PATCHING UP CRACKS IN THE BASE
the Third Session of the 37th Republican National Convention
Wednesday, August 2, 2000
RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
The Third Session of the 37th Republican National Convention was gaveled to order by the Permanent Chairman, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, at approximately 7:45 P.M. EDT (2345 UTC), Tuesday 1 August 2000. The colors were presented by the Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint Services Color Guard, the Pledge of Allegiance was led by Everett Alvarez, Jr. of Rockville, MD- who was the first aviator shot down over Vietnam and who ended up spending 8 1/2 years as a Prisoner Of War- and young Olivia Lalewicz sang the National Anthem. The invocation was then given by John Busby, one of two national leaders of the Salvation Army (the other being his wife Elsie, who joined him on stage) after which the colors were retired and this evening's Session was officially underway.
Those assembled in the Comcast First Union Center were then entertained briefly by Texas blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan and his Tilt-a-Whirl Band before Deputy Convention Permanent co-Chair Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn of Washington stepped up to the dais to order the resumption of the infamous "Rolling Roll Call". Convention Secretary Linda Shaw and an Assistant Secretary stepped forward to record the votes of the delegations in alphabetical order from Kansas through North Carolina. Some highlights/lowlights:
Kansas got this second "round" of the Rolling Roll Call off to a slow start due to microphone troubles but, after a few moments, we were off and... well... "rolling".
Kentucky almost accidentally cast votes instead of passing when an overenthusiastic Senator Mitch McConnell- after the usual statement touting the glories of his Commonwealth (including, of course, his much-loved Kentucky Derby)- started to say "Kentucky casts all 31 of its votes" until someone in the delegation quickly reminded him that Kentucky was one of the States chosen to "pass" to better allow Texas to be the state which will, obviously, put Governor Bush over the magic nominating number of 1,034 during the next evening's Session. Kentucky was subsequently to be joined in passing by Missouri, New Jersey, New York and North Carolina.
I couldn't help smirking a bit while Governor Mike Foster of Louisiana announced his State's votes (all for Bush), remembering the battle late last year over whether or not the Pelican State would hold "first-in-the-nation" caucuses (they, of course, did not- a decision largely do to intrastate intraparty dispute mixed with what were then thought to be the fortunes of the Texas Governor's campaign)- the political chicanery of which I wrote in two of my earliest Commentaries for this web site.
Maryland's vote was announced by the sister of the nominee-presumptive, while Massachusetts apparently had one stubborn McCain delegate who refused to vote for Bush along with- interestingly- one delegate abstaining.
Minnesota announced itself as "the home of ten thousand lakes and one goofy Governor"- an obvious reference to Independent Jesse Ventura. Nebraska proudly billed itself as "the only State in the Union not visited by Bill Clinton since he's been President", while New York ended up drawing the loudest cheers of this second "round" by simply noting that Rick Lazio would be "the next Senator from New York", for all in the Hall knew that Lazio's Democratic opponent is, of course, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The results of this second "round" of the Roll Call of the States were as follows:
After North Carolina had voted, co-Chair Dunn announced the suspension of the Roll Call until the following evening's Session when the "Rolling Roll Call" would resume with the call of North Dakota. The results of the balloting so far now yielded 659 votes for Governor Bush, 6 for former Ambassador Keyes, 1 for Senator McCain and 1 abstention.
This second part of the "Rolling Roll Call" was followed, on the big screen, by a video montage of George W. Bush engaged in everyday activities with his family, on the campaign trail, etc. to a soundtrack of Stevie Wonder's original version of Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours. Obviously, the message here was that Bush's nomination was all but "signed, sealed, delivered" but I could only hope that the message here was NOT that in the chorus- that the Texas Governor had also "done a lot of foolish things that I really didn't mean"! I was left to wonder just how much thought is actually given to the lyrics when these songs are chosen by the organizers of the Conventions: regardless of whether or not those in the Convention Hall are actually paying attention to lyrics- as opposed to recalling the song's title- I would think one should be rather prudent as to how these are taken by those tuning in on, say, C-SPAN!
