By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
II. THE MODERATES COMETH
Talk about industrial-strength chutzpah! Both John McCain and Rudy Giuliani devoted time in their Monday-night speeches to evoking the spirit of national unity that arose in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. “I remember the support being bipartisan, and actually standing hand in hand, Republicans and Democrats, here in New York and all over the nation,” New York’s former mayor said in an almost wistful tone. In that moment, said McCain, “we were not Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. We were not two countries. We were Americans.”
Well, yes, and for a time that unity held. Most Democrats and liberals supported the war in Afghanistan launched soon after the attacks. But who is responsible for blowing that unity to smithereens? Not John Edwards, despite the reference to his Two Americas speech. Let’s try, rather, the guy whose leadership both McCain and Giuliani were extolling — George W. Bush.
For Bush, the war on terror (under which rubric he also lumped his Iraqi adventurism) provided a way for him not to rally the country to his side, but to sunder it to his advantage. He forced Congress to vote on giving him a blank check to make war just a month before the 2002 elections, and he forced them to vote on a homeland security bill that would deny union rights to government workers. The war on terror was all well and good, but it also enabled Bush to wage a war on Democrats, which he’s pursued at least as avidly and somewhat more expertly than his wars overseas.
McCain’s was surely the closest thing to a national unity speech we’ll hear at this convention, which is the reason it left the assembled Republicans cold. Indeed, the animal spirits of the right-wing delegates didn’t have much occasion for display last night, save in response to Giuliani’s attacks on John Kerry and, most especially, in response to McCain’s one-line zinger at Michael Moore. Now, that’s the Republican Party — the right-wingers yelling for Moore’s scalp.
After extolling the virtues of unity, McCain almost backed into his case for Bush. He defended the war in Iraq on the grounds that Saddam Hussein may not have been a clear and present danger when Bush opted to attack him but was sure to become so in the years ahead. “The years of keeping Saddam in a box were coming to a close,” he warned. Actually, from what our forces have discovered, Iraq’s military was growing steadily weaker with each passing year, but you can't very well argue for the war on the basis of Saddam’s waning strength.
Giuliani was nowhere so reticent in his backing for Bush. Unlike McCain, he took out after Kerry’s alleged flip-flops with a zeal born of a determination to persuade Republican right-wingers that he really was one of them. The right will never fall for this, even though Giuliani made a good impression on them. Besides, if there’s room for one social moderate in the rightists’ little hearts, it’s not for either McCain or Giuliani, but for the man who so far can’t be president — Arnold.
The oddity, and charm, of Arnold’s speech was that it had precious little to do with the rest of the convention, or even the election. There was a little about George Bush’s perseverance and leadership — there seems to be nothing else anyone on the podium can say on the president’s behalf. There was essentially nothing on John Kerry, save one zinger about economically pessimistic girlie men.
There was, rather, Arnold on Arnold and his political evolution. It is an immigrant’s story, and it had a little of an immigrant’s tone-deafness to some nuances of political life that a native would be more likely to grasp. I daresay Schwarzenegger will be the only speaker at this convention to speak the name of Richard Nixon, who inspired Arnold to register as a Republican. Schwarzenegger provided a series of litmus tests by which listeners could know whether they, too, could be Republicans, but that Nixon story had to stop some of them at the git-go.
Since he can’t run for president, since he wouldn’t attack Kerry, and since not even he can deliver California for Bush, Arnold must be evaluated outside the realm of normal election politics. The speech was fundamentally his political coming out — much of it familiar to Californians who had heard his speech at the 2003 state Republican convention, or his inaugural address. Once again, Arnold made his well-worn case for libertarian over social democratic economics — not an argument, really, just a litany of unprovable assertions. The atmospherics of the talk, though, far surpassed his earlier performances. Resplendent in what looked in the hall to be white tie, black coat and orange complexion, standing in front of a giant, if projected, American flag in the manner of George C. Scott’s Patton, Arnold provided a splendid diversion from the business of the convention, which is slander and misrepresentation.
III. COUNTRY RATS IN THE BIG CITY