Convention Notes 2004: Republican Convention

Day 1

I didn't start watching until 10:00 since I had classes until 9:40, but I caught the most interesting stuff in any case.

First, it must be said, Republicans do patriotism better than Democrats. No matter how (occasionally) simplistic or (occasionally) insular, they at least believe in what they are saying. With the Democrats, one always has the sneaky suspicion that when they get all patriotic, they are secretly putting up reservations. "Well, sure, I love America, and democracy is great and of course, we want to spread it around the world, but not, um, too fast or anything."

Second, the convention hall was just ugly.

If you didn't know which convention you were watching, you would have thought you were watching the Democratic Convention in reruns. The Republican Convention of 2000 was a throw-away affair and terrifically well-lit. Now, they're getting serious, which apparently translates into ugly and dark. At least the stage wasn't as hideously constructed as the stage at the Democratic Convention. Still, on aesthetic principles, both parties are losing.

I tuned in just as John McCain began to speak. David Brooks said John McCain could have blown the roof off and commended him for keeping his speech low-key (interesting side note: the press in general from Shields to Brooks to Lehrer to O'Rourke LOVE this guy. I think he treats them with real courtesy while Gore, and probably Kerry, treats them like underfed and possibly incestuous cousins and while Bush treats them better, they all know that Bush doesn't really care what they think).

I thought McCain's speech was boring. I liked the "disingenuous film maker" remark about Michael Moore (who is there, by the way; the guy is nothing if not plucky). Other than that, ho hum. The War in Iraq is good, and George Bush is the guy in charge. But as a speech for or against a Republican win (which is the point of a Convention), it was fairly pointless.

Then there was a September 11th tribute which had the (only) plus side that it was less maudlin than the Democrat's tribute. Three women spoke about their brothers and husband, men who either perished in 9/11 or were wounded. And they didn't cry! One thing the Republicans do very well (quick, Hillary, figure this out) is produce tough, WASPy women who aren't daunted by very much at all and don't feel the need to emote all over the place to prove their feminist femininity or go out of their way to defend their right to be tough.

And then Rudolph Giuliani spoke and was fabulous. He went way off script but he accomplished three things:

(1) He gave a personal view of George Bush. He's a natural story teller so he's actually interesting to listen to. And he likes to tell stories. I think he would have told stories all night about George Bush in New York on 9/14. He kind of lost track of where he was going.

(2) He made the Reagan case. Nobody has been making the Reagan case lately and it was nice to hear. "We shouldn't be ashamed of the Iraq War," he said and then drew a picture of Middle East peace as America's long-term goal with the under-riding ideology of "democracy is great--let's share it." You were left going, "Hey, this guy BELIEVES in something." Mark Shields claims you were also left with the impression that Giuliani wants to run in 2008. Giuliani versus Hillary--boy, THAT would be fun.

(3) He made the case against Kerry. And he was funny too. "Now we know why John Edwards insists on two Americas," he says. "One where Kerry votes for something. And one where he can vote against the same thing!" Not bad, that.

Mark Shields called it Kerry-bashing. David Brooks called it setting the record straight. Whatever it was, it was very entertaining. (Something the Democrats failed to do in their convention.)

The evening was graced by two excellent EXCELLENT solos: "Amazing Grace" and a recording of Frank Sinatra singing New York, New York. I'm not a big Sinatra fan, but the latter was amazing. In general, Republicans do music better than Democrats, not because they have better taste, but because they go for big-band classic rather than hip and new. Hip and new has the problem of running the range from horrible to great. Big-band classic never lets you down. And (note to Democrats) a Ccnvention isn't supposed to be a music performance.

So Giuliani stole the show, but we aren't voting for him. I really don't know if Bush can sell himself better than his henchfolks. Cheney is there and looks like he'd rather be someplace else (Cheney usually looks like he'd rather be someplace else--probably why he annoys the press so much).

In the meantime, isn't all this 527 stuff just hilarious?! Talk about people calling each other's bluff.


Cheney looked a little more approachable. He smiled.

I didn't pay much attention to the beginning two hours (8 o'clock on). Some guy from Georgia got up and went on and on about litigation and health care costs, specifically the high cost of liability insurance for doctors. He might be right, but I've always figured health care costs will go down as health care research produces cheaper forms of medicine. But maybe that's too Star-Treky o-brave-new-worldish.

