Politics & Policy

Convention Live

My night at the Garden.

Having finally figured out the security-pass system, I thought I’d spend the third evening of the convention watching it live, so I set off for the main hall.

#ad#There was a brief detour on the way. Someone called my name as I walked through the lobby at the Garden. It was Ed Capano, National Review’s publisher, with his wife, and Kate O’Beirne, and Ramesh Ponnuru and his wife. They were on their way to a party. Since they are fun company and I wanted a drink, I tagged along. The party turned out to be Catholics only, though; I was actually turned away at the door by a hatchet-faced Jesuit type–he looked and sounded like he kept a spare set of thumbscrews in his basement–who could obviously read the heresy in my face. He practically frog-marched me out of there, though not before a lady had given me a button saying “PROUD TO BE A CATHOLIC REPUBLICAN.” Where was the Episcopalian party? Why wasn’t I invited? Perhaps the Episcopalian Republicans have merged with the Log Cabin Republicans and don’t want me around.

Down in the hall, Elaine Chao was addressing the throng. Elaine was playing the “diversity” violin, telling us how George W. Bush has hired more “Asian Pacific Americans” than any previous president. She was well turned out, and spoke in a bright and cheerful way, but her arm and hand movements were oddly robotic, and put me in mind of the Stepford Wives. This fixed itself in my mind somehow, till I found myself thinking: Come on, say it, Elaine: “I’ll die if I don’t get this recipe.” At this point my uncharitable reverie was interrupted by an usher insisting firmly that I find myself a seat. I found one. By the time I was settled, Elaine had finished, and we were into some presentations by small-business owners.

That went on for ages. I’m sorry, I know this kind of thing is important, the very bricks and mortar of political life in a free country, but I just can’t take much of it. To keep myself awake I started watching the signers at the two sides of the stage, trying to figure out how they do what they do. I couldn’t. After a few minutes of close observation, it still seemed to me they had a repertoire of only a dozen or so gestures, and that the average spoken sentence only elicited three or four gestures from the repertoire. So how on earth do they communicate things like “minority-owned high-technology business start-ups?” Pray God I never have to find out.

By 9 o’clock I was sunk deep in boredom. Long since having given up on the signers, I was watching the makeup lady work on Sean Hannity, whose studio box was 40 feet in front of me. Then the small-business stuff ended and a rock band started up. It was the full, mature rock ‘n’ roll deal: over-the-top noise, a light show, the singer jumping round the stage yelling “Come on, clap your hands!” To Republicans! The lady sitting next to me made a half-hearted attempt to clap along, but couldn’t get the rhythm. Why is rock music the default nowadays? What about those of us who don’t like rock music? Couldn’t they bring in a string quartet for just one number? I felt myself slipping into curmudgeon mode, not at all the right thing for reporting on the convention of my own party.

Fortunately Michael Reagan showed up on stage. He gave a lovely, moving introduction to the Reagan movie, thanking his birth parents and his adoption parents all for being “pro-life and pro-adoption.” That got the delegates to their feet. Then the movie: a bit too soft-focus and slow motion for my taste, but the delegates loved it. There was a huge burst of applause for dear old Maggie, another for Cheney, another for W. Things were warming up. When the movie ended, everyone stood and cheered, and the signs came out: “WIN ONE FOR THE GIPPER.”

The band–the regular convention band, not the rock group–did “That’s the Way (Uh-huh Uh-huh) I Like It,” which seemed to me totally inappropriate. Obviously there’s something about convention music I’m not getting. The lady next to me tried to clap along again but gave up more quickly this time, plainly having come to terms with her limitations in the rhythm area.

Up stepped Mitt Romney, to deliver a good workman-like speech. Biggest applause line: “Marriage is between a man and a woman.” Who would ever have thought that needed saying at a political event? He got in a couple of good swipes at John Edwards, too, adding after one of them: “If you don’t like hearing that, Senator, sue me!” Much laughter and applause. Yep, we were getting a nice buzz on.

Good thing we were, because next at the podium was Zell Miller. What a speech! What a speaker!

“Nothing makes this Marine madder” [than being told U.S. troops are occupiers, not liberators].

“No pair has been more wrong, more often, than the two senators from Massachusetts.”

This [i.e., John Kerry] is the man who wants to be commander-in-chief of our U.S. Armed Forces?”

“I like the fact that he [i.e., George W. Bush] is the same man on Saturday night that he is on Sunday morning.”

The delegates were whooping and hollering, punching the air, jumping up and down. Readers, **I** was jumping up and down. The heck with that British reserve–I’m an American now, and a Republican, and I can holler and jump with the best of them. Zell Miller, unfortunately, is not a Republican–but he had explained that point to everyone’s satisfaction, and no one held it against him. By the time he finished, nobody in the hall held anything against him. Whatever he was for, we were for. Whatever he was against, we were against. This was a real star turn, the best speech of the convention so far–better than Arnie, better than Rudy. It was an honor and a privilege to be in that hall when Zell Miller spoke.

Then came Dick Cheney. Now, I have nothing against Dick Cheney. To the best of my knowledge, he is a good Republican, a fine public servant, a first-rate vice president, and an A-1 human being. Only problem is, he can’t deliver a speech. As an orator he would, as we say back in Northampton, make a fine bricklayer. Cheney’s speech was dull, dull, dull. The applause and chants weren’t spontaneous, as they had been for Miller; someone had to start one, then the rest of us woke up and fell in.

(Well, there was a bit of spontaneity. The delegates started doing a “FLIP FLOP! FLIP FLOP!” chant every time Cheney mentioned Kerry, waving their arms back and forth in the air to the rhythm of the chant. Here again, though, the fundamental problem that Republicans have with rhythm worked against them. The delegates behind kept trying to synchronize their back-and-forths with the people in front, but couldn’t, and the whole thing quickly petered out in frustration.)

If Zell Miller was the tent-show preacher, lighting up the path to salvation, Dick Cheney was the dutiful CEO delivering the annual earnings report. He reminded me of nothing so much as Ted Heath, though when I said this later to Andrew Stuttaford, the only colleague likely to understand what I meant, Andrew said it was the most unspeakably cruel thing he had ever heard anyone say about a good man, and I ought to be ashamed of myself. (Andrew was right, and I am so ashamed. Heath was so charismatically challenged, it used to be said that when he walked into a crowded room, the people all looked at one another and said: “Who was that who just left?”)

Never mind. Zell Miller made up for everything. As the vice president said: “I’m glad [he’s] on our side.” Oh yeah. You guys down in Georgia, take good care of that senior senator of yours, you hear?

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