“And so what you really are seeing here is kind of a bait and switch. It’s a bit of a fraud. I mean, I consider it a political cross-dressing of the kind that we haven’t seen since J. Edgar Hoover. I mean, they should just be what they are,” Paul Begala declared yesterday on CNN.
Of course the J. Edgar Hoover part is in all likelihood an outrageous lie, but why should that get in the way of a well-spun cliché?
But as for the “cross-dressing” thing, of course Begala’s right to a certain extent, even though the phrase itself jumped the shark a while ago. Convention delegates are pretty much always more “pure” than the folks at the podium. Indeed, as a matter of full disclosure, at the 2000 and 2004 Democratic conventions, I too wrote about the fact that Democratic delegates were to the left of the speakers. And I’m sure I will write about it at the 2008, 2012, and 2100 conventions (or the robot carrying my cryogenically frozen brain will).
And, if you’re wondering whether I find it annoying that the “extreme” nature of the delegates always seems to shock the mainstream media more at Republican Conventions, the answer would be yes. On pretty much every talking-head panel I’ve seen this week, someone makes the point that the delegates or the president are more conservative than the speakers or speeches this week would suggest. The same was true at the Boston convention, but here in New York folks like Katie Couric nod as if it’s a powerful insight while in Boston they’d look at you like you had a grape in your nose.
But, as Jenna and Barbara might say: like, whatever.
But I will say that I’ve had something of a change of heart. I’m generally dismissive of the David Gergen, Chris Shays-type Republicans. The “pragmatists” who think that a huge government managed “efficiently” or run on “sound business principles” is the apotheosis of Republican philosophy normally irritate me to no end.
But I think I’m changing my mind, at least a little bit. While I hate to gush about a politician, particularly one I didn’t support and one who represents a trend–movie stars in politics–I detest, I have to say I thought Arnold Schwarzenegger’s speech last night was just flat-out awesome. The conventional wisdom–that he should have spoken after Laura and the kids–happens to be right, but that’s neither here nor there.
I just loved the stuff about Communism and socialism–words that are, for some odd reason, considered a bit taboo in political discourse.
But what really hit home for me were two passages:
I finally arrived here in 1968. I had empty pockets, but I was full of dreams. The presidential campaign was in full swing. I remember watching the Nixon and Humphrey presidential race on TV. A friend who spoke German and English, translated for me. I heard Humphrey saying things that sounded like socialism, which is what I had just left. But then I heard Nixon speak. He was talking about free enterprise, getting government off your back, lowering taxes and strengthening the military. Listening to Nixon speak sounded more like a breath of fresh air.
I said to my friend, “What party is he?” My friend said, “He’s a Republican.” I said, “Then I am a Republican!”
And then, later…
If you believe that government should be accountable to the people, not the people to the government, then you are a Republican!
If you believe a person should be treated as an individual, not as a member of an interest group, then you are a Republican!
If you believe your family knows how to spend your money better than the government does, then you are a Republican!
If you believe our educational system should be held accountable for the progress of our children, then you are a Republican!
If you believe this country, not the United Nations, is the best hope of democracy in the world, then you are a Republican!
And, ladies and gentlemen, if you believe we must be fierce and relentless and terminate terrorism, then you are a Republican!
Now, what I really liked about all this was that it reminded me that “extreme” conservatives and “moderate” conservatives really do have a lot more in common than I remembered. Of course there’s some pap in there. Many Democrats think we need to be fierce and relentless on terrorism too. But when Schwarzenegger talks about how Nixon–Nixon!–was fighting “socialism” in 1968, it highlights an important irony. Richard Nixon was arguably the most liberal president of the last 40 years in terms of social policy. In many ways he was more liberal than both Carter (a deregulator) and Clinton (a welfare reformer). And yet movement conservatives still found plenty of reasons to support him.
For all the tut-tutting from folks like Andrew Sullivan about “theocracy” and “extremism” and the supposed fraud of having John McCain and Rudy Giuliani speak, the fact is there’s a great deal that the “radicals” agree with the squishes on. I don’t know any social conservatives who wouldn’t call themselves fiscal conservatives too. Nobody I know likes the growth of spending under Bush.
In an important sense there is no cross-dressing here. Nobody is lying at the podium. Nobody is pretending to be something he’s not. Sure, there’s not much talk about gay rights or abortion, but there’s no lying about it either. Who doesn’t know that the GOP is the pro-life party? Who–among those who care about the issue–doesn’t know the White House’s position on gay marriage? Sure it’s an infomercial, but in an important way the GOP’s pitch is less dishonest than the DNC’s was. All of that newfound hawkishness in Boston surely sounded odd to many of the decidedly anti-war delegates. John Kerry’s militarism and John Edwards’s beer muscles were sharp contradictions of their records, and the delegates applauded because they knew that martial music was needed to sell their wares. At the GOP convention, if there’s deceit in the air, it is the deceit of omission–not commission. When the delegates applaud their speakers it’s because they like what they hear, not because they need to fake it for the cameras.