Politics & Policy

Winnability, Arnold, Those Twins! &C.

I, frankly, thought it was excellent when President Bush said of the Terror War, “I don’t think you can win it.” You can’t win it, no–just as you can’t “win” a war on poverty, or a war on drugs. What you can do is keep fighting, chip away, gain ground, and dominate. Terrorists, however, we will always have with us. They can be pacified. And, through liberalization and democratization, terrorism and unreason can lose force.

I wish Republicans–including Bush–hadn’t run from this alleged gaffe. Of course, Democrats behaved like jerks: Forgetting Kerry and Edwards (the execrable Edwards, with his knowledge of foreign policy that can apparently fit into a thimble), Joe Biden said, “It’s a little bit like saying that our war against Communism directed out of Moscow is not winnable.”

Um, I don’t recall that liberal Democrats were all that keen on the idea of winning a war against Communism. They talked about coexistence, compromise–and regarded the notion of winning as wrong and dangerous.

‐One of the worst features of the Republican convention is having to read article after fawning article about John McCain. They just love him, these journalists, and sup with him, and use him as a club to beat us all–all of us conservative Republicans. For them, he is pure–and only he is pure (with Chuck Hagel a No. 2, I guess)–and the rest of us are impure, or worse. Someday, they may get over the fact that he is not going to be president. But maybe not.

‐Odd, the way we Republicans view Bush, versus the way the Democrats and the media view Bush. I spend a large chunk of my life listening to complaints–Republican complaints–about Bush: He’s a big spender, he’s a tariff-imposer, he’s an amnesty-granter, he’s a big softie. We need a true conservative. And the Left, of course, holds Bush to be a rabid, Darwinian right-winger.

A lot of my friends say: Would that he were!

‐Let me echo, for a second, what Ramesh Ponnuru and other smart conservative strategists have said: Bush-Cheney agrees with the American majority on many issues, even if the elites disagree. Consider the death penalty–the New York Times may hate it, but most Americans support it, robustly and unapologetically. Why not exploit that? The same is true with guns–the mainstream view is not the New York Times view. Same with the Patriot Act. Same with partial-birth abortion. Why not play up these issues, relentlessly?

I’m not saying, here, that these majority positions are right or wrong. I merely make a tactical point.

‐I was most encouraged to read the other day that President Bush, when he focuses on the campaign–which is a lot of the time now–is greatly concerned about the “ground game.” What is a ground game? A party’s get-out-the-vote effort on Election Day. For many years, the Democrats have been excellent–nonpareil–at this, and the Republicans have been weak. Donna Brazile, for example, was a maestra of the ground game.

Earlier this year, I and other NR-niks were assured, by a high Bush-Cheney campaign official, that Republicans had caught up to the Democrats in ground-game ability, and even surpassed them. To know that President Bush has his eye on the ground game . . . helps at least one Republican (me) sleep better at night.

‐I guess it’s accepted wisdom now that the Swift Vets’ ads are “smears.” I don’t see many attempts to deal with their claims–they’re just dismissed as smears. The Repubs are winning dirty, you know? John McCain has spoken, the Democrats have spoken, the most powerful media have spoken–case closed.

But, as Byron York shows in the current issue of National Review, Kerry’s Vietnam record is at least questionable. And his post-war record is more than questionable. Does the vets’ scorn for Kerry have no legitimacy whatever? Should they just butt out of the debate–a debate that should not take place in the first place?

Shaggy John joined hands with Jane Fonda, Joan Baez, the Berrigan brothers, and that entire crowd. They are great New Left and Democratic heroes. Do Kerry and his people want to forswear that legacy? Fine with me. But they don’t want to forswear it–they just don’t want it to inconvenience them politically.

What the Democrats evidently wanted was that Kerry be called a war hero, and that the rest of us shut up. His four months in Vietnam were to be portrayed as the most significant and shining four months in military history. (Amazing we lost, with Kerry over there.) Kerry was the hero, and George W. Bush was the goat–he had been AWOL, as DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe charged.

