The Republican National Convention ended with a fine stirring speech by George W. Bush. The whole convention was, it seems to me, a roaring success. If I were John Kerry, I’d be feeling very worried right now.
As always with an acceptance speech, the President had to do two things simultaneously: fire up his own supporters, and look appealing to the nation at large. George W. Bush pulled this off splendidly. His speechmaking skills have advanced tremendously in the past four years. The muscles of his face are now relaxed, his pauses and emphases are nicely balanced, and his understated body language is a welcome relief from the irritating mannerisms we see too much of nowadays — Kerry’s pointing thumb, for example (which John Edwards has now taken up).
You can pick nits with the content of the Bush speech. It was too long: I wonder how many citizens sat through all 62 minutes. The rule in college lecturing, at least when I was doing it, was 45 minutes max, nobody can concentrate on a speaker for longer than that. There was also a laundry-list quality to the first half that put me uncomfortably in mind of the previous president.
Other things: Apparently Bush does not know that the phrase “soft bigotry of low expectations” was not very good to begin with, and is now worn threadbare, and quoted mainly for facetious effect. The definition of “compassionate conservatism” he offered: “Government should help people improve their lives, not run their lives,” is one of those specimens of politician-speak that mean less the longer you stare at them. No mention of Iran or North Korea, confirming one’s uneasy feeling that the administration has no clue what to do about these very dire, and daily worsening, problems. Not a word about illegal immigration, a great national scandal in need of some remedy. The jokes near the end of the speech were lame. (Though not as lame as his father’s.) And why should a President of the United States address citizens in any language other than English?
Those are nits, though, for all of which, in a context like this, reasonable excuses can be made. The overall tone of the speech, maintained throughout, was upbeat and confident. Surprisingly little of it was given over to countering the Democratic ticket, and that little was good-natured, though pointed — just right. Some of those laundry list items were very welcome: tort reform, tax reform, social security reform. And: “I support the protection of marriage against activist judges.”
The defense of the Iraq War was forthright and unapologetic, rooted in a clear concept of this country’s own security: “A safer world … a more hopeful America.” You may not agree with that concept, but the President did not rest his case on the woolly, world-saving idealism antiwar conservatives charge him with. He made the case for what he did, as well as it can be made. His own patriotism shone through: America is “the hope of the oppressed, the greatest force for good in this world … the character of a great nation: decent, realistic, and strong.”
A good speech, much better than just adequate. If not a home run, certainly a double. John Kerry has a mountain to climb.
Footnote on security. I was not very surprised that demonstrators were on the floor even during the President’s speech. Security at Madison Square Garden was lousy. I can testify to this personally.
Item. Passing through the bag check Thursday afternoon, for around the tenth time this week, the X-ray handlers identified a large pocket knife in my back pack. They made a fuss, and I had to leave it with them. This knife is part of the “survival kit” I always carry in that pocket of my backpack. It had been there the previous nine times I went through the checkpoint; but on none of those occasions was it spotted.
Item. I went into the convention hall around six o’clock Thursday evening, when nothing much was happening. There were some security guys having an argument about something in the doorway. I excused myself and pushed through them. Then I mooched around the hall for a while. Another, different security man asked to see my tags. I showed them. “You shouldn’t be in here with those,” he said. “Well,” I replied, “I was here all day yesterday with them. Sat right there [pointing] for the Vice President’s speech.” The guy shook his head. “Someone dropped the ball, then. You shouldn’t have been here. Gotta leave.” I left. Later I discovered that because of the President’s visit, a special tag was required, that hadn’t been needed the day before. Obviously the guy didn’t know that. Obviously he should have. And obviously the guys I’d pushed through at the door were much more interested in their argument than in checking my tags. I could very easily have gone right down to near the podium, taken a seat, and waited for the crowds to come in. If you want to infiltrate a major party convention, I am available for consultation.