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Pitching Bush and pitting Kerry

2004 RNC portrays Bush, Cheney as pillars of the nation

By Leigh E. Rich

Two weeks ago, two pillars stood tall in New York City.

Though they did not dwarf the venerated memory of the Twin Towers, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney paid homage to the heroes and the victims of the tragedy that befell America three years ago.

They reminded America of her sadness, her resiliency, and her role as a stronghold of hope and freedom in the world.

They did so with respect and with American pride.

And they did so in the midst of a bitterly polarized presidential campaign.

There is no question President Bush has the right to hold up his response in the wake of Sept. 11 as evidence of his ability to lead the country. Whether he and the rest of the speakers at the recent Republican gathering traversed sacred ground, however, remains to be seen.

Regardless, one thing is clear: Just like with the HBO sitcom Sex and the City, the City of New York was a cast member in its own right at the 2004 Republican National Convention (RNC)—the first of the GOP variety to ever be held in the Democratic bastion that is the Big Apple.

Despite the fact that Democrats outnumber Republicans in New York five-to-one, the 2004 RNC showcased GOP-bent New York leaders such as Gov. George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who all spoke of Bush’s leadership following the September attacks.

As did other primetime stumpers for the president, including Arizona Sen. John McCain, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, First Lady Laura Bush, and Lynne and Dick Cheney.

And it worked. The steadfast message of this year’s RNC—that President Bush continues to wage a war on terrorism that merely began on Sept. 11—has garnered the incumbent candidate a large bump in the polls. A Newsweek poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates at the end of last week and based on 1,008 telephone interviews, shows as much as a 13-point bounce for Baby Bush that has moved him into lead.

Depicting John Kerry as nothing but a “flip-flopper” who isn’t sure whether he’s supportive of the war also was part of that dogged 2004 RNC message and was reiterated by practically every major speaker other than McCain.

But Bush’s battle to retain control of the White House is far from over, and he will have to fight to maintain his advance in this tight election in the upcoming presidential debates on Sept. 30, Oct. 8 and Oct. 13.

Tactically, however, the Republicans threw a bigger and more on-message party in New York compared to the Dems’ shindig in Boston, and they were more willing to mention their opponents by name and often use the Democrats’ own words against them.

There are not two Americas, Cheney said, digging at vice-presidential candidate John Edwards’ favorite tag line, but rather “two John Kerrys.”

It’s difficult to say which is the greater truth.

There is no doubt, however, that America boasts of two political parties. The convention in New York—once temporarily the seat of the nation’s capital and the city in which George Washington took his oath as president—was, at its core, a reminder that the GOP won’t willingly hand over Congress or the White House.

The Republicans proffered ample evidence, at least as they see it, that George W. and Dick Cheney deserve four more years. And below is The Statesman’s take, similar to our coverage of the 2004 Democratic National Convention (DNC), of the legitimate knockouts and the below-the-belt punches that the GOP swung in the Dems’ direction at Madison Square Garden.

United we stand … apparently against John Kerry: It’s true, Mr. Giuliani, that “neither party has a monopoly on virtue.” But the Republicans did have a monopoly on using the tragedy of Sept. 11, however respectfully, to their advantage earlier this month.

Sure, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani had to make mention of Sept. 11 in his Monday night address, but his two-pronged speech seemed limited to reminding America how united it was that terrible day and to poking a big Republican stick at Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards.

Giuliani primed the weeklong prattle against the Democratic ticket, stating that Kerry’s senatorial record depicts “a man who changes his position often, even on important issues,” and that John Edwards’ “need for two Americas” suits Kerry well—“one where John Kerry can vote for something and another where he can vote against the same thing.”

The GOP delegates joined in the verbal brawl several times throughout the week, breaking into chants of “flip-flop” and waving their arms back and forth like America’s “amber waves of grain” swaying in the wind.

McCain, who admitted in an interview that “this campaign has become very bitterly partisan,” was one of the few primetime speakers who pitched Bush’s record without pitting Kerry’s.

MIA from the battlefield: Former President Ronald Reagan, whose vision of America as a “shining city upon the hill” gave the Republican Party its current direction and shape, attended the 2004 GOP convention only in memory. The Big Gipper passed away this June after suffering from Alzheimer’s for nearly 10 years. His second wife, Nancy Davis Reagan, has since become an active proponent of stem cell research, despite Ronnie’s views opposing abortion.

Also missing from the Republican gathering, though still alive and kicking, was former President Gerald Ford, who assumed “the Presidency under extraordinary circumstances” in 1974, after Richard Nixon resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal. The now 91-year-old Ford and former vice president to Nixon became the 38th president in “an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts,” Ford said during his swearing-in 30 years ago last month.

Ford, only the second U.S. president alongside Reagan to become a nonagenarian, pardoned Nixon one month later.

