August 30, 2004

Day 1 of the Republican Convention.

(I'll put all my observations for tonight in this post, with numbered paragraphs to represent the updates.)

1. I love the grand video screens behind the speaker's podium. They showed a live view of the New York streets as the flag was presented, then a huge waving flag during the National Anthem (which was sung by a young green-eyed girl from Michigan) and the invocation (given by a Muslim). Now the screens are gone, and a platform rises up with a band and what I've got to assume are Broadway performers, who proceed to sing a medley of rock-solid old favorite Broadway songs (e.g., "Seventy-Six Trombones"). These songs have no discernable political content. Following that is a really well-done intro in the style of "Saturday Night Live," complete with blaring saxophone, Don Pardo [style] voiceover ("Arnold Schwarzenegger!"), and snazzy video clips of Manhattan at night. Now we're back in Madison Square Garden for the roll call, as a fabulous and comical animation of a trunk-flailing elephant appears on the giant screen behind the speaker. As each state is called, the video screen shows an image befitting the state--a little like the state quarters: Maine gets a lobster, Maryland gets a crab, and so on. Okay, I get the idea. Nice production values, but I'm going speed through this.

2. Hastert: too dull to blog about.

3. The Cheneys are introduced and we watch them walk to their seats in the stands. With them are two cute little girls, presumably granddaughters. The younger one is very lively and dances to the song, which is "You're All I Need" (possibly squelching rumors that Cheney will be replaced as the running mate: "There's no, no looking back for us/We've got a love and sure enough it's enough"). We see the Bush twins: they look great, very natural and adorable. Next to them is a young woman I don't recognize, who is wearing one of those "Carrie Doesn't Speak For Me" T-shirts.

4. A cute Austin band, Dexter Freebish, plays. Lyric that jumps out at me: "The world is your playground." In the end, the lead singer holds up a "We salute our troops sign."

5. The New York actor Ron Silver introduces the subject of the 9/11 attacks. He yells: "We will never forget. We will never forgive. We will never excuse." At that, a huge cheer bursts out ("Yeah!"). The camera scans the crowd and shows George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush laughing and nodding and clapping. Following the long cheer, Silver quotes General MacArthur: "At the end of World War II, Douglas MacArthur ... said, 'It is my earnest hope, indeed the hope of all mankind, that from this solemn occasion, a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past, a world found[ed] upon faith, understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfilment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance, and justice.' The hope he expressed then remains relevant today." There is no cheer, but Silver pauses and waits for a cheer, and a short cheer ensues. But definitely, and disturbingly, for this crowd "We will never excuse" was a much more popular sentiment than the hope of a better world. Later, he gets another heartfelt cheer: when he says "This is a war in which we had to respond." He criticizes his fellow entertainers who catalogue the world's wrongs but are unwilling to fight against them. He says, emphatically, "The President is doing exactly the right thing."

6. Representative Heather Wilson of New Mexico presents the subject of war dead in terms of courage and individual choice to serve in a cause worth fighting for. She introduces a film showing veterans interviewed aboard the the U.S.S. Intrepid. The veterans are lively and proud. George Bush Sr. is there, paying tribute, citing "a timeless creed of duty, honor, country."

7. A chorus rousingly sings the full-length anthem for each branch of the military. I don't know that I've ever heard the Coast Guard Anthem sung before, but this is quite a military display. I especially like the Air Force anthem. Well, they didn't do this at the Democratic convention.

8. I'm skipping over much material. Now: here's John McCain. He defends the war in Iraq against "a disingenuous filmmaker who would have us believe ... [Michael Moore is there and he's mouthing 'Thank you.' The crowd boos, then begins a 'four more years' chant] ... that Saddam's Iraq was an oasis of peace when, in fact, it was a place of indescribable cruelty, torture, mass graves, and prisons. ... The mission was necessary, achievable, and noble." This last part is, of course, what the convention needs to do: make the case that both wars Bush took us into were right and good. McCain offers his own credibilty for Bush as he says that Bush is the right man to see us through what he took us into. McCain says, "I salute him," calling up memories of John Kerry saluting as he "reported for duty" at the Democratic Convention. The idea is: if McCain, clearly a greater war hero than Kerry, salutes Bush, then the Kerry salute is nullified. McCain's theme is that what we have fought for is worth fighting for. Here is his final crescendo: "Take courage from the knowledge that our military superiority is matched only by the superiority of our ideals and our unconquerable love for them. ... We fight for love of freedom and justice--a love that is invincible. Keep that faith! Keep your courage! Stick together! Stay strong! Do not yield! Do not flinch! Stand up! Stand up with our President and fight! We're Americans! We're Americans and we'll never surrender! They will!" Brilliant!

