New York --A NEWSDAY gossip columnist, noting the famous, rich folks who've recently had their wallets, jewels and Mercedes-Benzes ripped off in plain daylight, is taking on bets on which Democratic celebrity "will suffer a major New York disaster"
Don't wager that the mugging victim will be Bill Clinton. The Democratic nominee-to-be and his handlers have arranged the most foolproof, dissent-proof, ruckus-free convention since -- well, the Communist Party went defunct.
And like those old Moscow party conventions, this $40 million New York extravaganza may be as empty of flesh-and-blood conflict.
It's not merely that 2,400 cops, plus Secret Service agents and anti-terrorist teams, are guarding Madison Square Garden like the Hope Diamond. Or that Mayor David Dinkins has hustled away the pimps, prostitutes, homeless persons and drug dealers until the neighborhood is as clean of sin as Hope, Ark.
No, it's the Valium-like peace inside the Garden that makes you wonder what happened to the old snarling, biting Democrats.
Somebody check these people's fingerprints. You watch them floating up 7th Avenue, wearing their red-white-and-blue hats and enough buttons and cardboard credentials to open a souvenir shop, and they're giggling like Mardi Gras celebrants. These are Democrats?
Nobody -- or almost nobody -- is mad at anybody. This seamless, antiseptic love-in is exactly what Governor Clinton and party chairman Ron Brown wanted -- in fact, they enforced it with brass knuckles.
"This will be the most unified Democratic convention in my lifetime," said Mr. Brown proudly.
You may call the federal pen at San Quentin "unified" too -- but it's not exactly democratic with a lower-case "d."
I can think of five mavericks who at some time in the past few months have created mischief for Bill Clinton -- Jesse Jackson, Jerry Brown, Paul Tsongas, Mario Cuomo and Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey.
Not one, barring an upset, will speak an unruly, disputatious or disloyal word in front of the glittering "video wall" of Mr. Clinton's convention.
It's the Clinton "No Troublemaker Invited" litmus test -- no endorsement, no television time.
OK, maybe you can't blame Mr. Clinton for squeezing out dissent. He's familiar with Democrats' catastrophes of the past: Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's cops beating up young protesters in 1968 . . . The flower-child bedlam of 1972 when George McGovern made his acceptance speech at 2 a.m. . . . The bitter comedy of Jimmy Carter chasing Ted Kennedy's handshake around the the stage in 1980 . . . Jesse Jackson's celebrated squabbles with Michael Dukakis in 1988.
After each fiasco, Democrats lost. So Mr. Clinton passed the word to 1992's potential rebels who caused him grief on the campaign trail:
Shut up or get shut out.
Nothing intimidates a politician like the threat of losing his 15 minutes of prime-time fame. So most folded under the governor's velvet fist. Jesse Jackson picked his own CNN talk show (why waste a scoop?) to make his surrender: "I will vote for Bill Clinton and Al Gore in November."
Then, having won his convention TV slot, 48 hours later Mr. Jackson was grumbling that Clinton had "insulated and infuriated" segments of the party -- meaning blacks -- and "distanced himself from the Rainbow Coalition."
Translation: Mr. Jackson will try to play political tag with Mr. Clinton, a game the latter will refuse.
Jerry Brown? Despite winning 3.8 million votes and more than 600 delegates, it's doubtful whether he'll speak or have his name put in nomination. Sounds like police-state stuff, but Mr. Brown has been slow to endorse the Maximum Leader.
"We're getting closer," Mr. Brown said at his fried-chicken-and-reggae picnic. "I want to have a creative convention experience."
Paul Tsongas? Having endorsed Mr. Clinton and won a doomed roll-call vote on his economic plan, he's a graceful joiner. "We fought hard, but the fight's over," said Mr. Tsongas.
Mario Cuomo? Forget his outrage last spring about Mr. Clinton's taped comment that "the S.O.B. looks like" a Mafioso. Governor Cuomo will make a predictably rousing endorsement speech. "I am endorsing Clinton, not everything Clinton says," Cuomo bristled here.
Bob Casey? He trashed Mr. Clinton in the primaries, won't endorse him now and will not be allowed a spotlight for his anti-abortion spiel. Even if you disagree with Mr. Casey's narrow abortion viewpoint, he has a point calling the Clinton loyalty oath "a gag rule."
Harmony, though, is boring. Mr. Clinton's peace-at-any-price convention will rivet even fewer TV viewers to this bloodless, obsequious love-in. With no conflict or drama, the dwindling audience will zap to a sitcom.
I'm glad H.L. Mencken, who loved strong cigars, beer and rowdy conventions, isn't around to see Bill Clinton's white-glove tea party. The Dems, all 4,200 of 'em, think they can win. They're giddy, polite, lovable robots. No troublemakers allowed.
Who the hell are these impostors -- Republicans?
Sandy Grady is Washington columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.