IT IS already an overworn cliche that the voters are angry, alienated and demanding "change" in 1992. But what are they angry about specifically?
The people who voted for Pat Buchanan or "uncommitted" in the Republican primaries last winter were probably angry at George Bush. But whether they embraced Buchanan's "America First" platform is doubtful.
The people who voted for Paul Tsongas in the Democratic primaries were arguably angry at traditional liberal Democrats. But their anger at seemingly perpetual Democratic losses of the White House bore little resemblance to Republican anger at George Bush.
Nor did the anger of Jerry Brown's supporters parallel that of Paul Tsongas's or Pat Buchanan's. Brown voters seemed to be saying that big-money interests had come to dominate politics at the expense of the little guy.
Ross Perot's partisans professed to be disgusted with politics as usual and hoped an outsider would shake up the establishment in Washington.
Does all of this disparate anger amount to anything coherent? Not really, except for one unifying theme -- dismay at the crowd in power in Washington, D.C. This presents a challenge to both parties, since Democrats and Republicans alike hold power in Washington.
Mindful of the need to look like "outs," the Democrats were masters of disguise at their convention in New York. Democratic committee chairmen stand astride Washington like colossi. Yet you would have needed bloodhounds in Madison Square Garden to find Tom Foley, George Mitchell, Dan Rostenkowski, Richard Gephardt or Joseph Biden.
Instead, the convention featured a parade of Democratic governors -- Zell Miller, Ann Richards, Mario Cuomo -- pretending that George Bush makes federal policy all by himself. Two senators did address the convention: Ted Kennedy and Bill Bradley. But Mr. Kennedy is a special case, representing his martyred brothers, and Mr. Bradley is not part of the leadership.
George Bush won't be able to hide at the Republican Convention in Houston. He cannot rely on the same tricks the Democrats use to pretend he's out of power.
Mr. Bush can win only with an injection of real honesty into the proceedings. He might say, "I made several big mistakes in my first term. I should have fought the Congress for what I believe in -- low taxes, enterprise zones, educational choice, welfare reform. I know that now. The difference between my opponent and me is that I think tax increases and funding the octopus welfare state are mistakes, and he doesn't.
"If you choose to re-elect me and re-elect the Democratic Congress, I will do battle for my ideas, but it will be uphill all the way. If you re-elect me and vote for real change in Washington -- by overturning the 40-year rule of Democrats on Capitol Hill -- an era of true reform can begin."
Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.