9. A September 11th memorial follows McCain. Three women tell stories of family members who died. It's very moving and genuine. "Amazing Grace" is sung. Then: Rudoph Giuliani comes out and welcomes the crowd to New York. His rhetoric is built upon the "hear from us" line in Bush's famous ad lib at Ground Zero. Our enemies have heard from us, and if we keep Bush in power, he argues, they will "continue to hear from us." He doesn't get too embedded in sadness about September 11th. The three women who preceded him carried that weight. He's lively and good humored. He expresses pleasure at seeing so many Republicans in New York. He says: "I don't believe we're right about everything and Democrats are wrong. They're wrong about most things. [Big laugh.] But seriously, neither party has a monopoly on virtue. We don't have all the right ideas. They don't have all the wrong ideas. But I do believe there are times in history when our ideas are more necessary and more important and critical and this is one of those times when we are facing war and danger."

Next, he talks about seeing a human being jumping from the World Trade Center tower and other experiences of September 11th. He says that on that day he said, "Thank God George Bush is our President," and he repeats that declaration tonight. He speaks emphatically of the weak response of the German government to the Olympic terrorists in 1972, which became a typical response to terrorists over a long period of years. "Terrorists learned they could intimidate the world community, and too often, the response, particularly in Europe, would be accommodation, appeasement, and compromise. And worse, they also learned that their cause would be taken seriously, almost in proportion to the horror of their attack." This is how Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize, he says. Bush is the one who realized we must take the offensive. Bush changed the direction, announcing the Bush doctrine. "Since September 11th, President Bush has remained rock solid. It doesn't matter to him how he's demonized. It doesn't matter to him what the media does ... Some call it stubbornness. I call it principled leadership. ... President Bush sees world terrorism for the evil that it is."

He turns here to John Kerry, who has no clear, consistent vision. He says this isn't a personal criticism of Kerry and that he respects Kerry's military service, which draws spontaneous applause from the crowd. But the two men are different: Bush sticks with his position, and Kerry changes. Kerry voted against the Gulf War, Giuliani says, and when the crowd boos, he ad libs, "Ah! But he must have heard you booing," because Kerry later supported the war. Giuliani is animated and comical as he talks about Kerry. He quotes Kerry's famous voted-for-it-voted-against-it line and does a cool New York shrug with perfect timing. He has a punchline: maybe that's what Edwards means by "the two Americas." Giuliani is having a great time. He's passionate about fighting terrorism, biting as he criticizes Kerry.

His speaking style is far more engaging than McCain's--and McCain did well. Giuliani seems to be speaking extemporaneously and really talking to us. Now, he's talking about New York construction workers talking to Bush on his trip to NY after 9/11. He's describing a huge man grabbing Bush in a big bear hug and squeezing him--Giuliani does a vigorous physical demonstration of the maneuver--and a Secret Service guy saying to him, "If this guy hurts the President, Giuliani, you're finished." The crowd is laughing like mad and so is Giuliani. He thanks everyone for the support they gave New York back then, and he ties this to a desire to be unified today.

He talks about Saddam Hussein and the Middle East in general. He's going a little long now, and the audience is getting a bit restive. But he's still cooking. President Bush is the man! Giuliani is willing his beliefs into us. I'm not sure he has a way planned out of this speech. Freedom! Mission! Wait, I think he's coming in for a landing. He's got a final approach: "We'll make certain that they have heard from us." And a final line: "God bless America." Great, great speech.

10. And suddenly, it's the video screen: Frank Sinatra! "New York, New York."

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