It was finally time for the evening's Theme- "Strength and Security with a Purpose: Safe in our Homes and in the World"- to get underway. Co-Chair Dunn returned to the dais after a musical interlude involving the in-house band playing a rollicking tune to introduce Congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona. Now we were all to be treated to the first (though, admittedly, low-key) controversy of this Convention: Kolbe was to be speaking on the importance of free trade in international affairs- but Kolbe is also one of the few openly homosexual Members of Congress. There were many among the delegates in the Hall who took obvious exception to Kolbe's addressing this Convention, apparently feeling it was inappropriate for a gay man to be appearing before them- but none so vehemently as a large chunk of the delegation from Texas, which happens to be the home state of the nominee-presumptive.
Of course, the delegates from Texas (along with those from Pennsylvania- as host state) are seated right up front in the Hall and, thus, any protest within the delegation from the Lone Star State, no matter HOW low-key, would be clearly visible to the all-seeing eye of the TV camera and a potential source of embarrassment to the Bush campaign (of course, the real embarrassment is that what one sees- and that which I am here writing about- in the course of the Republican National Convention is all pretty much just for show: the reality of what the Republican Party actually IS- as evidenced by any thorough perusal of the party's Platform adopted just the day before- differs greatly from what the GOP hierarchy would like the average American voter to THINK it is; this much must be kept in the back of one's mind as one follows an event such as a National Convention. The two primary factors which mitigate this somewhat are: a.) the fact that, for the most part, televised National Conventions largely end up "preaching to the choir" [that is, the vast majority of the people actually taking this even half-seriously are those who- in the case of this particular Convention- are already likely to be voting for Governor Bush come 7 November] and b.) the fact that I have no doubt whatsoever that I will be writing something along the lines of this parenthetical statement roughly two weeks from now about some damn fool episode taking place at the DEMOCRATIC National Convention!). The solution was to place a row of delegates- led by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (who, to her credit, appeared to be listening intently to what the Arizona Congressman had to say)- in the forefront of the Texas delegation to applaud respectfully while many of those behind- who wished to so protest Kolbe's appearance before them- bowed their heads in what appeared to be silent prayer the entire time the Congressman was at the dais.
To be fair to the Texans, the reaction throughout the Convention Hall as regards Kolbe was, as a whole, decidedly mixed; the Texas delegation may have been the epicenter of hard conservative dissent but its shock waves- like the waves from a quake moving through the Earth itself- evidently spread fairly far and wide throughout the Convention Hall; the Congressman's home state of Arizona, however, lustily cheered as Kolbe was introduced!
This whole sorry- and, I might add, largely unnecessary- episode had me thinking of a sardonic question a hard-line Democrat friend of mine once asked of me: that when a Republican uses the word "inclusion", does he or she first have to look up the word in the Dictionary to find out what it means? No matter. If the dissidents had been listening to the Arizona Congressman instead of busily enjoining their Creator to save his allegedly sinful soul, they might have heard a halfway-decent speech on international trade! "Through free trade", Kolbe said, "we have exported our principles as well as our products". He added that "trade is not just monetary, it is moral; it is not just a matter of commerce, but a matter of conscience". Noting that "a new opportunity is ahead of us" as a result of the global economy, the Congressman closed with the notion that "America must seize this opportunity!"
After Kolbe had finished his speech, co-Chair Dunn gave way to Congressman J.C. Watts who introduced Ave Bie, chairman of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, who scored the Democrats on what appeared would be yet another issue with which to battle them this coming Fall. "When it comes to the Clinton/Gore national energy policy, they've been running on empty", Ms. Bie noted- adding that "we've been 'Gore'd at the pumps with high gas prices". After she had finished, co-Chair Watts began to introduce the next speaker but few on the Convention floor were paying much attention as, at that moment, Dick Cheney entered the galleries: the Vice Presidential nominee-presumptive seemed much more comfortable in his acknowledging the cheers of the Party faithful now (it appeared to me as if he was now finally warming up to his role as Bush's running mate: assuming this is true, all those appearances he made in the galleries during these three Sessions were a smart thing on his part as well as that of the Bush/Cheney campaign). As things turned out, it was all just as well that few really noticed the identity of the next speaker, for it was to be Theodore Roosevelt IV, the head of the League of Conservation Voters and also the great-grandson of President Teddy Roosevelt, who spoke to the Convention about the role of Government in conservation and protecting the environment.
