It’s Over

I’m back from the final night of the convention. Here are my impressions, for what they’re worth.
Mel Martinez was very good. I hadn’t seen him before, so I didn’t know what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised. He will be a very formidable Senate candidate.
George Pataki, too, was better than I expected. I thought he effectively combined a positive, soft approach with some pretty biting criticisms of John Kerry.
The video narrated by Fred Thompson was dynamite. I’ve always thought that the World Series game just a few weeks after September 11, when President Bush went to Yankee Stadium and threw out the first pitch, was one of the great post-9/11 moments. The act required courage, as there were widespread concerns about security, and, realistically, assuring security under those conditions is probably impossible. The President was wearing a bulletproof vest. But he threw the pitch for a strike. As I say, a great moment, and a great way to end the video.
I thought President Bush’s speech was excellent. The beginning was dramatic and, while nothing in politics leaves me colder than laundry lists of new and expanded government programs, I thought the domestic portion of the speech was OK. In some instances, Bush may or may not have called for bold initiatives. For example, pledging greater energy independence has been standard practice for twenty-five years. But I’d like to see Bush really push the issue of drilling for oil on the North Slope, and force the Democrats to defend their priorities. Likewise, Bush again raised the issue of Social Security reform. I think the time is right, and the issue is no longer radioactive. But it remains to be seen whether it’s really on the agenda or not.
In general, the “ownership society” theme is a good one. It provides at least a semblance of an over-arching theme, within which conservative ideas can compete with candy-store liberalism.
The anti-Kerry and foreign policy portions of the speech were, I thought, excellent. In my opinion, a succession of speakers at the convention, including the President, have laid out a very strong case for the war in Iraq. How much of it got through to the American people, I have no idea. But the rationales were clearly and repeatedly articulated.
Kerry’s record continues to haunt him. The “I voted for it before I voted against it” explanation will likely go down in history as Kerry’s political epitaph. His claim to be the candidate of conservative values is laughable, as Bush effectively pointed out. Characterizing the Reagan administration as “eight years of moral darkness” was reflexive for a Democrat in the early ’90s, but it doesn’t sound good today. Sort of like accusing American soldiers of atrocities and mass murders tripped lightly off the tongue in 1971, but seems almost incomprehensible now.
My only criticism of the speech relates to its structure. I thought Bush was about to close when he asked Americans to “stand with me.” He had covered both domestic and foreign policy, and I thought he was nearly done. But then he did a 90-degree turn and talked for another 10 or 12 minutes. I thought the speech got a little long, and could have been edited down without losing much.
One thing is for sure: we Republicans know how to do balloon drops. The celebratory finish to the convention went off beautifully, I thought.
Bush’s speech was interrupted twice by demonstrators. I had a pretty clear view, but still couldn’t tell what was going on. I don’t know whether there was just one protester in each case, or a small group. But they came off more or less like streakers at the Oscars. It’s hard to imagine that many people watching on television took them at all seriously, or viewed them at all positively.
I can’t say I’m surprised that Democrats were able to infiltrate the convention on a number of occasions. Security consisted mostly of having a great many people examine your credentials, at frequent intervals. But it was always obvious that if someone acquired credentials under false pretenses–most easily, I suppose, by signing up as a convention volunteer–these frequent checks would be of no use.
The second aspect of the security system was to prevent weapons or dangerous substances from being brought into the Garden. This part of the operation seemed pretty stringent. There were a lot of dogs, and liquids couldn’t be brought into the building. Screening was similar to what is done at airports, with perhaps a bit more seriousness. And the police blocked off streets in such a way that it would have been difficult or impossible to get a truck bomb close to the Garden.
The bottom line of all this is that it would have been difficult to pull off a terrorist attack, but not difficult to get inside the building to pull off a symbolic protest. Which is exactly what happened.
On the whole, the convention was clearly a success. There will be an immediate effect among those who watched it — a relatively small number — and a ripple effect as people discuss their impressions with friends, family members and co-workers. It will be at least a couple of weeks before polls reflect the impact of the convention.
I took a taxi from the Garden to where I’m staying, and the cab driver, who at least professed to be a Bush fan, had the radio tuned to a station that claimed to be the number one news station in New York. Riding in the cab, I listened to a grotesque example of media bias. There was a brief news report on the President’s speech, which included an excerpt that lasted perhaps 15 seconds. The report then transitioned into an account of Kerry and Edwards campaigning in Ohio. The station played Edwards’ speech–it may have been live, I’m not sure–in what appeared to be its entirety. It went on for at least 15 minutes, and Edwards was still blasting away at Bush when I finally, with great relief, jumped out of the cab. No wonder so many New Yorkers are Democrats.
But the news media can only do so much. There was a cartoon in this morning’s New York Post, which I haven’t been able to find online. It depicted a big, tough-looking elephant marching along, leaving deep footprints. The elephant was labeled “GOP convention.” John Kerry was lying crushed and dazed inside one of the footprints. With appropriate margin for hyperbole, that sums up my view of the convention pretty well.

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