I really liked the Governor of Maryland. He started the evening's theme, continued with Schwarzenegger, of defining what it means to be a Republican.

Of course, the *star* of the evening WAS Schwarzenegger and call it good old Hollywood training but he was possibly the most interesting speaker of the evening.

David Brooks made the passing comment that a good convention speech is one where the speaker uses his/her personal background to explain where he comes from. (And Schwarzenegger's history is fascinating.) David Brooks later referred (as did many people) to Obama (basically, the Republicans want this guy), remarking that both Schwarzenegger and Obama spoke to the ideal of what makes them, alternately, Republican and Democrat (as opposed to conservative or liberal).

And this brought up an interesting thought. Because, by Schwarzenegger's definition, I'm a Republican. But since I'm not a party animal, I've refused the designation. And I'm not entirely convinced that Republicans ARE Republicans. If you know what I mean.

Has Schwarzenegger's ideal been lived up to? It sounded downright libertarian to me. Control of one's own money. Government accountable to the people. Strong defense. Strong marketplace. Low taxes. Non-government intervention. Do Republicans practice this? I'm willing to allow that most believe it in some part, but when it comes to the government interfering to get you what YOU want, doesn't all that idealism go by the wayside?

(I will say that with the Republicans that I know there does seem to be an underlying skepticism of government. Remember, I work in liberal central, and I am seriously appalled by how ready the liberals in my office are to criticize, mock, denigrate and preach against ANYTHING Republican and how quick they are to defend Clinton, Kerry, etc. etc. Most of the Republicans I know will happily criticize Bush, while still feeling an allegiance. Frankly, the longer I work in my office, the more liberals scare me. They are so ready to believe, trust, adore the politicians on their side of the fence. Whatever, the faults of Utah Republicans, I've always gotten the impression that Utahns will never entirely forget or forgive
Johnson's army showing up in Utah. Odd, that the patriotic, war-monger party should be filled with government critics. And that the anti-war, peace party should be filled with government praisers.)

Then Bush's kids introduced his dad. I agree with Shields that the jokes went on a little too long. But boy, those kids were refreshing. Not the greatest public speakers in the world, but hey, they didn't care. My favorite line--possibly of the evening--was, "We had a hamster too. [Pause] Ours didn't make it." Thank goodness for a realistic dad, rather than a warm and fuzzy one. I was also touched by the genuine family feeling. For awhile there, it felt like the public had been invaded by a Bush reunion, complete with friendly digs at the grandparents (who waved their hands and chided and golly, doesn't Bush Senior looked like he's having the time of his life?). I think my favorite moment, rather than favorite line, was when Laura Bush came out and greeted her children with an almost absentminded affection. You could almost hear her saying, "That's nice, dears. You did good. Go sit down, now."

As for Laura Bush: I like her. Her speech went on too long, but she did for her husband what Kerry's wife couldn't bring herself to do for Kerry. The only fault I find with her is I thought she should have done more of it. But Laura Bush is fundamentally reserved (although not cold). She told the public exactly how much personal information she thought we needed and that's all, folks.

Some points about her speech:

(1) Huzzah! The President introduced his wife! Major coolness. I thought the Democrat convention was smart, and I didn't think the Republicans could top it, but that significant detail convinced me that they have. It may all be stage-managed, although I think W. really does love his wife to distraction), but major kudos for the husband introducing his wife rather than holding himself back entirely for the big Thursday night appearance.

(2) Her images of a fretful, worried George Bush were in keeping with my theory that the man thinks--he just can't communicate that he thinks.

(3) I kind of wished Laura would say something about the stupid 7 minutes. But she's a lady, she is. No name-calling. No disparagement of the other party. She didn't even mention it. She didn't even care. (And on the same note, is anything more cool than the Bush daughters saying, "We're not really into politics"?)

All in all, a very successful evening. Wednesday is usually the wacko evening, when all the delegates go to Broadway shows and Buchanan comes out to snarl. Still, all in all, the Republicans are doing a stellar job. I am really impressed, and I honestly thought I wouldn't be.

Second favorite line: "Hope is NOT a strategy."


I thought Mitt Romney was a mistake.

The evening started with Karl Rove and Mark Shields getting into an argument about Vietnam and then a pointless debate about positive versus negative comments at each Convention. Karl Rove made the silly declaration that word for word the Republican Convention is more positive, i.e. savages the opponent less. He's wrong. It was a stupid claim. Why not just say, "We think Kerry is a bad choice, and we will say so repeatedly"?