The living Mr. Roosevelt may have shared his more famous ancestor's great passion for the "Great Outdoors" but- not to be TOO cruel about it- he evidently did NOT get "T.R." 's charisma gene passed on to him through the process of Natural Selection. His speech was actually a bit longer than those of the other minor speakers who had addressed the Convention in this time slot- both during this Session as well as that of the evening before: it was, in fact, TOO long and I found myself wondering if Mr. Roosevelt had earlier been backstage taking lessons in Laconic Elocution from Comedy Central's Ben Stein. I must confess I have never seen a more dispassionate performance by someone who, by all accounts, is passionate about that of which he is speaking! I had to assume that had Mr. Roosevelt's name been- say- "Joe Six-Pack", we might never have had the dubious pleasure of his addressing this Convention.
Mercifully, Mr. Roosevelt soon enough left the podium and we were now treated to the in-house band breaking into Gonna Fly Now, the theme from the movie Rocky, during which former President and Mrs. Ford, former First Lady Nancy Reagan and former President and Mrs. Bush were being seated in the galleries to the delight of the delegates below. After this, Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson- a graduate of West Point and a veteran of the Vietnam Conflict- stepped to the podium to introduce a video on the history of the battleship USS New Jersey, after which he introduced retired General "Stormin' Norman" Schwarzkopf who was speaking- via live video feed on the big screen- from the deck of that very vessel while surrounded by his fellow vets.
In the course of his speech, General Schwarzkopf noted that the following day (2 August) would be the 10th Anniversary of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait- the event which would lead to the troop buildup known as "Operation Desert Shield" and the subsequent Gulf War known as "Operation Desert Storm", during which George Bush the father was President (former President Bush, in the galleries, stood up to acknowledge the cheers of the delegates as Schwarzkopf reminded them of this). "Recalling 'Operation Desert Storm' ", the Operation's former commander remarked, "I can't help asking myself: wouldn't it be great for our Armed Forces and for America if we could have another Commander-in-Chief named George Bush with Dick Cheney on his team?" To this, the delegates watching the feed in the Hall roared their generous approval.
Schwarzkopf's remarks were followed by a short video on the big screen recounting the major events of World War II after which the "Big One"'s most famous Republican veteran- former Senator and 1996 GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole- strode to the dais. "There's still time for a recount", he quipped and then joked that nonagenarian Senator Strom Thurmond had earlier walked him over to Independence Hall to show him where he had first met Ben Franklin. Then the Kansan got down to the serious business at hand- a moving tribute to the veterans of World War II, after which he asked the veterans of all wars in attendance at the Convention to rise when they heard their service's theme song (in order, that of the Marines, the Navy, the Air Force and the Army). This was followed by another musical interlude: the in-house band playing In the Mood while professional dancers in period costume jitterbugged on the Convention stage.
Co-Chair Watts now introduced the next Speaker, Pat Funderburk Ware, the president and CEO of the Preserving Family Well-Being Foundation who talked about the need to fight against the spread of AIDS and HIV at home and abroad. Mrs. Ware was followed by the actor Rick Schroder, of late a co-star of the hit TV series NYPD Blue, speaking about the safety of children in the schools and on the streets. We next heard from Jack Cowley, a former prison warden from Oklahoma and the national director for The InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a faith-based prison program.
Governor George Pataki of New York next stepped up to the dais to introduce each of the tributes to the three living Republican former Presidents: Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George Bush the father. There was a video shown up on the big screen for each, recounting the events of each Presidency after each of which the two former Presidents and Nancy Reagan (sitting in for her husband, whose health- obviously- did not allow him to attend) stood up to acknowledge the cheers of those in attendance. I noted that, as we neared the end of the Ford and Bush videos, there was a link made to the 2000 GOP nominee-presumptive, George W. Bush; however, NO attempt was made to link Governor Bush to Ronald Reagan!: There are evidently some on the Republican Olympus who have been much too apotheosized for mere mortals like the Texas Governor to yet touch!
After her own husband's tribute (the last of the three) had been completed, former First Lady Barbara Bush strode up to the dais. She spoke of herself being the first to welcome the assembled delegates to "the City of MOTHERLY Love" and thereupon introduced her son, the nominee-presumptive, once again visible to the Convention- as he had been the evening before- via a live video feed. THIS time, Governor Bush was seated- with his wife Laura at his side, along with Pennsylvania's Governor Tom Ridge and his wife- in the former study the late President Dwight Eisenhower in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Texas Governor seemed much more relaxed than he had appeared to have been during his previous evening's appearance from the high school classroom in Ohio and his being seated gave his body language a much more natural appearance (as if to underscore my own comments- in my previous day's Commentary- regarding how stiff and formal he had appeared in that classroom "video photo op"): the GOP nominee-presumptive spoke a bit about Eisenhower and his legacy- noting that "a President has no higher duty than to keep the peace and protect American lives" before introducing his own chief foreign policy adviser Condoleezza Rice, who would kick off this next "hour of this Convention the national TV networks might actually deign to cover... please... please... pretty please!"