Well, well, well. The rest of America did not shut up. They, too, have opinions about Vietnam. They have challenged Kerry–but that was not in the Democrats’ script. And they and their media rooters are very, very bitter about it.

‐Kerry became a liberal darling by throwing his medals away; he is now trying to become president by re-pinning them to himself. This is difficult, when you refuse to engage in any attempt at reconciliation.

‐Above, I wrote something, parenthetically, about America’s losing the Vietnam War. I know there are many interpretations of “losing” (a political loss versus a military loss, for example). I will entertain no mail on this subject. Zero. (I can’t keep up with it as it is, I’m sorry to say.)

‐Yesterday, someone was discussing the Democratic nominee for Senate in Colorado, Ken Salazar. On abortion, he is “pro-choice,” said this man, but he has to be: “In his party, he has no choice.”

Which is a tad ironic, isn’t it?

‐This same fellow observed that it would behoove the Republicans to beat Salazar now–to stop him in Colorado–because if he advances to the Senate, he could be big trouble, given his compelling life story (along with impressive personal attributes).

Sort of reminded me of what the Dems said about Miguel Estrada–and why his judgeship had to be blocked!

‐There is some confusion about whether the first Bush said “slobby Michael Moore” or “sloppy Michael Moore.” Either way, slobbiness, or sloppiness, is the least offensive of his qualities. But how Kennebunkport to think and talk this way! (No, I do not think that the 41st president had in mind the filmmaker’s factual inaccuracies or directorial technique.)

‐That little symbol Moore made with his hand, at the convention on Monday night? I read that it was “L” for “loser.” I really couldn’t figure it out–it reminded me of that symbol that Filipinos made, all those years ago, in support of Cory Aquino.

‐The mock correspondents, with “RNC” microphones in their hands, are a little much, don’t you think?

‐Singing the national anthem last night was a Tennessee lady from Big Sky Ministries, with the wonderful name of Gracie Rosenberger. She was accompanied–I mean, musically, not just physically–by her husband, Peter. It was announced that she had been in some horrible car accident, requiring 60 operations. But she had come back, and she sang nicely, I thought.

And how about that essay-contest winner, the young woman from Arkansas? It was Wynne, Ark., to be exact, and her name was Princella Smith–a lovely homemade name (Princella, not Smith). She talked about “Generation X-ample”–a tolerable bit of wordplay–and praised President Bush to the skies. I found her a tonic, after so much Bill Clinton (Hope) and so much Maya Angelou (Stamps). Go, Wynne!

‐Some remarks on the roll call, that endearing American tradition. I never tire of it, really. The man from South Carolina praised Americans who “fight terrorists in caves, and on city streets.” He hailed a president who “stands in the gap between liberty and tyranny.” Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, spoke for what he called “the loudest and proudest delegation.” And when he said “W.,” as in George W. Bush, it sounded authentic. When the rest of us say “Dubya,” it sort of sounds like we’re trying to say “Dubya.” When Perry said it, it sounded like his normal pronunciation of “W.”

Do you know what I mean?

Sen. Bob Bennett had a litany about what was great about Utah, and it included “the best snow on earth,” which I thought was charming–particularly because he came off as a man who would never ski. The lady from the Virgin Islands brought up Alexander Hamilton, said “my fellow Americans” (meaningfully), and pointed to her home as a “stable multi-ethnic society,” showing the way to the rest of us.

The West Virginia spokeswoman, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, noted her state’s slogan, “Mountaineers are always free,” and slid into a nice point about how President Bush is bringing freedom to others around the world. (I also found it interesting that she pronounces her name “CAP-ih-toe,” instead of “Ca-PEE-toe,” which is probably how it was originally pronounced.) (“Capito” is the past participle of the Italian verb for “to understand.”) The Wisconsinite quoted former governor Tommy Thompson, who called his state the place “where eagles soar and Harleys roar.” The Wyoming lady said that her sparsely populated state was a “land of high altitudes and low multitudes.”

