No, that is not the lament of the producers of the Democratic National Convention. It's my plight. As I was putting the finishing touches on another dispatch from the Convention Center, my company-loaned laptop made like the chic radicals on the streets outside and rebelled against its oppressive human overlord. Now its screen is as black as an anarchist's mask and I'm left to reassemble my story from barely legible notes and hazy memory.
My computer failure may be the only legitimate surprise to come out of the convention in the last 72 hours. Al Gore's "surprise" cameo appearance on the platform last night with his daughter, Karenna Gore Schiff, was about as spontaneous as a Space Shuttle launch.
Nor did Joe Lieberman's speech offer anything truly surprising. Conservatives may shake their heads in amazement as they watch their some-time ally in the culture war cast his lot with the Gore program. But in the end, his speech did not deviate one iota from the same line that has been repeated over and over and over again since Monday; to wit: we are the party of tomorrow, we will fulfill every desire, answer every need, if only you let us.
Nothing Lieberman could have done would have been as embarrassing as the burlesque show that preceded him. There is reason to thank the networks for not broadcasting these events gavel to gavel. Most viewers at home were spared the "Kids Chorus," in which five small children recited a poem called "When I Grow Up." A sample: "When I grow up, will children ride home from school in a bulletproof bus?" (Is it conservatives or liberals, by the way, who oppose tougher criminal justice laws and more discipline in the classroom?)
Most home viewers were also spared the horrifying scene of Senator Chuck Schumer sticking a microphone in front of a rape victim and watching her dissolve into tears.
The typewritten text of Lieberman's speech is nearly eight pages of interest group promises. To the National Education Association, there is assurance that the union's interests will be given full attention and that vouchers are off the table. To the NAACP, there is a solemn vow that the regime of federally mandated quotas, preferences and set-asides will remain intact. To Hollywood, an implicit promise of a kinder, gentler, and less frequent wag of the finger. But these are mere stocking-stuffers, compared to all the Christmas presents under the official platform tree.
What policies do the Democrats propose to enact if elected?
- One million new teachers.
- A "Victims' Rights Amendment" to the United States Constitution that would require victims of violent crimes to be notified before their attackers are released.
- Prescription drug benefits added to Medicare coverage.
- Mental health care benefits added to Medicare coverage.
- Job training for paroled prisoners.
- More courts for federal drug-offenses.
- Mandatory safety locks for guns.
- A photo I.D., full-background check, and safety test for new gun purchases.
- An extension of the federal hate-crimes law to include sexual orientation.
- A federal law to criminalize telemarketing fraud.
- A new version of the Violence Against Women Act, which the U.S. Supreme Court found unconstitutional this year.
- Tax credits for child care.
- Tax credits for elder care.
- More funding for AIDS research.
- More funding for anti-smoking ads.
So the policies are there. But they ought to raise a few questions. First, there is the simple matter of who is to pay for this wish list? More importantly, does it seem to occur to anyone to ask whether such measures fall under the proper function of the federal government? In short, are these schemes constitutional?
One could make a reasonable argument that most, if not all of them, are plainly unconstitutional. That none of the commentators, nor even the Republicans, raise this point is a troubling commentary on the state of our politics. Indeed, the Republican convention in Philadelphia was equally disappointing on this score.
It's been a long time since a presidential election campaign has included an explicit debate over the purpose and scope of constitutional government. But there is still time. Let us hope it may yet happen.