The official theme of Night Two of GOPalooza was “People of Compassion.” But the real message of the evening was, Safety First. The key moments of the evening were designed to depict George W. Bush as the decisive leader who by launching the war in Iraq has protected, well, you and, of course, your loved ones. The convention has demonstrated that the no retreat/no surrender Bush campaign actually wants this election to be about Big Daddy’s war.
In the early part of the program, speakers did praise Bush’s policies on education, health care and home ownership. But the talk did little to jazz the crowd. When Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist hailed Bush for advocating health savings accounts and for passing a (rather limited) Medicare prescription drug benefit, the delegates politely applauded. In the Bush family box, George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush chatted with friends, barely paying attention to Frist. But then Frist blasted trial attorneys. Barbara Bush immediately jumped to her feet and began applauding enthusiastically. Her husband joined in. So did Commerce Secretary Don Evans and C. Boyden Gray, a corporate lawyer and longtime Bush family friend. Health savings account–no big deal. Beating up on trial attorneys–that rang their bells.
But the big bang of the night came when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger certified Bush a genuine action hero. In a crisply-written and well-delivered speech chockfull of good lines, Schwarzenegger retold his own coming-to-America tale to celebrate the American dream. He portrayed the United States as the force for freedom and liberty in the world. But his uber-goal was to present Bush as the best darn protector-in-chief in the world:
“The president didn’t go into Iraq because the polls told him it was popular. As a matter of fact, the polls said just the opposite. But leadership isn’t about polls. It’s about making decisions you think are right and then standing behind those decisions. That’s why America is safer with George W. Bush.”
By the time of the invasion, Americans were supportive of a war in Iraq to deal with the supposed WMD threat. But that didn’t stop the delegates from cheering wildly for Schwarzenegger. They ate up his bright, shining rhetoric about America:
“We’re the America that fights not for imperialism but for human rights and democracy….When that lone, young Chinese man stood in front of those tanks in Tiananmen Square, America’s hopes stood with him. And when Nelson Mandela smiled in an election victory after all those years in prison, America celebrated, too.”
This was Hallmarkian history. Schwarzenegger neglected to mention that not too long after the Tiananmen Square massacre Bush the Elder moved to improve ties with the butchers of Beijing and that Ronald Reagan–hero to Schwarzenegger and every other Republican in the room–supported the racist regime that had imprisoned Mandela (and that a congressman named Dick Cheney had opposed imposing sanctions against the apartheid government of South Africa). But why ruin a good story with reality? Schwarzenegger comes from a Hollywood obsessed with happy endings. He’ll probably make a version of Moby Dick someday in which he plays Ahab and actually catches and kills (single-handedly) that damn white whale.