The Republican National Convention ended Thursday night with the speech in which George Bush accepted the nomination of the party and set out his arguments for why he should be elected in November. Given that his surrogates had thoroughly trashed his opponent, and that was pretty much taken care of, this was Bush's opportunity to explain his plans for the next for years. They were general ideas, to the point of being vague, but that is to be expected. One hardly expected policy detail with subparagraphs on specific actions. But as one observer noted, the whole presentation was built around what seem to be becoming almost a cult of the Great Leader. He is resolute. He may be wrong. But he is determined. And you want that, you really do.
The most acerbic comments come from William Saletan, written a few moments after the speech ended.
Back to the Future
What Bush would do if he were president.
William Saletan - Posted Thursday, Sept. 2, 2004, at 11:47 PM PT in SLATE.COM
Saletan has a problem with the whole concept of the speech.
Well, this was the right audience in the right venue for this approach. These were his people. Blind faith in the absence of any evidence - faith without, yet, any works, to put it in religious terms - was here for the asking at this event.
... This was a speech all about what Bush will do, and what will happen, if he becomes president.
Except he already is president. He already ran this campaign. He promised great things. They haven't happened. So, he's trying to go back in time. He wants you to see in him the potential you saw four years ago. He can't show you the things he promised, so he asks you to envision them. He asks you to be "optimistic." He asks you to have faith.
He didn't need evidence with this particular crowd. They trust him. Swing voters and undecided voters - he can get back to them later.
Saletan suggests the problems, should he deliver variations on this same speech over the next two months to a more skeptical audience -
The folks in Madison Square Garden may have thrown up their arms, rolled their eyes to heaven and shouted I BELIEVE! - but will anyone else?
... Recession. Unemployment. Corporate fraud. A war based on false premises that has cost us $200 billion and nearly a thousand American lives. They're all hills we've "been given to climb." It's as though Bush wasn't president. As though he didn't get the tax cuts he wanted. As though he didn't bring about postwar Iraq and authorize the planning for it. All this was "given," and now Bush can show up, three and a half years into his term, and start solving the problems some other president left behind.
It's all downhill from here, he assures us. The mountain precedes the valley. Because the results have been bad, they'll start to be good--but only if we keep doing the same thing. Everything that hasn't happened will happen. Bush "will" control spending, he pledged. He "will make our country less dependent on foreign sources of energy." He "will lead a bipartisan effort to reform and simplify the federal tax code." "Soon every senior will be able to get prescription drug coverage." "More people will own their health plans."
Well, if everyone had a more positive attitude I suppose anything is possible.
I often mention my conservative friend who argues again and again that the one sole criterion for success, or at the one key necessary criterion, is having a positive attitude - a belief that such and such will happen, no matter what seems to be in your way.
I call that the Tinkerbell Theory. See May 2, 2004 - It is all a matter of having the right attitude...
That's what is going on here. I see it. Saletan sees it.
As you recall, at the end of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, children are urged to clap to signify their belief in fairies and to bring the expiring Tinkerbell to life. They have to clap - or Tinkerbell DIES! It always works (using the term "works" quite loosely) in the play (and in the movie oddly enough) - but I always wondered what would happen if, in some theater somewhere, just to see what happens, the kids all decided not to clap. Dead silence, if you'll pardon the pun. Would the actor or actress playing Tinkerbell then have to improvise a death scene? What if the kids all just sat on their hands, as a kind of thought-experiment, a kind of existential dramatic trap for the cast? How would the other characters cobble together an alternative ending? That really would be interesting.
You have to believe. And it helps if you clap. Be optimistic. Tinkerbell will live.
... Why will these things happen? Because resolve brings good things, and we've maintained our resolve through bad times. "Having come this far, our tested and confident nation can achieve anything," said Bush. The bad things that have happened while we've stayed resolved show that good things will happen if only we stay resolved.
... But standing and thinking are not doing. Beliefs and promises are what you talk about when you have no progress to report. Bush pointed to the wars he had launched and the bills he had signed, but he couldn't point to the benefits those laws and wars were supposed to deliver. The benefits haven't happened yet. They "will."
Nick Burbules here uses an entirely different metaphor.
