By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Likewise with Giuliani. This wasn’t the pro-choice, ex-Democrat, open-handed and broad-minded Rudy, the onetime mayor of the most diverse city in the world who managed the tragedy of 9/11 with grace, competence and a sense of solidarity. This was, rather, the mean-spirited, prosecutorial Rudy the Prick shamelessly comparing George W. Bush to Winston Churchill, taunting his rivals as sissies and rhetorically dispatching Kerry and his pantywaist followers as if they were just one more claque of nettlesome squeegee-men.
Even the immensely likable Arnold couldn’t resist dredging up the remains, no less, of Richard Nixon and, inexplicably, praising Tricky Dick’s words as a “breath of fresh air.”
In short, these Republican moderates are, indeed, Republicans. So why not use them to carry the fundamental messages that unify the party? Much better than re-inflating some horror show like Jerry Falwell, whom I spied ambling solo rather aimlessly through the convention halls the other night, more than likely searching for an open TV microphone.
On convention opening night there was a terrific human crush as the heavy security checks created a bottleneck at the entrance to Madison Square Garden. My colleague David Corn and I found ourselves momentarily squeezed up close to superconservative Phyllis Schlafly (a true Falwell comrade and one of the aging cultural warhorses of the Reagan revolution). We had seen her earlier in the evening at a conservative cocktail party, and David and I had joked about what we might ask her. Now David took his shot and asked her if she was upset by all the moderates and relatively liberal pols who were to dominate the dais. Schlafly wrinkled her nose and made a dismissive sweep with her hand. “Not at all,” she answered. “So long as we get our platform.”
Which, of course, she did, as the GOP planks call for criminalizing abortion and banning gay marriage. But it would be just as far off the mark to conclude that her Neanderthal ilk quietly controls the party and simply uses the moderates as a beard. “The platforms of each party are written by small groups of true believers and in the end matter very little,” says Carla Halbrock, a board member of the gay and lesbian and therefore “moderate” Log Cabin Republicans (LCR). Halbrock hurries to explain to reporters gathered at an LCR pre-convention event that she is, in fact, straight. She joined LCR, she says, “because that’s the only socially moderate Republican group you can find in Texas — a place where I could find other people like me.”
But, please, no pity for Halbrock or the Log Cabin Republicans or any of the other GOP moderates. They are not gang-pressed prisoners of the right. They’re all voluntary hostages, and few show much inclination to break out. “We’re for free markets, a strong defense and low taxes,” says Halbrock. “There’s more than unites us than divides us.”
Sound familiar? It does to me. Talking to the Republican liberals is pretty much like talking to the Democratic progressives. They both desperately want to be part of a party that, in each case, is willing to tolerate them, take their votes and sap their energies, but in the end cares little for them and certainly isn’t going to turn much, if any, power over to them. If you scratch your head wondering why on earth Log Cabin Republicans are Republicans, then try asking why the Deaniacs and Kucinich-oids are Democrats.
The nexus of political power resides in the bureaucratic center, really the center-right of both parties, where money and influence outweigh ideological nuances. That’s why the Republicans at least are coming out of this convention feeling very good about themselves and, increasingly, about their prospects in November.
“I’ve been to both conventions this year,” says a friend, a former aide to Pete Wilson now working as a nonpartisan policy adviser, whom I bump into while looking in on the California delegation. “You know what delegates of both parties have in common?” he asks with a smile. “They both hate John Kerry.”
It’s a funny line, for sure. And it’s an exaggeration only by degree. When I later come across my friend’s old boss Pete Wilson on the convention floor, he tells me he’s feeling better about Republican chances in November because “The Democrats took a big gamble on making security the theme of their convention. And now it looks like it might not be working for them.”
John Kerry, back in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire, predicted (correctly) that the Republicans would bank this election on the issues of national security. And when he taunted his rivals to Bring It On, I wrote in these pages that Kerry should beware of what he wished for.
Indeed, instead of matching his critics move for move, Kerry flinched. He made his convention all about Vietnam, not Iraq. And now that the Swifties have besieged the Vietnam story, Kerry’s left the Bushies standing alone, and unchallenged, on Iraq.
That leads us to the great irony of this Republican National Convention. The Republicans chose to come to New York in a bald-faced grab at exploiting 9/11. At the time, they couldn’t have known that the war in Iraq would be a much more important issue. Nor would they know that the couple of hundred thousand anti-war demonstrators who marched this week are being ignored not only by the party of Bush but by their “own” party — the Kerry Democrats.