Now I know what a modern party convention is for. I sat down to last night’s big speeches with low expectations, ready to squirm in fact. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fun to watch in movies, but not my kind of Republican. (You couldn’t call Arnie anything “lite,” but I think of him as a sort of George Pataki heavy.) And this was billed as “People of Compassion” night. Oh, dear. When I hear the word “compassion” from a politician, the mental image it invokes is a sheaf of IRS forms. Plus, I feel about politicians’ family members the way the Victorians felt about children: They should be seen, but not heard.
In the event, I thought it all went very well. Schwarzenegger was simply tremendous. I especially liked his recollection of the Soviet occupation of part of Austria (which ended in 1956, I think). Outside Austria, hardly anyone remembers this, but it was traumatic for the Austrians. Soviet troops were actually billeted in Austrian homes. They were famous for stealing bath plugs, and for leaving “reminders” of their presence (use your imagination) in hidden corners.
But it was Arnold’s delivery and conviction and style that got the conventioneers up and cheering. It’s surprising, when you think about it, that there aren’t more actors in politics. They really know how to do this stuff. Watching Arnold, you couldn’t help but think of Reagan. Yeah, yeah, I know that on points of policy they are a world apart; but this is a convention. It’s not about policy, it’s about presentation. Perhaps that’s not the way it should be, but it’s the way it in fact is.
Similarly with Monday night’s speeches from John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. Good, solid, stirring speeches, both of them, right on target. Again, these guys aren’t on my personal top ten list of favorite Republicans, but who cares? George W. Bush is on that list, and if they help him get re-elected, and help bring out voters for the congressional races, they are welcome at my house any time. Besides, as Brit Hulme pointed out in the after-show commentary, one thing being demonstrated here is that the Republican Party is a way bigger tent than the Democrats, with far wider tolerance of dissent on policy positions. All of this helps appeal to ordinary un-political people.
Even the Bush daughters and wife didn’t make me squirm as much as I’d feared they would. I thought the twins were silly and unnecessary, but not offensive. Laura went on much too long, but again, I couldn’t see any downside, and she actually had some very good lines. After talking about how, back in the really bad days of the Cold War, she’d had to practice sheltering under her school desk in case of a Soviet missile attack, she said: “Because of strong American leadership in the past, we don’t hide under school desks any more.” That’s a good line, a memorable line. Her presentation was right, too: unaffected, unpolished. Watching her, you thought: She’s just a housewife from west Texas. Which is what you want to think about a President’s wife.
All in all, it’s been a great two days. This time last week I was glum, with the polls wobbling around 50-50 and the media droning on about Iraq, gas prices, a flat economy, and the rest. Now, seeing these great speakers — big-name American stars and heros with wide appeal — praising the President, speaking forthrightly about the war, expressing good American optimism and faith, I’m getting that winning feeling.
Sure, a lot can happen in nine weeks. The Bush haters still hate Bush, Soros and the Hollywood crowd still have plenty of money to hose around, and Iraq is still unstable. Sure, sure, things might go wrong; but I do believe we’re going to win this one.