A glimpse of the Texas Stasi at work amid the glitter of Las Vegas cabaret

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The Independent US

It was a moment, that was all. But it told you all you needed to know about the Republican convention in Philadelphia, where the party is recasting itself as a more moderate, more tolerant organisation - or at least giving that appearance.

It was a moment, that was all. But it told you all you needed to know about the Republican convention in Philadelphia, where the party is recasting itself as a more moderate, more tolerant organisation - or at least giving that appearance.

Congressman Jim Kolbe came out to speak a little before 8.45, a good spot if not a great one: as close to television's prime time as a member of the House of Representatives might expect for a short address on international trade.

But the significance of Mr Kolbe's appearance was greater than that: Mr Kolbe is the only openly gay Republican in Congress, and he was the first outed gay to address a Republican convention.

George W Bush wants to show his party is open, liberal and progressive, though the Republican manifesto inveighs against gays and his own record is ambivalent. It was a risky move. Many in the party vehemently reject homosexuality and regard it as a sub-genre of Satanism. A small group among the delegation from Texas, Mr Bush's state, were at the forefront of the protests, and some had said they were ready to walk out when Mr Kolbe spoke.

So the Bush handlers were ready. As Mr Kolbe appeared on stage, suddenly, among the stetsons of the Texas delegation were a dozen or so men with jaunty orange baseball caps, embroidered with a small W. Perhaps that stands for "whip", perhaps for Mr Bush's middle initial and the nickname by which he is known.

But this was the political police, the Bush Stasi. They encircled the Texans down on the convention floor.

CNN reported their arrival. Magically, those orange caps disappeared: these people are all wired with earpieces and nothing is left to chance. They had been instructed to make themselves less visible to the TV cameras. If dissent was to be suppressed, it would be done covertly.

The Texans did not walk out. But as Mr Kolbe began to speak, they removed their stetsons, some clasping them to their hearts. They prayed, silently, as snatches of Mr Kolbe's speech wafted overhead, its content largely ignored: "Free trade ... Source of growth ... High wage jobs ... Standing tough against the Chinese ..."

It was the first moment of unscheduled activity of any sort, an electric moment that blended high politics, media and low emotions, and yet it was over almost before it had begun. Unless you knew what this was about - representing in microcosm the struggle for the soul of the party, right against left, moderates against moralists, fundamentalist Christians against free trade liberals - you would not have known it was happening.

If you did, the veil of goodfellowship and togetherness so energetically constructed this week was torn asunder.

But it also showed the iron grip of the Bush camp over this convention. It is controlled with a discipline and an intelligence that mixes Bolshevik organisation with the presentational skills of a Las Vegas cabaret. It is Machiavelli's Miss America contest, a Moscow May Day parade directed by Andrew Lloyd Webber. This is to be The Triumph of W.

For the most part, people here do not mind: they want to win, and they think Governor Bush can do that. So does he. Mr Bush and Karl Rove, his tightly wound campaign adviser, will make sure that nothing - nothing - gets in the way of winning the White House.

But for that small group of Texans, there are more important things, and their fanatical hatred of gays is one.

If Mr Bush wants, really wants, to change the Republican party, then it will be very hard. He will have to persuade, deal with or eject his fellow Texans and their like.

But then, perhaps he does not really want change; perhaps he wants only the appearance of change, something he can get with a gospel choir and a few black speakers or, if firmer measures are needed, men in orange baseball caps.

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