Dr. Rice, in fact, gave one of the better speeches so far before this Convention- perhaps second only to that of retired General Colin Powell the evening before. An African-American woman, she noted that she became a Republican because "I found a Party that sees me as an individual, not as part of a group... that puts Family first... that has the love of Liberty at its core... that believes that Peace begins with Strength". But Dr. Rice's principal task was apparently to explain (more to the national television audience that might [or might not!] be watching than to those inside the Convention Hall, most of whom- except for, perhaps, one delegate from Massachusetts- needed, I would think, little convincing) that Governor Bush was not as unprepared to tackle the principal Foreign Policy problems of the day as his critics- primarily those in the Gore campaign- have alleged. Noting that "it all begins with integrity in the Oval Office" (an obvious dig at the Clinton Administration), she went on to state that- to George W. Bush- "Victory is not a dirty word", that the Texas Governor well knows "we Americans are at our best when we exercise our Power without fanfare and arrogance" and that, if elected President, the nominee-presumptive would "never use Foreign Policy for narrow partisan purpose".
Dr. Rice neatly linked the "Strength and Security" Theme of this evening to the "Opportunity" theme of the previous evening by noting, in the course of her remarks, that "information and knowledge can no longer be bottled up by the State. Prosperity flows to those who can tap the genius of their people" and that "it has not been easy for our country to make 'We the People' really mean ALL the people. Democracy in America is a work in progress, not a finished masterpiece".
Dr. Rice was immediately followed by Elizabeth Dole, the wife of former Senator Bob Dole (who had addressed the Convention earlier) and who herself had led a short-lived challenge to the eventual nomination of Governor Bush. Mrs. Dole started out by noting that, like Dr. Rice, "I, too, wish to address our Nation's Security tonight. I speak not of military weapons but of moral ones, of defense of values as well as territory." She noted that "one day, each of us will be held to account- not for the money we made, but for the difference we made" and that "you don't have to be a missionary to have a sense of mission". Mrs. Dole then opined that "the 20th Century was America's Century not because of our Power but because of our Purpose", noting that many- regardless of Party or ideology- were seeking "a Politics of Purpose". She went on to decry "the smashmouth politics of recent years", noting that "there are divisions in Liberty's Home" and that a President must "defend both America's interests and America's ideals", suggesting- of course- that the Texas Governor was the person who could best do this.
After Mrs. Dole had finished speaking, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska- himself a decorated Vietnam veteran- strode up to the dais to introduce the final featured speaker of the evening, Senator John McCain of Arizona- Governor Bush's one-time Primary Season adversary. Hagel gave what sounded to me to have been much like the nominating speech the Nebraskan would have been giving the following evening before the Convention had McCain's presidential campaign survived the Spring, after which McCain himself came out on stage where he was greeted by his Senate colleague to the sounds of the theme to the movie Star Wars as performed by the in-house orchestra.
Once at the podium, Senator McCain gracefully responded to the cheers of the delegates- most of whom, after all, had not been chosen as ones committed to his one-time candidacy: "Thank you, my fellow Republicans, for that warm welcome. I am grateful for your kindness to a distant runner-up". The Arizonan then went into his speech, his eyes ablaze with conviction but his measured manner of delivery and his curious quietude of voice in the face of such conviction presenting him as the man he had always presented himself to be during his one month of presidential campaign glory the previous Winter: the man who simply went off to war, a living "Luke Skywalker"- someone never expecting to do anything heroic, merely intending to serve as his father had done; a man who- even after 18 years in Federal office as first a Representative and then a Senator- acted as if he still found it somewhat hard to believe he had been called upon to give the type of speech he was here giving but, nevertheless, did so- if only because Duty and Honor required it of him. Whether or not this was a true portrait of what really made John McCain tick, it seemed to give him a powerful hold on the assemblage as he spoke.