So, the election has come down to this: "Most of you think the country is headed in the wrong direction, you think my policies have mostly failed and most of you don't support the things I intend to do in a second term. You're pretty convinced that I lied to you about Iraq and a lot of other things. But aside from all that, stay with me: I'm basically a nice guy."
If the American people buy this, they will be acting like others in abusive relationships, who keep making excuses for the partners who abuse them and always ask for just one more chance...
Ellen Goodman adds a different analogy.
RMC: Real Men Convention
Ellen Goodman - Washington Post Writers Group
09.03.04 - NEW YORK
Goodman knows me. Ask either of my ex-wives -
Yes, I do. Guilty as charged.
If nothing else, the Republican National Convention is bound to revive all those jokes about men and driving.
"Why does it take a million sperm to fertilize one egg? They won't ask directions."
"Why were the Jews lost in the desert for 40 years? Moses wouldn't stop to ask directions."
You know the drill.
But here's her point -
And as for the Bush acceptance speech?
The polls show that half of all Americans think the country is on the wrong track. But the delegates and speakers here all praised George W. for being the President Who Wouldn't Ask Directions.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the "once-scrawny boy from Austria," cited his two role models as John Wayne and Richard Nixon before he said what he admired most about Bush: "perseverance."
Leadership, said Arnold, is "about making decisions you think are right and then standing behind those decisions." And in case anyone didn't get it, he then teased those who disagreed with the president's rosy jobs scenario by reprising his line: "Don't be economic girlie men."
Zell Miller, the angry old Democrat of the Republican Party -- no, you can't give him back -- sounded like he was suffering from the side effects of Cialis when he called Kerry a "bowl of mush" and praised the president's, uh, "backbone."
But for so many, it just is NOT the decisions at all.
It didn't seem matter what he did as much as the fact that he said he'd do it. It didn't seem to matter as much where he was leading as that he was leading. The president put it best Thursday night when he said, "Even when we don't agree, at least you know what I believe and where I stand."
... In times of anxiety, many do gravitate to a very traditional, even archetypal image of male strength. Whatever the gender jokes, it isn't just men. There are also women in the passenger seat who are only comfortable with a man who behaves as if he knows where he's going.
... In a powerful acceptance speech rife with distortions, the same resolute, persevering, backboned president who went into Iraq claiming weapons of mass destruction now defends the war as one of liberation. In Bush's head, al Qaeda and Saddam are still connected. And anyone who worries that Iraq is breeding more terrorists than it had to begin with is suffering from what Zell Miller called "analysis paralysis."
My father used to describe a friend as "often wrong, but never in doubt." On the last day of the convention, Dick Cheney described his friend to a breakfast of Ohio delegates as "decisive."
"He doesn't waffle, he doesn't agonize," said the vice president. "That's exactly what we need in a president. We don't need indecision or confusion."
Well, I am sure that Dick Cheney isn't asking me for directions. But guess what? It's not George Bush's decisiveness that's the problem. It's his decisions.
OFTEN WRONG, BUT NEVER IN DOUBT
Start printing up the bumper stickers and t-shirts. Actually, I think the Bush supporters would embrace the slogan. It does differentiate Bush from Kerry in ways they seem to approve.
Andrew Sullivan, the gay conservative columnist, long a Republican stalwart and, until recently, a defender of Bush and all he's done, here offers his take on the speech -
Ah yes, very positive, except the whole week was Orwellian and there that bit about the cult of the Great Leader. Curious.
It was the second best speech I have ever heard George W. Bush give - intelligently packaged, deftly structured, strong and yet also revealing of the president's obviously big heart. The speechwriters deserve very high grades for pulling it off, to find a way to get the president to deal substantively with the domestic issues he is weak on and to soar once again on the imperatives of freedom in the Middle East. I will be very surprised if the president doesn't get a major boost from the effort, and if his minuscule lead in the race begins to widen. In this way, the whole convention was a very mixed message - but also a very effective one. They presented a moderate face, while proposing the most hard-right platform ever put forward by a GOP convention. They smeared and slimed Kerry - last night with disgusting attacks on his sincerity, patriotism and integrity. And yet they managed to seem positive after tonight. That's no easy feat. But they pulled it off. Some of this, I have to say, was Orwellian. When your convention pushes so many different messages, and is united with screaming chants of "U.S.A.", and built around what was becoming almost a cult of the Great Leader, skeptical conservatives have reason to raise an eyebrow or two.
