By Ben Domenech, NRO contributing editor
eneral Norman Schwarzkopf addressed the GOP convention on Tuesday night from the deck of the U.S.S. New Jersey, across the Delaware River from Pennsylvania. It was a sensible location, fitting right in to the Republicans' "greatest generation" theme (aimed at generating positive coverage from Tom Brokaw?) and coming serendipitously one day before the 10th anniversary of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait the event leading to George Bush Sr.'s finest moment as president.
But there's an even more historic American ship a little closer to the First Union Center, on the Philadelphia side of the river: the U.S.S. Olympia, now docked by Penn's Landing and open to the public. In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, Admiral George Dewey rode it into Manila Bay in the Philippines and captained one of the most lopsided naval victories in history. In four hours, he wrecked ten Spanish ships and suffered no casualties. (Sounds sort of like the Gulf War, doesn't it?) He also uttered one of the most famous lines in Navy lore, one that ranks right up there with "Damn the torpedoes!" and "Don't give up the ship!" (Factoid: That second one's from the War of 1812, and the Americans, in fact, did give up the ship). Said Dewey, early in the morning of May 1: "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley."
There's a little plaque on the Olympia marking the place where Dewey gave his famous battle order. But the rusting hulk of this red, white, and cream-colored behemoth would have been an ill-chosen spot for a remote hook-up with the GOP convention. No, it's not that honoring a ship from the Spanish-American War would have irritated Hispanic voters, although it's impossible not to think this would have crossed someone's mind in Austin if the idea of the Olympia had been floated by convention planners.
It's that Dewey went on to become one of the very worst presidential candidates in American history. He came home in 1899 to a hero's welcome, a proto-Eisenhower: Everybody wanted to know whether he was a Democrat or Republican, and both parties thought about employing him. But the cracks already had started to appear he carelessly told a reporter, "Our next war will be with Germany." In 1900, two days after April Fool's Day, he said: "Since studying this subject I am convinced that the office of the President is not such a very difficult one to fill, his duties being mainly to execute the laws of Congress. Should I be chosen for this exalted position, I would execute the laws of Congress as faithfully as I have always executed the orders of my superiors." He also declared himself a Democrat. A few days later the admiral announced that he had never voted in a presidential election.
Dewey was quickly laughed off the political stage-he wasn't even nominated and didn't appear on it again. As Justin Kaplan writes in the anthology Forgotten Heroes, Dewey "proved to be a political ignoramus with a distinctly peculiar understanding of the American presidency." He died in 1917.
Vice President Gore has said that George W. Bush isn't ready to be president a silly charge made by a desperate man. And, as the experience of Admiral Dewey shows, the unready don't last long.
here is a certain way that Dick Cheney stands when he talks his stocky legs firm on the ground, Cheney braces his arms against the lectern, moving smoothly back and forth, shifting his shoulders through the oration. Hand motions are nonexistent (a stark contrast to Colin Powell) and his delivery is like velvet, a sweeping contrast to John McCain's singsong monotone on Tuesday. He sways and attacks with the bulky grace and strength of a boxer or a gladiator. While Cheney may not cut a glamorous figure in the stands, on the podium he is obviously comfortable with the role of GOP bulldog. There is no smirk on his face: his jaw is set, his purpose just, his objective clear.
The message it sends to viewers? You aren't seeing a former bureaucrat or political consultant you're seeing a man ready to be Vice President.
His speech last night was low-key but high-octane, tough and straightforward; there was an absence of those confusing "haunted by the vision of what will be" lines. Cheney isn't an enthusiastic speaker, but an effective one, possessing a certain onstage weight, solidity, and gravitas. He levelled several clear-cut attacks on Al Gore, accusing the Vice President of symbolizing "nothing different from the past eight years." The veep nominee then talked of "the man from Hope going home to New York," and issued a call to "revitalize" America's armed forces.
But no matter what the target or punchline, Cheney's snipes were met with overwhelming standing ovations. "The wheel has turned," said Cheney. "It is time to send them out together."
hey say this convention is made for television, which isn't quite right it is television.
Sitting in the convention hall, you often are just staring at huge video screens, watching what's the latest bit of sap looming larger-than-life over the floor. Few of these videos got any reaction from the delegates last night they were background noise like a TV left on during a party. The exception was a stirring sermon from a black preacher, who actually had the hall on its feet, cheering.