Mark Shields brought up Karl Rove's remark at the end of the evening and pointed out, eh hem, that, like I said, Karl is wrong. Kerry has been savaged tremendously by this convention. (As one of the historians pointed out, WHY didn't the Democrats try to defend Kerry's senate record? WHY did they leave it up to the Republicans to explain? What, they thought no one would notice?)

Eventually, Mitt got up. I came into the living room as the TV was squawking, "Mormon. Mormon. Mormon" so I figured out who the speaker was. He didn't come off as General Authority-ish (I kind of thought he would). It might have helped if he had. I suppose they had him speak since he is from Massachusetts. But, although he is a good speaker, he had nothing to add except rhetoric and a declaration that marriage should be between a man and a woman because "every child deserves a mother and father."

Now, I'll back that latter statement but current marriage in America is not, as it would have been fifty years ago, defined by children. It was a problematic statement. And Romney doesn't appear to have the intellectual ballast to defend his opinion (as some conservative pundits have, including Goldberg who is, admittedly, extremely conservative--but NOT lacking in intellectual ballast). Maybe Romney is more of a doer/bureaucratic politician than a speaker politician. Apparently, his dad was a neat guy. Shields praised him (the father that is).

I agree with Brooks (a comment made last night) that the Bush campaign is counting on the presence of more Christian conservatives at the ballot boxes than pro-gay-marriage conservatives (i.e. Pataki et al.). But I still think that the party that wanted abortion returned to the states should have the principles to do the same with gay marriage. So this issue matters more--so what? If it matters enough to MY PARTY, the Constitutional safeguards no longer apply? Sorry but that's a liberal argument.

So, he annoyed me.

Then Zell Miller came out and holy cow! I actually started a book by him a few weeks back (that I never finished) about how fed up he gets with liberal Democrats and how the South is sick of being marginalized, and I guess he just couldn't stick it any longer. Hands down, his speech was possibly the best piece of rhetoric I've heard at either convention so far. Good heavens, the man is good. It was a masterpiece of verbiage. He got the energy of the place soaring.

And interestingly enough, Zell Miller's passion was a useful intro for Cheney since it got the floor fevered up AND illuminated Cheney's rock solid low-keyness. To put it bluntly, Cheney was a relief. Cheney is Mr. Laconic, even Mr. Bland (and I mean that in a nice way). He DID sound a bit General Authority-ish. I don't remember anything he said. But he came across as smart and secure. (He also came across as someone who could wrap up John Edwards and stick him in his pocket. Or take him to the park. Poor Edwards. At least Quayle was running against what's-his-face from Texas who nobody could figure out, as in nobody could understand why he was campaigning with Dukakis or Mondale or whoever it was.)

By the way, what's all this stuff about Edwards and liability suits? Was he a liability lawyer? Does he support liability lawsuits? Seems a rather petty argument, really. Yes, yes, lawyers shouldn't be ambulance chasers but news flash, the system of suing people exists independent of liability lawyers. Granted, a lawyer probably knows how to milk someone better than your average individual, but the system is supported and maintained by legislation and the Courts. And how exactly is it supposed to be reformed?

[NOTE: Since I wrote this, I watched the debates, and I was really disgusted by Edwards' slick lawyer-ese persona. Lawyers don't have to be slick and slimy, but Edwards slicked and slimied his way through those debates. I wanted Cheney to punch him. I know it's common to detest Cheney, but I will never forget how very cool and collected Cheney was in those debates; no matter how many times Edwards employed his clever, lawyer-like jabs and innuendos, Cheney didn't rise to the bait.]

It just seems like a weird tangent.

I said yesterday that Wednesday is wacko night, and I maintain that. Zell Miller's brilliant speech aside, and that fact that, exaggerations noted, he is probably right about how awful Kerry is, I'm still not entirely prepared for a president voted in by U.N.-hating, Christian fundamentalists. (I don't much like the U.N. either but the antipathy seems to be fueled by a dislike of international alliances in general. Apparently, it's okay to go over to liberate people but we're not supposed to do business with them or invite them to live here--that kind of mentality. The kind of people who get all worked up over our trade agreement with Mexico.)