But Sullivan has bigger fish to fry. The big concept? (The emphases are mine)
Lost another one, George.
But conservatism as we have known it is now over. People like me who became conservatives because of the appeal of smaller government and more domestic freedom are now marginalized in a big-government party, bent on using the power of the state to direct people's lives, give them meaning and protect them from all dangers. Just remember all that Bush promised last night: an astonishingly expensive bid to spend much more money to help people in ways that conservatives once abjured. He pledged to provide record levels of education funding, colleges and healthcare centers in poor towns, more Pell grants, seven million more affordable homes, expensive new HSAs, and a phenomenally expensive bid to reform the social security system. I look forward to someone adding it all up, but it's easily in the trillions. And Bush's astonishing achievement is to make the case for all this new spending, at a time of chronic debt (created in large part by his profligate party), while pegging his opponent as the "tax-and-spend" candidate. The chutzpah is amazing. At this point, however, it isn't just chutzpah. It's deception. To propose all this knowing full well that we cannot even begin to afford it is irresponsible in the deepest degree. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the only difference between Republicans and Democrats now is that the Bush Republicans believe in Big Insolvent Government and the Kerry Democrats believe in Big Solvent Government. By any measure, that makes Kerry - especially as he has endorsed the critical pay-as-you-go rule on domestic spending - easily the choice for fiscal conservatives. ...
And on the war? Sullivan echoes Goodman and Saletan -
Sullivan won't clap for Tinkerbell?
I agreed with almost everything in the foreign policy section of the speech, although the president's inability to face up to the obvious sobering lessons from Iraq is worrying. I get the feeling that empirical evidence does not count for him; that like all religious visionaries, he simply asserts that his own faith will vanquish reality. It won't.
But here's the kicker. I am neither gay nor conservative, being, I suppose, morose and liberal, but this one has to respect -
Dick Cheney may disown his daughter. Sullivan knows better.
I will add one thing more. And that is the personal sadness I feel that this president who praises freedom wishes to take it away from a whole group of Americans who might otherwise support many parts of his agenda. To see the second family tableau with one family member missing because of her sexual orientation pains me to the core. And the president made it clear that discriminating against gay people, keeping them from full civic dignity and equality, is now a core value for him and his party. The opposite is a core value for me. Some things you can trade away. Some things you can compromise on. Some things you can give any politician a pass on. But there are other values - of basic human dignity and equality - that cannot be sacrificed without losing your integrity itself. That's why, despite my deep admiration for some of what this president has done to defeat terror, and my affection for him as a human being, I cannot support his candidacy. Not only would I be abandoning the small government conservatism I hold dear, and the hope of freedom at home as well as abroad, I would be betraying the people I love. And that I won't do.
One is reminded of the late British novelist E.M. Forester - "I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country. Such a choice may scandalize the modern reader, and he may stretch out his patriotic hand to the telephone at once to ring up the police...."
Will someone call Attorney General Ashcroft about Sullivan? Or will they only call the Republican Party headquarters? Maybe it's the same number.
Just to make the dynamic even weirder, note this...
Card says president sees America as a child needing a parent
Sarah Schweitzer, The Boston Globe, September 2, 2004
Ha! Just when you thought the whole cult of the Great Leader couldn't get any stranger.
NEW YORK -- White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said yesterday that President Bush views America as a ''10-year-old child" in need of the sort of protection provided by a parent.
Card's remark, criticized later by Democrat John F. Kerry's campaign as ''condescending," came in a speech to Republican delegates from Maine and Massachusetts that was threaded with references to Bush's role as protector of the country. Republicans have sounded that theme repeatedly at the GOP convention as they discuss the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq.
''It struck me as I was speaking to people in Bangor, Maine, that this president sees America as we think about a 10-year-old child," Card said. ''I know as a parent I would sacrifice all for my children."
The comment underscored an argument put forth some by political pundits, such as MSNBC talk-show host Chris Matthews, that the Republican Party has cast itself as the ''daddy party."
A Kerry spokesman, seizing on Card's characterization of Bush as a parental figure for the nation, contended that the president had failed.
''Any parent that ran a household the way George W. Bush runs the country would find themselves in bankruptcy court on the way to family court," said Phil Singer, a Kerry spokesman....