Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 2, 2004
POLITICS: Inside the RNC

Through the efforts of a friend, I managed to get into the Republican convention last night, and will be returning tonight. A few thoughts on the evening:

*I only had to go through security twice to get in; although security was wall-to-wall and very observant and had closed off many of the numerous approaches to MSG and Penn Station, the actual run through the metal detectors didn't seem as intrusive as the usual routine at airports and courthouses.

*My convention pass got me access to the press area behind the scenes, which means going past booths/tents filled with people from all the recognizable major media outlets, from newspapers like the New York Daily News to opinion journals like the Weekly Standard. But I wanted to see Bloggers Row, and eventually I followed the signs for the media until I got to Radio Row, where numerous radio stations are set up and broadcasting side by side. The blogger contingent was set up at a long patch of table off to the side - a small area crammed with laptops, but well-situated and visible. I was surprised at how many people were dropping by to see the bloggers, some of whom were quite smooth at setting up interviews. I got to meet all sorts of bloggers I had been in contact with by email but never met, including Alan Nelson from the Command Post, "Captain" Ed Morrissey from Captain's Quarters, Kevin Aylward from Wizbang!, Matt Margolis from Blogs for Bush, and David Adesnik from Oxblog. Roger Simon was probably the most recognizable in his trademark fedora. I also spoke with Hugh Hewitt, who had just wrapped up his radio show with an interview with John Fund; Hewitt is set up right across the aisle from the bloggers and is most gracious in person.

*Michael Barone dropped by the bloggers' area; there's a skill level involved in being a really high-level pundit that's truly impressive. Barone was peppered with questions from all sides and poured forth high-level punditry pretty much continuously, and was still doing so in a crowd when he headed away, talking about everything from the effect of down-ticket races (he cited Adlai Stevenson's gubernatorial campaign as particularly crucial to Harry Truman's re-election in 1948, complete with references to the number of electors Illinois had in that year) to the effects of abortion on national politics (he thinks Giuliani is such a star that we may see the first pro-choice GOP nominee in 2008). Barone reminded me of nobody so much as legal scholar Richard Epstein, who I met at a Federalist Society conference in law school, and who had a similar gift for rapid-fire extemporaneous opinions on every topic that passed his way.

*After that, I moved into the arena. A convention is a political junkie's dream come to life; there were familiar faces from the media and politics just everywhere, and if I was more aggressive about these things I could easily have struck up a few interviews (on one of the entrances to the Garden I was on line behind Alan Keyes). From my perch in the arena I could see interviews going on with Jack Kemp and Newt Gingrich, and watched Barone (again) and Candy Crowley and Rudy working the floor.

*Someone with a sense of humor set up the Al Jazeera booth right next to Fox News.

*The first two speeches I saw were Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey introducing her boss, Mitt Romney. Romney got a very warm reception, but it wasn't 10pm yet, and the crowd clearly was not into the early speeches; Healey in particular seemed to be shouting enthusiastically into an empty room. Same-sex marriage? not popular with Republican delegates. Healey's biggest applause line was her reference to how Romney "stood up to an activist court" to protect "traditional values." She did also draw a little reaction by noting that John Kerry doesn't talk much about when he was Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor under Michael Dukakis. Romney's speech seemed just wasted; he told a moving anecdote about a U.S. Olympic athlete who carried the tattered World Trade Center flag at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, but nobody seemed to be paying attention.

*Then, John Kerry was given Zell. Zell Miller is not a guy you want coming after your candidate, as I remember well from 1992. I was surprised that Miller's speech (1) didn't do more to set out his Democratic bona fides (as he's done in op-eds for the Wall Street Journal) and (2) focused entirely on foreign policy. My wife, watching at home - after having seen Rudy and McCain Monday but skipped most of Tuesday - was worried that the convention has been too overwhelmingly focused on national security to the exclusion of domestic policy, although I suspect that that is partly to help set the stage for President Bush to set out his Big Idea agenda tonight (as Bush told Rush Limbaugh on Tuesday when asked about his domestic agenda, "I'm going to save some of it for the speech if you don't mind."). Miller's comparison of the Democrats of today to Wendell Willkie was rough stuff - the common Democratic complaint is that Bush has played politics with national security, but really, if the Dems had been as supportive of the Iraq war as they were in Afghanistan, the war on terror would be a much smaller issue. More on this another day, but it's precisely because of the political battles over foreign policy that this is such a predominant issue this year, to the point that convention delegates seemed bored during the domestic policy parts of Cheney's speech.

My wife worried that Miller came off as too harsh, and he was certainly rough: after he said, "nothing makes this Marine madder than someone calling American troops occupiers rather than liberators," I half expected him to add, "Senator, you messed with the wrong Marine!"