Oh, the roll call. How I love it.

And the Republicans have more fun with it than the Democrats, I believe. Or am I just a shameless partisan?

‐Elizabeth Dole gave a strikingly good speech–also a strikingly conservative one, and a religiously conservative one. She made one mistake at the outset, I believe. She said, “Folks, this time I promise to stay behind the podium.” It took me a second to understand what she was saying–but she was alluding to her 1996 speech, in which she took a microphone out into the audience. I’m sure that the speech, and that action, are important and memorable to her. But not necessarily to us–not after eight years. I’m a political junkie, and it took me a second. She had assumed too much–and that assumption was a trifle egotistical.

She hit hard on marriage, she hit hard on abortion, she quoted Jesus. “Two thousand years ago, a man said, ‘I have come to give life and to give it in full.’ In America, I have the freedom to call that man Lord, and I do.” She said, “We believe in the dignity of every life, the possibility of every mind, the divinity of every soul. This is our true north.” She also said–as though to President Bush–”You have restored honor and dignity to the White House.” Why is this notable? Because “honor and dignity” was a catchphrase of Bush’s campaign in 2000.

Elizabeth Dole was impressive–and a little daring.

‐George P. Bush, one of the little brown ones, all grown up? For one thing, he has a helluva grin–a salable grin. And he gave a good speech, although it was a little flowery and mannered. He is sort of our JFK Jr., this fellow, and he has some of the late Kennedy’s moves–e.g., nodding to acknowledge applause, or to get it to stop. It seems clear that he will be elected to something someday. And the Bushes are outdoing the Tafts–and the Kennedys, I guess!

‐Did you catch Sen./Dr. Frist? He did something valuable: He talked about health care, an issue the Republicans are supposed to be afraid of. And he was aggressive on the issue–not defensive at all. After a while, he really socked it to the trial lawyers, those “predators,” he said. He talked about how malpractice suits are ruining or debilitating doctors. He said–with undisguised relish–”You can’t be pro-patient and pro-trial lawyer.”

A bold, useful speech, if delivered in largely mediocre fashion.

‐May I make a point about Barbara Bush (the grandma, not the twin–about the latter, more in a sec)? Twenty-five years ago, when her husband first ran for president, people thought she looked old for her age. But here’s her advantage: She looks essentially the same! Convention after convention, there she is, a beautiful, proud, ample, white-haired woman.

‐Up above, I said something about the War on Terror, and the War on Poverty, and the War on Drugs–unwinnable, but winnable, in a way. (I’m sorry I’m sounding like John Kerry, but I’m rushing.) Well, what about a “war on despair”? This is what Erika Harold, Miss America 2003, pushed–and whatever we think of that phrase, she gave an intelligent and heartfelt speech, emphasizing the president’s “faith-based initiative.” Following her was a paralyzed cop, a Democrat, who was almost too moving for the setting.

Which reminds me: Journalists disparage these conventions as “infomercials,” and I suppose they are, mainly. But they are interesting shows–and shows from which you can actually learn a thing or two. Though their relevance has declined, I hope they continue–and not just as excuses for cocktail parties.

‐Oh, Michael Steele, the lieutenant governor of Maryland, what a marvelous speech! Pity no one heard it. I don’t believe that even the cable networks showed it. Steele spoke as an unabashed black Republican, and he both explained and jabbed. He also exhorted and inspired. Here’s an interesting line: “[President Bush] knows that too many of our children are headed for the state pen instead of Penn State.” And I don’t think I had ever heard the following point made in a political speech: “. . . we have come even further since a majority of Republicans in the United States Senate fought off the segregationist Democrats to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

A little more: “[Kerry] . . . recently said that he doesn’t want to use the word ‘war’ to describe our efforts to fight terrorism. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I don’t want to use the words ‘commander in chief’ to describe John Kerry.” This sent Dick Cheney rocketing to his feet.