I'm don't want liberal fundamentalists in charge either. The utter disdain for Christians and non-liberals in my office is more than a tad disgusting. But well, truth is, I really don't want a Christian-run state. I'm perfectly happy keeping my private/religious life separate from my political life. I think Deism is a rather pointless theology but it did wonders for American politics.

So tonight left me wary. Well done, but yo, people, tone it down. I'd feel more comfortable with Arnold, despite the whole German-thing that gets people all freaked out--(as if this country was founded by a bunch of people with Midwest accents--puhlease)--of course, Arnold can't be president.

Quote of the evening: "The man who doesn't like outsourcing wants to outsource our national security." Zell Miller.

That governor from Maryland is extremely cool.


Let it be said, Republicans hold better parties than Democrats.

PBS informed its audience (by instruction) that the balloons were biodegradable and the confetti recycled.

Whatever. It looked GREAT!

Back to the beginning.

But first, as they say on TV, a note about the protestors.

I know they have a right to protest (well, more or less--they didn't get permits) and I know that they have freedom of speech and right to assembly. But I was pretty disgusted. And I think it is--warning I'm going to get a bit extreme here--part and parcel of the liberal victim stance.

In my experience, if you disagree with a conservative, he/she will explain to you his/her viewpoint. The conservative will use prior experience. Or reason. Or facts. Or religion. But that person will defend their opinions.

If you disagree with a liberal, they act like you have no right to say anything, that you are offending them just by disagreeing. I don't get into arguments at
work so I'm speaking mostly from prior experience [since then, I've encountered this attitude at my new workplace]. But the way people at work talk is: I don't agree with Bush--and he's a idiot. I don't agree with Cheney--oh, did you hear what Michael Moore said about him. They never discuss the actual issues. It has already been determined how they should think. I've had discussions with conservatives where they have outlined their thought processes to me, things that bother them, things that confuse them. The liberals I know never discuss anything. They have already been programmed.

These protestors fall into that category to me. To them, NO ONE--not even the Republican President at the REPUBLICAN CONVENTION--has the right to speak. Oh no. They are the only ones with a right to be heard. It's pre-determined. It's pre-arranged. I'm a liberal, therefore I can voice my (pre-programmed) opinions. Conservatives are the bad guys. They should be shut down.

And they go strewning themselves in front of police and trying to relive the sixties like overgrown children.

And--when P.J. O'Rourke goes off like this, he calls it the visit from the crazy conservative guy next door--this goes a long way towards explaining the difference between Bush and Kerry. Bush has been slammed, ridiculed, "pamphleteered" against by the media and by writers. How does he respond? He fights back. So Bush criticizes Kerry. How does Kerry respond? Whine. Whine. Whine. This is an election. You win elections by proving you're better than the other guy. So prove it. And stop whining.

Okay, now I'll return to normal.

PBS started with two interviews, one with Karen Hughes (speech writer for Bush-Cheney) and one with General Frank (who also spoke before the floor). They were extremely interesting. Karen Hughes was far superior to Karl Rove in graciously articulating and defending the Republican campaign. General Frank was so much better than his speech, I was glad I'd watched the interview. I thought the speech was pretty same-old-same-old. Frank is one smart cookie. He was articulate, personable. He's an independent, and I was impressed by his explanation of how he reached the position that he did (to support George W.) and also by his handling of both Shields and Brooks' questions. Very impressive.

I didn't think that Martinez guy was a good speaker, but I found his speech interesting because of the Free Cuba reference. If that's true, that's enough to plant me firmly on George Bush's side. I think it is so stupid that we have a tyrant parked so few miles off our coastline.

I thought most of the speeches were pretty pointless, actually. Everybody repeated what everybody (and Zell Miller) said better last night. Ho hum. So I'll cut to the chase.

First, George W. Bush has a beautiful walk, amble, stroll, call it what you will. I've always thought that. One of the nicest things about his debates against Gore was watching him walk around the stage. I could watch the guy walk around a stage for hours. He has got one sexy walk. (And he wears his suits well.)