Miller had a field day with Kerry's opposition to various weapons systems, climaxing with "This is the man who wants to be the Commander in Chief of our U.S. Armed Forces? U.S. forces armed with what? Spitballs?" My wife said Miller was less prepared to deal with CNN interviewers later who pressed him with DNC talking points about how Dick Cheney as Defense Secretary had not pressed for some of those systems. That's poor preparation: this has been a Democratic talking point for months, and if you take the record seriously it's hard to put much stock in the notion that Kerry and Dick Cheney have similar records on defense spending and weapons systems. (This particular talking point is vintage Kerry; his campaign isn't willing or able to tell you what Kerry stands for, but is instead obsessed with trying to disprove anything that's said about his record).

This was also a good passage, tying together the long years of Kerry's vascillations on foreign policy and blunting his efforts to hide behind his Vietnam service:

For more than twenty years, on every one of the great issues of freedom and security, John Kerry has been more wrong, more weak and more wobbly than any other national figure. As a war protestor, Kerry blamed our military.

As a Senator, he voted to weaken our military. And nothing shows that more sadly and more clearly than his vote this year to deny protective armor for our troops in harms way, far-away. George Bush understands that we need new strategies to meet new threats.

John Kerry wants to re-fight yesterday’s war. George Bush believes we have to fight today’s war and be ready for tomorrow’s challenges.

*Then, Lynne Cheney, who told us that her husband "entered public life as the Gentleman from Wyoming." I know it's too long ago to be worth explaining the relevance to today of Cheney's term as White House Chief of Staff under Gerald Ford, but is it too much to ask his own wife to remember that he held the job?

*As for the Vice President, he was low-key as always. I was actually sitting next to Cheney's speechwriters, which was amusing, since they knew exactly what was coming and were chattering about various passages in the speech as it went along. His speech started with the much-underappreciated fact that Cheney himself, despite his current image as the Mr. Moneybags guy from Monopoly, is from relatively humble origins: "my grandfather didn’t have a chance to go to high school. For many years he worked as a cook on the Union Pacific Railroad, and he and my grandmother lived in a railroad car."

Many of Cheney's lines were repeats of things he or Bush have said before, which was disappointing on one level, but a sign of both the consistency and the marketing savvy of the Bush team - they understand the importance of recycling key phrases to reinforce the public's image of what they stand for. (And, having done so, they don't blame those key phrases on "overzealous speechwriters").

Cheney told us that Libya's "uranium, centrifuges, and plans for nuclear weapons that were once hidden in Libya are locked up and stored away in Oak Ridge, Tennessee . . . " Gee, should he have just given us a street address? I sure hope they are well-guarded.

The foreign policy section of the speech bored heavily into Kerry, in classic Cheney fashion:

The President’s opponent is an experienced senator. He speaks often of his service in Vietnam, and we honor him for it. But there is also a record of more than three decades since. And on the question of America’s role in the world, the differences between Senator Kerry and President Bush are the sharpest, and the stakes for the country are the highest. History has shown that a strong and purposeful America is vital to preserving freedom and keeping us safe - yet time and again Senator Kerry has made the wrong call on national security. Senator Kerry began his political career by saying he would like to see our troops deployed “only at the directive of the United Nations.” During the 1980s, Senator Kerry opposed Ronald Reagan’s major defense initiatives that brought victory in the Cold War. In 1991, when Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait and stood poised to dominate the Persian Gulf, Senator Kerry voted against Operation Desert Storm.

After Cheney cited Kerry's experience as a Senator and a soldier, I half expected him to say: "a man with John Kerry's experience should know better." I was specifically disappointed in two things: first, Cheney should drop that line mocking Kerry's reference to a "sensitive" war on terror, which really is taken out of context; far more damning, in my opinion, was his reference back in June to "the real war on terror in Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan" and his claim that the Bush Administration had "transferred it for reasons of its own to Iraq." That's a stark admission of Kerry's fundamental unwillingness to accept the centerpiece of the war on terror, which is the idea of an offensive strategy of changing the conditions and removing the forces that support and nurture terrorists throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds, as opposed to concentrating solely on taking down those specific nations and organizations that can be proven to have already attacked us.

Second, even beyond the weapons systems and the $87 billion, I really wanted to hear more on Kerry's plan to gut intelligence spending in the mid-90s. I could also have done with some of Kerry's quotes about the Reagan policies that made such a difference in the Cold War; it's one thing to cite votes, but Kerry's speeches took some very tough lines against nearly every major controversial initiative of the Reagan years, from Central America to missiles in Europe. Still, there's only so much time, and you do have to cut to the chase.

My wife was concerned that there seemed to be a lot of empty seats in the hall while Cheney was speaking, although that was news to me where I was sitting. I'm also not sure the TV caught the full impact of the rows of people doing the tomahawk-chop-style "flip-flop, flip-flop" wave. Which played in with this:

Senator Kerry’s liveliest disagreement is with himself. His back-and-forth reflects a habit of indecision, and sends a message of confusion. And it is all part of a pattern. He has, in the last several years, been for the No Child Left Behind Act - and against it. He has spoken in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement - and against it. He is for the Patriot Act - and against it. Senator Kerry says he sees two Americas. It makes the whole thing mutual - America sees two John Kerrys.