United colors of … Republicans? Though coming closer than ever before to being as ethnically diverse as a Benetton ad, the Republican National Committee proudly boasted in a pre-convention press release that its 2004 GOP convention was “the most diverse in party history,” increasing in its minority makeup by 70 percent since the last presidential election—a fourfold swell, it said, compared to the Democratic delegation.

But there are “lies, damn lies and statistics,” as Mark Twain once penned, and hiding within these overwhelming Republican tallies is the fact that minorities made up about 17 percent of the 2004 Republican delegation but about 40 percent of the Democratic delegation.

That’s less than half as much, Mr. Spin Doctor.

‘The New Colossus’ of New York: Tuesday must have been “bootstraps day,” as George P. Bush, First Lady Laura and Gov. Arnold all spoke of immigrants and Americans who have pulled themselves to success in America.

“No matter how often I visit New York, I never tire of looking at the Statue of Liberty,” George P. told the delegates. “I can’t help but reflect upon the impression she must have made on our weary but hopeful ancestors whose first glimpse of America was that inspiring silhouette. … Although many immigrants could not read the words, the outstretched arm that pierced the heavens was clear affirmation that they had found what they were seeking—the land of freedom and opportunity.

“Our party has always represented the interests of all people seeking opportunity,” P. declared. “We are the home of entrepreneurs.”

Likewise, his Aunt Laura told America the story of “women like Carmella Chaifos—the only woman to own a tow truck company in all of Iowa”—and praised President Bush’s tax relief for enabling Chaifos to “buy the business … modernize her fleet and expand her operations.”

“That’s the beautiful thing about America,” Chaifos reportedly told the first lady when they met during Mrs. Bush’s “W is for Women” tour. “If you’re determined and you want to work hard, you can do anything you want to.”

Deluded about the American dream: Schwarzenegger told his own story, about how “a once-scrawny boy from Austria could grow up to become governor of California and stand in Madison Square Garden to speak on behalf of the president of the United States. That is an immigrant’s dream. It is the American dream,” he told the crowd.

Actually, Mr. Universe, the American dream is more likely about how a once-scrawny boy from Austria could grow up to make $40 million a movie.

And since when is the Republican Party a united welcome wagon for immigrants? Hasn’t Gov. Schwarzenegger ever met Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo?

Where’s the love? If it can be said the DNC hung its hat on John Kerry’s service in Vietnam, the RNC was similarly centered on George W. Bush’s war on terror. Focused almost solely on Sept. 11, the dismantling of the Taliban regime, and the war in Iraq, the 2004 Republican convention was a far cry from the compassionate conservatism of 2000.

In the intervening four years, Bush said last Thursday, “Afghanistan was the home base of al-Qaida, Pakistan was a transit point for terrorist groups, Saudi Arabia was fertile ground for terrorist fund-raising, Libya was secretly pursuing nuclear weapons, Iraq was a gathering threat, and al-Qaida was largely unchallenged as it planned attacks.”

So much has changed since 2000, when Bush avowed: “Big government is not the answer, but the alternative to bureaucracy is not indifference. It is to put conservative values and conservative ideas into the thick of the fight for justice and opportunity. This is what I mean by compassionate conservatism. And on this ground, we will lead our nation.”

Colorado connections: The Centennial state simply refuses to stay out of the spotlight this presidential election. In addition to hosting eight visits by bigwigs from both major parties in the past two months, Coloradans were popping up all over the convention coverage.

Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, as assistant secretary of the convention, conducted the roll call; Gov. Bill Owens, co-chair of the platform committee, defended the GOP as “an inclusive party” while going head-to-head with Jim Lehrer’s team; and First Lady Laura Bush spoke in her Texas twang about Cindy Crane, “at home in Colorada,” who “stands watch … with worry and prayer” for her three sons who enlisted in the armed forces after Sept. 11.

But this should come as no surprise—citizens of the wild West have been making waves at national conventions since Sen. Henry Teller opposed William McKinley’s nomination in 1896 and convinced 22 others to walk out of the Republican gathering in St. Louis in protest.

What was the divisive issue for these western Republicans? Why, silver, of course!

Clowns to the left, jokers to the right: Though 48 percent of the GOP’s delegates can be deemed “evangelical” or “born-again,” according to Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center, the 2004 platform and the primetime speaker lineup conformed more to the moderates. Rarely to be found in the Republicans’ platform, some have grumbled, was unequivocal commentary against abortion, stem cell research and homosexual marriage.

This was a complaint raised by a faction of the Colorado Republican delegation months ago. A member of that vocal dissent included Castle Rock delegate Kendal Unruh, who also garnered a bit of the Colorado spotlight when interviewed on a national cable network while in New York.

With nearly 50 percent of its members leaning much farther to the right—up from 40 percent since the 1992 convention—it seems half of the party this year was blindfolded and the other half gagged.

The (unborn) elephant in the room: The only conservative courageous enough to make a stand on such “family values” was North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole, speaking early Tuesday night.

On abortion, she explicitly said: “We believe in a culture that respects all human life, including … those not yet born. Protecting life isn’t something Republicans invented, but it is something Republicans will defend.”

