DALLAS -- The world will little note nor long remember what was said at the Republican state convention last weekend. Nevertheless, the shindig had its moments. (I first saw the Lincoln quote applied to some political event in the Boston Globe a while back, but I can no longer remember who wrote it.)

A supremely nostalgic moment occurred during the convention's recognition of Sen. Phil Gramm for Lifetime Achievement. Gramm responded graciously, as befits a retiring pol making his final appearance, thanking all and sundry, giving us his fondest memories of public service: "I had the honor to be a storm trooper in the Reagan Revolution," he declared. But then, he couldn't help himself. The old pit bull dropped the statesman pose and went for the Democrats' jugular. He started in politics as an attack dog and finished that way, too -- in its way, a glorious moment.

Unfortunately, the attack was a trifle off. Gramm appeared to be in a state of high indignation because two Democratic contenders for the gubernatorial nomination had held a debate in Spanish. "Anybody who witnessed the first debate for high public office in American history that was not conducted in the English language knows what is 'dream' about this ticket," declared Gramm. He went on to assert that because the D's have both an African-American and a Hispanic high on their ticket, they are trying to "divide Texans based on race."

But the swing left him wide open to the obvious counter-punch -- that by finally including African-Americans and Hispanics, the Democrats are in fact ending the old divisions based on race.

The R's loved it, of course. The R's in convention are a scenic and festive sight, thousands of white people wearing every conceivable garment in red, white and blue, plus elephant hats. One must take Gramm's word for it that R's are opposed to dividing Texans by race, since blacks and Hispanics are nigh-invisible among them. Although officially opposed to affirmative action, the R's do thrill to the presence of an actual minority person. In one Senate district with 204 votes and exactly three black people in the room, wondrous to say, one was elected to the state Executive Committee. When cynical blacks accuse black Republicans of joining because "the line is shorter over there," they mean a (SET ITAL) lot (END ITAL) shorter.

The ever-hilarious Republican platform -- still endorsing such golden oldies as withdrawing from the United Nations and abolishing no-fault divorce, bilingual education and the Department of Education -- was the subject of the only serious fight at the convention.

Texas Republicans are still split between the Christian-right and the "country club Republicans," meaning those who are economic conservatives but more socially liberal than the Christian right -- many even drink. The Christian right theoretically took over the party in 1994, but many of its members feel both betrayed and powerless. Their big win was undermined by Karl Rove, President Bush's political shot-caller. He simply re-routed the big money contributions around the state party and straight to Bush until he had regained control.

The incumbent party chair Susan Weddington is theoretically of the Christian right, but many of them consider her a "a sell-out." (In one of the more surreal moments at the convention, a black minister brought in to give the invocation accidentally wound up thanking the Lord for Sarah Weddington, not Susan. Sarah is the lawyer who successfully argued Roe vs. Wade before the Supreme Court.) But the Christian right is still a peppy bunch, raising hell -- if Christians can be said to do that -- about all kinds of things.

Their big effort this year was the "RINO rule," an effort to extirpate candidates who are Republican In Name Only. They want the party to refuse to fund any Republican candidate who does not swear allegiance to the entire platform. I always wind up rooting for the Christian right because they're the populist insurgents of the party, as opposed to the old Establishment poopers -- but I admit no one since Josef Stalin has actually thought a party purge was a good idea. But Texas Republicans tend to be the hard-shell Baptists of political theology,the ideological equivalent of "dancing will send you straight to hell"; whereas Texas Democrats are more like the Unitarians, a pretty much "whatever" approach.

The fight was really over an extreme litmus-test on abortion -- the platform outlaws abortion even in cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother.

Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff told Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News, "For those of us who would not sign such a document, because such documents are always too simplistic, it's just a good thing we don't have the rack or burning at the stake anymore because they might be gathering firewood." Ratliff is, of course, retiring.

The Christians lost in what sounded like a fast gavel on a voice vote, but they promise to persevere.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2002 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.