It would be a shame if the TV networks chose not to rebroadcast Wednesday morning’s RNC Youth Convention. It’s not that the remarks of Ari Fleischer, Andy Card, David Dreier, and those fetching Bush twins were newsworthy in themselves–rather, it was that several thousand young GOP attendees managed to liven up the joint with near-incandescent fervor. The people out in the U.S.A. would benefit from seeing what kind of people the next generation of GOPers really are.
They are, of course, scrubbed and clean-cut kids, lugging homemade signs (CHENEY ROCKS!) and suits dry-cleaned especially for the occasion. As I dove into the crowd, I met RNC volunteers, congressional pages, battle-scarred college Republicans, southern belles, minority students covered in campaign pins, boys in W. yarmulkes, and even a freckle-faced youngster who danced in the aisle, dressed as an elephant.
Before the first speaker came on stage, the arena was already buzzing; most of these kids had never imagined so many pro-Bush peers in one room. At one point, a group of boys sitting in the Washington State section started whooping and cheering, gazing up at a lime-green-clad Laura Bush in the balcony.
The first speaker was John Bradshaw Layfield, a man with a pro-wrestling background and an impressive gift for public performance. He looks like Harrison Ford, with a stronger jaw. “Adversity does not create character,” Layfield said, “it tests it”; and George W. Bush has “a backbone made of steel.” Next came Rod Paige, whose tone seemed better suited to an elementary-school audience but worked nonetheless; he sounded like a decent, approachable guy. Next on the program: newlyweds George P. and Mandy Bush. He’s a polished speaker, though not particularly inspiring. There’s no resemblance to W.; one wishes that there were. Wife Mandy had the most interesting line, when introducing Jenna and Barbara: She called them “the stars from last night.”
What to say about the Bush twins? It was a repeat performance; no one, overnight, had coached them to be an ounce more statesmanlike. But the innocence (or what have you) seemed almost endearing this time around. It was certainly less painful to watch; maybe because they kept the appearance short, or because Tuesday night’s spectacle lowered expectations to the level of amateur hour.
At any rate, media attention to the Youth Convention will probably focus on a 20-second whistling outbreak that disrupted Andy Card’s speech. Three or four anti-Bushies had obtained passes and snuck in, masquerading as young Republicans. As Bush’s chief of staff uttered niceties about First Dog Barney and the president’s devotion to punctuality, the college-age protesters stood up and blew fiercely on their whistles. The crowd rose to its feet and swelled toward the noise; bold young Republicans tried to tackle the mischief-makers, while everyone else chanted, “Four more years! Four more years!” Cheers erupted as NYPD officers dragged the impostors down the aisle and out the door. All the while, Card never stopped talking. He’s seen worse, I’m sure. (Another reason to love Andy Card: He fumbled and said the word “strategery,” then made a quick recovery. “Strategy,” he continued. “We call it strategery.” The nation’s Republican youth roared its approval of this swaggering reference to Bushspeak.)
David Dreier, the dimpled California congressman, couldn’t resist the chance to ride Schwarzenegger’s coattails. He appeared at the podium in dark Blues Brothers shades and proclaimed: “My governor told me that I’m to pump you up.” Dreier went on to give a serious and moving speech about his own journey to the GOP. As an undergraduate at Claremont McKenna, he looked at congressional voting records and discovered a pattern of Democrats’ doubletalk–saying one thing on the campaign trail, and doing another in office. Why don’t you run for office? asked a classmate. The rest is history.
The star of the day was Ari Fleischer, who still whips the Gen-X demographic into a frenzy of admiration with his public appearances. With a wry smile, he began in press-secretary persona: “If there’s anyone here named Helen, the first question is for you.” Fleischer spoke warmly about his former boss. “He’s a wonderful man to be around,” he said, with genuine feeling. “He’s an inspiring, positive, optimistic man.” And he talked about Bush as a leader–comparing him to Reagan, who helped bring about Fleischer’s own change of party years ago, when he “didn’t apologize for our country.” Finally, he tapped into the thrill, so craved by young people, of history-making: “What Ronald Reagan did for me, George W. Bush is doing for you.”
–Clara Magram is a National Review intern.