On homosexual unions: “Marriage is important because it is the cornerstone of civilization and the foundation of family. Marriage between a man and a woman isn’t something Republicans invented, but it is something Republicans will defend.”

On religion: “Two thousand years ago a man said, ‘I have come to give life and to give it in full.’ In America, I have the freedom to call that man Lord, and I do.”

Even Bush, who’s had the support of the religious right since his stint as governor of Texas, skated over his pro-life, pro-Christian, anti-gay stance in his acceptance speech on Thursday night.

And it’s not hard to see why. Looking more ardent than usual in her highlighted ’do and speaking with passion and conviction, Dole bordered on a GOP version of Disney’s Cruella de Vil—skinning the moderate pups to make a fur coat she and the socially conservative Republicans can proudly wear.

Not all Republicans were pleased with Dole’s platform plea. Patrick Guerriero of the Log Cabin Republican group, which supports homosexual unions, said in an interview that the GOP message has been “hijacked by the political right.” He also deemed Dole’s speech “an insult” to the U.S. soldiers currently fighting in the name of freedom.

Regardless of whether GOP leaders side with Dole or Guerriero, their primetime lineup spoke volumes: Stuff that coat in the back of the closet until it’s needed after Nov. 2.

A long rope or a legitimate stem cell line of defense? More divisive than gay marriage at the 2004 RNC was the matter of embryonic stem cell research. Not all Republicans have sided with President Bush and his 2001 policy, limiting federal research dollars to the handful of stem cell lines already in existence. And more might be likely to defect to the opposite camp, now that Britain has decided to create a national stem cell bank and allow therapeutic cloning.

Absent from that group will certainly be Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, who emphatically reminded America that he is a doctor first and a senator second. Frist promised in his Tuesday night address, “Adult stem cell research has already led to cures” and “contrary to the claims of some, embryonic stem cell research is still at a very early stage.”

Saying “Shame on you, Mr. Kerry,” Frist questioned Kerry’s “claim that the President has put a ‘sweeping ban’” on such research and added that “the private sector remains free to fund and pursue any type of stem cell research.”

According to Dr. Frist, then, it’s not about life beginning at conception but taxpaying citizens funding such horrific endeavors. C’mon, Dr. Frist, Republicans don’t just call for a ban on taxpayer-funded abortions.

If life is sacred from the moment of fertilization—if this is “true from sea to shining sea,” as Dole said—then opposition to embryonic stem cell research should ring true from the public arena to the private sector.

Barbara and Jenna, you’re no Vanessa Kerry: It’s a good thing former White House counselor Karen Hughes officially left the Bush administration in 2002. Though admitting she penned the fingernails-on-chalkboard convention speech presented by recent college grads Barbara and Jenna Bush—who swooned after Arnold like Hollywood-crazed teenagers and publicly picked on Grandma Barbara for thinking “Sex and the City is something married people do but never talk about”—Hughes still works closely with the Bush campaign.

You’re right, Gov. Schwarzenegger, America is “more compassionate, more generous, more accepting” than any other place on earth.

In Russia, Hughes would be setting up shop in Siberia by now.

Dot cons: Making the cut during both presidential candidate acceptance speeches at the 2004 national conventions were plugs for the and Web sites.

After touching on domestic issues such as health care, education, taxes and the economy, Bush told his viewers, “Anyone who wants more details on my agenda can find them online. The Web address is not very imaginative, but it’s easy to remember:”

Apparently, the Web site of today is like the high school diploma of 30 years ago—no one takes you seriously if you don’t have one.

For whom the Zell tolls: Accusing Kerry of promulgating a “yes-no-maybe bowl of mush” and wanting to arm U.S. forces with “spitballs,” Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia zinged Southern-fried epithets at Bush’s opponent Wednesday night before Veep Cheney took the stage.

Miller, who issued a keynote address at the 1992 Democratic National Convention and served as chairman of the platform drafting committee at the 1996 DNC, threw his weight behind the Republicans this year.

“Our nation is being torn apart and made wider by the Democrats’ manic obsession to tear down our commander in chief,” Miller said.

Later, when asked to elucidate on his Kerry-bashing invective, Miller came close to challenging political talking head Chris Matthews to a “duel.”

Problem is, this “flip-flopper” just might not know which side he’s fighting for.

Resurrected from the battlefield: Richard Nixon: California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proudly proclaimed himself a Nixon Republican in his primetime speech on Tuesday night, reminiscing how he lined up with the GOP after watching Nixon speak at the 1968 convention.

“Everything in politics,” as McCain said in an interview, “is very transient.”

Apparently, Nixon, too, will be back.

Rich, L. E. (2004, Special RNC Issue). Pitching Bush and pitting Kerry: 2004 Republican National Convention portrays Bush, Cheney as pillars of the nation. The Colorado Statesman, pp. 4–5, 10.

Second Place – Government and Political Writing – Colorado Press Women – May 2005

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