But that's because he is a representative of a tradition that still values words and oratory. In an age of TV, words are a thing of the past as this convention demonstrates. There is unlikely to be any memorable lines until George W. Bush speaks Thursday night (and apparently even his speechwriting team is having trouble coming up with good lines). Laura Bush actually hit on the connection between the decline of language and TV in her speech last night: "listening to television doesn't help children develop language skills."
The irony is that as Republicans have crafted their convention in response to the influences of television, it has become less appealing to TV producers they can get their light entertainment, their feel-good testimonials and R&B acts, elsewhere. Eventually big-time TV may stop covering conventions altogether and that just might be best for everyone all around. Who knows? It just might create the conditions for a revival of political substance.
hen RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson said he was "thrilled" to welcome the media-heavy audience to his reception on Monday afternoon in honor of Teamsters President James Hoffa, he wasn't just engaging in the political pleasantries common in Philadelphia this week. On a small platform, beaming Republican politicians eager to join the chairman's tribute to the leader who "restored honor and integrity to the Teamsters" surrounded Jim Hoffa.
In a hectic week, Governors Ridge and Engler, Senators Hatch and Abraham, and congressmen from New York, Michigan, and Illinois made their way to the small ballroom to show their appreciation for Hoffa's neutral stance in the presidential race, and to hear his friendly words about some of his Republican allies. There was a classy buffet, but this was one event where no one came for the food.
One Teamster official working the room full of scribbling journalists was delighted that the expression of brotherhood with the GOP was taking place on the eve of Hoffa's attendance at a meeting of the AFL-CIO's executive board in Chicago. "The number one name in the labor movement is here, and that kills the message that the GOP is against working families." Take that, John Sweeney.
Jim Nicholson pointed out that Bush and Gore are tied in the polls among all union households, and Hoffa's colleague predicted that Dick Cheney would be a popular choice with their members. "A lot of veterans in our union remember Cheney," he explained.
The friendly reception marked the first time in 20 years that a GOP Chairman honored a union leader at a convention, and the delighted party officials looking on clearly think that this year's get-together is a harbinger of another winning candidate in the fall.
t was quite possibly the low point and that's saying a lot. Early on Monday night, a band of four or five white guys took the stage at the Republican convention to provide one of the many entertainment breaks, in between the "compassion videos" and very short speeches by inspiring ordinary people (since there wasn't any substance to take a break from, it's unclear why all this entertainment was necessary in the first place).
It would be one of the few times white men would actually be allowed on stage. But judging from their performance, maybe the scarcity of white guys was a good thing.
The band (called "The Interpreters") looked like a Republican's idea of what a grunge band might look like nice boys with guitars and greasy-looking hair. The first sign of trouble was when their song opened with a lot of whistling. And then there were the lyrics, an artful melding of material from the "Jackson Five" and the Barney Song: "A,B,C,D I love you. A, B, C, D do you love me? E, F, G, H I think you're great." The lead singer exhorted the crowd. "One more time Republicans!"
People around me in the press area looked at each in stunned disbelief was it possible to feature a more self-parodic Republican act than this one? Had it really come to this "A,B,C, D I love you"?!?!? "They are either a Christian rock band or master ironists," one reporter mordantly observed.
las, support for a new schedule that would have lengthened the 2004 nominating process by forcing the largest states to vote last, tanked when the previously neutral Bush camp belatedly opposed the plan.
Despite the opposition of the big states, a majority of the national committee had backed the reform as a needed change to avoid the prospect of a national primary day. But, the uncertainties about its possible effects on an incumbent president which Bush hopes to be seeking his party's re-nomination prompted Bush's opposition.
The party remains divided about how best to prevent states from moving up their nominating dates, but there is some agreement that the kick-off state shouldn't be one that routinely kicks the party's favorite candidate i.e., it shouldn't be New Hampshire.
The fact that the proposed plan had not protected New Hampshire's privileged status, reflects the party establishment's irritation with the Granite State's increasingly independent, idiosyncratic voters. The 1992 New Hampshire primary embarrassed President Bush, and in 1996 Bob Dole lost it to Pat Buchanan. With this year's huge John McCain win in New Hampshire, Republicans have now rightly concluded that they should no longer permit its obsessively self-aware, ornery voters to beat up the party's eventual nominee.
Unfortunately, New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary remains alive, because the Delaware plan died. Brace yourself for more aggravation from the first-in-the-nation primary.