Politics & Policy

A Good Start

After two nights, the Republicans have had three great performances.

After two nights of the Republican Convention, it’s worth looking back to what the Democrats had done with their first two nights.

Al Gore was better than usual, but not particularly memorable. Perhaps what stood out the most was his attempt to recreate his famous kiss with Tipper at the end of his speech. Carter was typical. Monday was arguably the best night for the Democrats. Clinton pulled off a typically masterful performance. One of my NRO colleagues, walking out of the Fleet Center late Monday night, lamented, “Bush needs a good convention. He will really need it.”

Tuesday night was an “odds and ends” night for the Democrats, an evening which featured a true rarity: the candidate’s running mate as the headline act. Tim Graham put it well:

Since the networks stayed away from the Fleet Center hijinks yesterday, it’s likely that Tuesday night will be remembered as . . . well, it just won’t be remembered. For the most part, this is a good thing for the Democrats. Ted Kennedy seemed so dated that even David Gergen was suggesting on CNN that he was past his prime. Howard Dean’s speech clearly seemed like he’d been sedated, and CNN analyst Bill Schneider (on CNN’s blog, at least) said it was his “worst speech ever,” worse than The Scream speech. Teresa Heinz Kerry provided an entirely different flavor, but that’s not always good. It could be the rhetorical equivalent of taking the uneasy down-home folks out for Portuguese cuisine.

The speeches most likely to be remembered from Tuesday are Barack Obama’s keynote address and Ronald P. Reagan’s oleaginous infomercial for the “miracles” of embryo-destroying stem-cell research.

Clinton’s speech was a half-hour party, basking in his party’s nostalgia for his charm and style. He endorsed Kerry strongly, and took plenty of shots at the Republicans. (Some were a little over the top, like his summary of modern Republicanism: “They believe the role of government is to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who embrace their economic, political, and social views, leaving ordinary citizens to fend for themselves on important matters like health care and retirement security.”)

But all in all, Bill Clinton’s speech–and most of the first night, in fact–was more about Bill Clinton than about John Kerry. In the days after Obama’s speech, everyone talked about how charismatic and electrifying his speech was–but the talk was about him and his near-certain victory in Illinois, not about how he helped Kerry.

All of the top speakers of the GOP convention’s first two nights have been exponentially more helpful for the Bush campaign. The first two big stars, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, spoke much more about their party’s candidate than Clinton and Obama had. Each addressed an aspect of the Bush doctrine: Rudy described the stakes in the war we’re fighting, and Bush’s strong leadership in a time of crisis; and McCain explained how important the Iraq war is as a step toward winning the war on terror. Both men articulated the Bush Doctrine eloquently, probably better than the president himself has in recent months.

And Tuesday night had something no other convention has had: a phenomenally charismatic Hollywood star, who just last summer was blowing up cyborgs and saving John Connor and the future on the silver screen, making the case for Republicanism.

If any figure could break through to the uninterested undecided voters, Arnie could. Despite his victory last November and his past year spent hammering out a budget and lambasting “girlie men” in Sacramento, Schwarzenegger is still largely seen as a nonpolitical figure. And last night, on national television, in a format that seemed to blend Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” with Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck” routine, he made the sales pitch for the GOP. Like Giuliani and McCain, Schwarzenegger made the case that one key difference between the parties is their posture and perspective on dealing with threats–and he explicitly said to voters that Bush was the choice that will win the war on terror:

He’s a man of inner strength. He is a leader who doesn’t flinch, doesn’t waver, does not back down. My fellow Americans, make no mistake about it: Terrorism is more insidious than Communism, because it yearns to destroy not just the individual but the entire international order.

The president didn’t go into Iraq because the polls told him it was popular. As a matter of fact, the polls said just the opposite. But leadership isn’t about polls. It’s about making decisions you think are right and then standing behind those decisions. That’s why America is safer with George W. Bush as president.

He knows you don’t reason with terrorists. You defeat them. He knows you can’t reason with people blinded by hate. They hate the power of the individual. They hate the progress of women. They hate the religious freedom of others. They hate the liberating breeze of democracy. But, ladies and gentlemen, their hate is no match for America’s decency . . .

Ladies and gentlemen, America is back! Back from the attack on our homeland, back from the attack on our economy, back from the attack on our way of life. We’re back because of the perseverance, character, and leadership of the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush.

And Dick Cheney gave Arnold’s “Don’t be economic girlie men!” a standing ovation.

McCain, Giuliani, and Arnie have risen to the occasion. Mr. Vice President, you’re up. Mr. President, you’re in the on-deck circle.

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