Aside from the laugh line, this is clearly a central point to Cheney: a guy who can't keep his message at least straight enough that his supporters could answer the question "would Kerry have gone to war in Iraq" is never going to project the certainty about American intentions and resolve that is itself an important element of stability in foreign affairs.

All in all, an entertaining night, and one with a lot of red meat for the crowd; the parade of moderates was most definitely interrupted, and the base was happy. The stage is now set for the next-to-last major movement (other than the debates) of this campaign - the president's address to the nation laying out his agenda for the second term.

UPDATE: Will Collier at Vodkapundit follows up on my point above by refuting the spin on Kerry's opposition to major weapons systems.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:15 AM | Politics 2004 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (1)
Comments

Nice report.

Yeah, Miller was fiery and effective, but may have undermined his mostly-very-legitimate points in his speech by going too far with others. Although, Kerry (of course) made statements in his anti-war days advocating an abdication of all U.S. sovereignty to the U.N., he has plausibly reversed course on that and has also argued that he would never give a “veto” on national security issues to anyone, not even his beloved French. It’s still a legitimate concern about Kerry, but Miller could have been more precise with his language.

So too, with the passage about “Democratic leaders” allegedly seeing U.S. troops as “occupiers” rather than liberators. That’s not what people like Joe Lieberman, Joe Biden or Evan Bayh think. That’s not even what Bill or Hillary think (or at least say). Miller, though clearly mad, should have differentiated more there.

And he did look mighty angry (and apparently had a colorful run-in with Chris Matthews afterwards, see InstaPundit). I could imagine people at home wondering what they probably did about Howard Dean: who is this guy and why is he yelling at me? Then again, they will likely ask: why is this Democrat yelling at John Kerry?

P.S. Miller kind of resembles Sam the Eagle from the Muppet Show (although John Warner of VA also fits that category).

Posted by: The Mad Hibernian at September 2, 2004 8:57 AM

Mad -

The problem is, Lieberman, Biden or Bayh aren't mainstream democratic leaders any more. They aren't running for President (in Joe's case, he got sidelined early on in the race) and what we've got to judge the Democratic party from are the visible figureheads.

And there's no higher figurehead than who you run for the Presidency.

If the DNC had Zell Miller in that spot, I'd be hard-pressed to decide who to vote for. I want a STATESMAN in that position - someone who'll put the country first, and back-burner party politics until the dangers to the country are dealt with - not some party flack who'll maintain adamantly that there's no danger to the country and we need to worry more about the RNC than people who'd cheerfully set off a bomb in the WTC and follow up with airplanes years later.

If Kerry were a statesman, if the DNC wasn't a party of victims propping each other up and revelling in their victim status, then things would be very different in the American political landscape.

But they aren't. And Kerry manifestly isn't. Which makes it easier to decide who to vote for. As Zell said - he's voting for the safety of his family.

J.

Posted by: JLawson at September 2, 2004 11:03 AM

Well, Miller is getting ripped up and down by the left side of the blogosphere, and even by some in the middle (Oxblog, Andrew Sullivan, Matt Welch - who said he actually felt scared in the Garden last night.) As a Democrat, I want to say that this in 1992 all over again, and the negativity is going to turn off voters. (And I'm mad at myself for not predicting something like this beforehand, because I was thinking it was possible.) But a)I'm not really sure the 1992 convention was as important as it's made out to be in retrospect, and b)it ain't 1992.

I didn't see the speech, but I do think an excess of negativity and an attitude of "If you disagree with the President, you're not really patriotic" has the potential to alienate a significant portion of the electorate. But I'm growing less and less confident in the Kerry campaign's ability to exploit a situation like this. I guess time will tell if they're up to the challenge.

Posted by: Devin McCullen at September 2, 2004 12:12 PM

The 1992 convention scared some people not because of anger in the abstract but because of anger on social issues, which some people find frightening. But I agree that it's probably been overrated by media people who are overwhelmingly liberal on social issues. Bush lost in 1992 because he was seen as an out-of-touch patrician with no domestic policy, because some of his base and some independents deserted him over breaking the tax-hike pledge, and because of the (mis)perception that the recession had not yet turned into a recovery. I don't think anyone seriously thought George H.W. Bush was an angry theocrat.

Posted by: The Crank at September 2, 2004 12:27 PM

"Cheney told us that Libya's "uranium, centrifuges, and plans for nuclear weapons that were once hidden in Libya are locked up and stored away in Oak Ridge, Tennessee . . . " Gee, should he have just given us a street address? I sure hope they are well-guarded."

The address of the plant at Oak Ridge is not secret-- and there are things even more important and dangerous there than Libya's stuff. It's the same deal as Los Alamos and the Savannah River Site (where I used to work).

And yes, they are heavily guarded. :-)

Posted by: Gerry at September 2, 2004 12:54 PM
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