Okay--about the domestic stuff. Here is the list I made of Bush's promises:
Low taxes
Less regulation
Less lawsuits
Increased money to community colleges
Simpler tax code (what is a pro rote system?)
Improve jobs here through competition rather than protectionism (very cool)
Tax credit and incentives to new businesses in new fields
Small firms join together to purchase health care (interesting idea)
Rural health centers (necessary!)
Medical liability reform
Home ownership emphasized
Retirement "nest egg" privatized
Family-friendly labor laws
Enrolling low income children in health plans
Local people in charge of schools
Health care reform
"Challenging the soft bigotry of low expectations"

Impressive list, but I have to agree with Shields that (1) Will he do it? (2) Who is going to pay for it? When Bush said, "Record level of funding," I went OUCH OUCH. When he said, "Triple spending for homeland security," I went OUUUUUCH. Major Republican problem--cut taxes, spend money. Ouch.

He should have segued directly into the Iraq stuff, but his tangents are noteworthy.

He went negative on Kerry--a HUGE mistake. The fact that Bush had a PLAN was enough. The domestic part of his speech made Kerry look like an empty flimflam man. But of course, the press will quote the negative stuff. (Our paper here headed today's column, "Cheney Attacks Kerry" or something like that. He didn't much. Of course, with Cheney, it's hard to tell. But that was a miniscule part of his speech.)

So, I think Bush shouldn't have ventured into the arena of Kerry criticizing. His henchfolk did it for him. Why try to top Zell?

The second tangent though was far more interesting. Several pundits have pointed out that Bush is more of a Texan fundamentalist than his dad. He mentioned the following (here's another list):

1. Anti-abortion ("protect our weakest members"--problem here deciding that fetuses are members or citizens. A fetus is in the woman's body. Hard to legislate the fetus' rights without totally messing with the women's rights, and I am referring to more than abortion. Family planning is, traditionally, not something conservatives want to bring to the government's attention. Not the government's business how many children I have, what sex, what color. Not the government's business how I raise my kid so abortion is a sticky issue. Give the government rights over the fetus in a woman's body, where does it end? Government power can ALWAYS be abused.)

2. Protection of marriage (problematic but he worded it well: "honor the marriage between a man and a woman for what that institution has given our society" or words to that effect)

3. No discrimination against religion (promoting religious charities--I'm in favor of this)

4. Friend of Israel

Fundamentalist issues right down the line. I give the guy the credit of his convictions. He believes it all. It's not pandering to a center. It's pandering to a powerful but peripheral group that he happens to agree with. Hmm.

All in all, an impressive closure. He has trouble speaking of course. He gets ahead of himself. So, he compensates by speaking slowly. But he was less self-conscious than he was four years ago. And major kudos for keeping on track in spite of the protestors. (And major kudos to the floor for drowning out the protestors rather than, uh, lynching them.)

He's still got that smirk but it's less cowboy smirk and more, yeah, life is weird, isn't it smirk.

Favorite sign: "VIVA Bush."

Favorite quote: From Jim Lehrer's interview (and by the way, Jim Lehrer is a real gentleman. I have been enormously impressed by PBS. They did a great job at both conventions) with Dad Bush, Dad Bush said, "I'm not a legacy kind of guy, I'm a dad"--no regrets, no jealousy. This is my place. This is what I do now. Extreme coolness.

Favorite article: from National Review, an interview with Barbara Bush where she said that she doesn't watch the news but that Dad Bush feels required to and then he "throws things at the TV."

Second favorite quote: "I've been called blunt. If you want to know where I got that, look to the white haired lady up there."

And lastly, I know people say or think that the Republicans trot out their multicultural friends but the Republican Party aren't really multicultural. [I won't digress into how this kind of analysis is a form of racism.] I don't agree. Bush has a multicultural cabinet. He has multicultural friends. That convention was filled with diverse people. The Democratic convention, on the other hand, was very East Coast White Boys. Even Ms Heinz-Kerry, who is truly International, is an East Coast White Boy's acceptable kind of wife.

Frankly--[apparently, I did digress] I'll try not to let the crazy conservative person back in--I'm tired of the liberal/Democratic attitude that just because they are liberal/Democrat that automatically makes them tolerant and diverse. And that Republicans are de facto intolerant and all-white and that Republican Hispanics, blacks, etc. are "Uncle Toms" and "token". It's such a cliche: we're liberal, therefore we are saved. You're conservative, therefore you are damned.


So, I suppose you can guess where I drifting vote-wise. I haven't shut down my options completely (towards Kerry, yes). The Libertarians are out there. But Bush would have to do something tremendously stupid (and he could) in sixty days to lose my vote.

Bring on the debates!

No comments: