the TV lights put you in danger of melting, you had to climb a flight of stairs to get to a beer.

The big political lesson I learned last week is that Democrats and Republicans are different. Really different. They look diferent. Beards are in for Democratic men; Republicans always look fresh-shaved. Democratic women are hatless; Republicans favor large, exotic bonnets.

The buttons they wear show the width of the ideological gap. Republicans advertised themselves as Stop ERA or Moral Majority members. Wearing a Stop ERA button at the Mayflower would have been as hazardous as wearing an Immoral Minority button there.

The Republican platform-writers showed they understand the virtutes of obfuscation, but when it comes to euphemism, they are light-years behind the Democrats. The Democratic rules committee produced what I consider a real breakthrough in verbal prettification.

You remember when we all applauded Uncle Harry for making the big step forward from talking about "cripples" to sympathizing with "the handicapped." Do you know how "the handicapped" are now referred to in enlightened liberal circles, like the Democratic rules committee? They are -- I swear to you -- "the physically challenged." As Alan Baron, the newsletter writer, remarked, "physically challenged" is a broad enough category to include any kid out on his first date.

For a mad moment back in Washington, the Democrats were on the brink of commiting themselves to an affirmative-action program on behalf of "the physically challenged."

Not just "the physically challenged." The Democrats were ready to vote a resolution mandating special efforts to bring into their delegate-selection process "Women, Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian/Pacifics, Lesbian/Gays, Youth, Older Americans, the Physically Challenged and the Economically Disadvantaged."

They would have done it, too, except that a delegate from South Carolina did some rapid calculation and announced that the targets for this "special concern" must make up at least 75 percent of the population -- which rather negated the idea that they were getting special attention.

Later, a somewhat shorter list of affirmative-action beneficiaries was brought forward, omitting several of the groups, including youth. When that omission was questioned, a delegate advised that youth were no longer considered "victums of historical oppression," which is as clear-cut a slur on America's parents as I have heard in years.

As a parent who consider himself every bit as much an oppressor as the tyrannical daddies of previous generations, I turned to Detroit and the Republicans with high hopes. The Republicans are very big on "the family" this year, and they figured to be appreciative of the efforts some of us are making at being disciplinarians.

But the Republicans are really a backward tribe. They do not understand or practice affirmative action -- and certainly not for the exotic categories the Democrats coddle. A Republican's idea of an "outreach" program is to dip way down in the organization and invite the assistant treasurer to join the Gop.

There was a bearded Republican governor in Kansas once recently, but he got beat after one term, and most Republicans privately figured that he was asking for it.

A delightful gentlemen in a wheelchair is running for the Senate in North Carolina this year. But if he makes it, you know the Republicans are going to be really gauche and say it's a victory for "the handicapped."

How can you take a party like that seriously?

In fact, how can you take either party seriously?