A little more Steele: “A lifelong Democrat, [my mother] once asked me how I could grow up to be such a strong Republican. I simply replied, ‘Mom, you raised me well.’”

I’ve quoted many of Steele’s words, but his manner was equally impressive: strong, relaxed, convinced. Gosh, he ought to go far.

We hear constantly, in the press, about the Republicans’ “window-dressing” at these conventions. We put black and brown faces onstage, but have few of them in our party. A Republican convention is like a Utah Jazz basketball game–the performers are black and the audience is white. All that crap.

But listen: One fine day, journalists are going to have to take these speakers seriously. Michael Steele makes arguments about why he is a Republican and why others should be as well. Shouldn’t these arguments matter? Shouldn’t our political and journalistic foes be forced to grapple with them?

I think of what Marion Barry said to white folk, after being elected mayor a fourth time: “Deal with it.”

‐Just a few points about Arnold–not necessarily important ones; others will make the important ones, in abundance. I’m certain that his speech marked the first positive mention of Richard Nixon–maybe the first mention at all–at a Republican convention since 1972. And Arnold praised him for his free marketry–when we free marketeers are always blasting him for his (soft) socialism! But doesn’t it say something flattering about Schwarzenegger that he just goes ahead and cites Nixon at a convention, not knowing, or caring, that this is verboten?

I mentioned that Cheney rocketed to his feet when Michael Steele made that crack about Kerry: When Arnold said “Don’t be economic girlie-men,” Trent Lott was even faster. I have a feeling that might have been the most fun he’d had since being deposed as Senate leader.

I said yesterday that I appreciated Ron Silver for, among other things, stressing that the United States is not about the business of imperialism (a word used all too loosely, and dishonestly). Schwarzenegger made the identical point, and I am similarly grateful.

Last, something purely linguistic. There is a lot of German in Schwarzenegger’s (English) speech–but nowhere so obviously as in the word “here.” He makes virtually no distinction between the German “hier” and “here.” He does not bother to say “here,” actually; he says “hier,” exactly as in German, with the two syllables (though blurred syllables) and everything.

And when, at the end of his speech, he led a chant of “Four more years,” you wanted to repeat the words just as he was saying them–in his accent!

‐The Bush daughters? A little shocking. Aren’t these conventions supposed to be tightly controlled? Did the GOP maestros want that? Really? That the sisters were undignified is perhaps the most generous thing you can say. You might also say that they were unfunny, squirrelly, ineffective–cringe-making. Did they cost us as much as Teresa cost the Dems–if she cost them anything? Mercifully, the Bush twins did not remain on the podium long.

And I thought the president’s introduction of Laura failed to work. Could have been the ballgame going on behind him; could have been the stiltedness of what seemed an imperfect transmission from his remote location to the convention hall.

And Mrs. Bush herself? Platitudinous, I thought, but unharmful. Most remarkable about her is her manner: exceptionally relaxed. She seemed to enjoy herself, not to be nervous at all. She did something I would have thought unwise to do: She bluntly stated her theme and purpose, to wit, “I’m going to tell you who the real George Bush is, and why you should reelect him, unlike Teresa, who just went on about herself.” (I paraphrase, needless to say.) But she was creditable.

The choice of “Isn’t She Lovely?” for her introductory music was . . . well, they might have rethought that.

‐Friends, I’ve got more, but you’ve read enough. I wish to thank all those who have sent me letters–particularly ones about being an American abroad, and ones about tangling with anti-conservative bookstore clerks. (I had asked for missives on each of those subjects.) I am more appreciative than you know. It may be a while before I get to the mail, but I will, and I wish you a happy Convention Wednesday.

Gosh, Bush needs a good speech on Thursday night! It’s not make-or-break, no–but a good speech really, really wouldn’t hurt. At all.

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