McCain noted that when a National Convention nominates a candidate for President "we invest him with the Faith of the Founding Fathers and charge him with the care of that Cause they called Glorious", that America was, in its essence, "a Great Experiment to prove to the World that Democracy is not only the most effective form of government but the only moral government". He opined that "this new Century will be an age of untold possibilities for us and for all Mankind. More nations now share our love of Liberty and aspire to the orderly progress of Democracy": accordingly, the Arizona Senator forcefully declared, "Isolationism and Protectionism are fool's errands... walls are for cowards, my friends, not Americans!"
The one-time presidential contender then went on to state that too many Americans "have lost pride in their Government. Too often, those who hold a Public Trust have failed to set the necessary example... partisanship seems all-consuming, differences are defined with derision... we put our personal interests above our National interests, leaving the People's Business unattended while we posture, poll and spin". "National Pride will not endure the People's contempt of Government", he added- noting that this situation creates a scenario in which "Civic Love gives way to the temptations of Selfishness, Bigotry and Hate". Yet, as I heard these very utterances, I myself could not help but feel that they rang hollow in that Convention Hall, for that very Convention- as well as, to be fair, its opposite number coming along in less than two weeks out in Los Angeles- were fine vehicles for continuing to feed such contempt of Government and loss of Civic Love: after all, here were deliberative bodies that were no longer permitted- by the unseen hand of Party bureaucracy- to deliberate, places where the press hacks working on behalf of both Parties and their Conventions might love to point out that the masses of foreign journalists witnessing these spectacles can therein see Democracy in Action when, in fact, there is very little Democracy to actually be seen!
McCain closed his remarks by linking his themes to the candidacy of George W. Bush: I suppose he had to- loyal Republican soldier, he. He noted that the Texas Governor "wants to lead a Republican Party as big as the country we serve", though the little "performance" put on by some of the delegates during Congressman Kolbe's speech earlier that same evening suggested to me that the size of the Governor's country was, in fact, somewhat limited- as was that of his Party. "I know", intoned the Arizonan, "that by supporting Governor Bush, I serve my country well"- leaving little doubt that he was well on board the Bush/Cheney campaign train and that a major crack in the GOP base had been well repaired: however, I had little doubt that- once the final gavel of this Convention was to come down some 48 hours hence- we would be seeing the same "posturing, polling and spinning" McCain himself had just decried on the part of Republicans for which they themselves- in this Convention- roundly and loudly derided the Democrats. This whole gathering- and that of the Democrats later this month- are both "postures", clear efforts at "spin" of which both Parties are guilty- for Politics in a democratic Republic is NOT, after all, a Monopoly- as it would be under both Fascism and Communism: but, as I reminded myself after reflecting upon McCain's words (admittedly, not in the way the Arizonan would have intended), neither are its Vices!
The Arizona Senator finished his remarks and then waved to the assembly as he strode off to the strains of the same theme to which he had first come to the podium some 20 minutes before, after which co-Chair Henry Bonilla of Texas now came out on stage. After asking the delegates if, given how well these first two days of the Convention had gone, "don't you know the Democrats are just heartbroken?"- to which I thought that, if so, at least the Democrats, unlike myself, wouldn't have to watch this kind of stuff TWICE[!]- he called for the benediction by Father Vince Bommarito of St. Ambrose Roman Catholic Church in St. Louis, Missouri. In the course of this final blessing of the evening, Father Bommarito appealed to God to "deliver us from the fear which results in"- among other things- "unbridled individualism" and I was immediately struck by the sense that this was, in its essence, one of the basic conflicts within the Republican Party of the year 2000- a party which believed in the rights of the individual as over against the powers of the State but still struggled over just how much individual-ISM to bridle in its own Platform. There were, despite the support of such GOP luminaries as Senator McCain, still a few cracks in his Party for Governor Bush to patch up as he headed into the Fall Campaign: how well he patched them would have much effect on his ability to capture the White House. The cold comfort for the Governor's opponent, Vice President Gore, was that he- too- had much patching of his own to do in less than two weeks and he- unlike the Texan- had not yet chosen his own running mate and, as a result, could not yet gauge the effects of that choice!
After the benediction, the Third Session of the Convention was
gaveled to a close. The Fourth Session the following evening (2 August) would
see George Walker Bush of Texas formally (and finally) nominated by his Party
for the office of President of the United States and we would also get our first
real glimpse at how his choice for Vice President, Mr. Cheney, would fare
on the political stump in his debut as a running mate/Convention