If the Republican Party is a big tent, then I suppose that John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger were meant to be its chief circus barkers as its national convention opened early this week.
Much was made about how these three men would be the moderate face on the party so craved by Pres. George W. Bush in his effort to win the hotly contested middle in his tight race with Sen. John Kerry. But only McCain, who apparently takes seriously the notion that his personal integrity is his chief calling card, made a sincere effort at moderation.
Schwarzenegger was pure Hollywood, playing the immigrant made good welcoming the waves of newcomers, even if his policy record in Sacramento and in California politics generally is not that of an immigrant-friendly leader. His insistence on returning to the “girlie man” nonsense that had barely settled down since his last outing begs the question—when is the governor going to have the political balls to simply use the word “faggot” in situations where that is clearly the meaning he intends?
The case of Rudy Giuliani is considerably more troubling. Let’s set aside what is almost certainly fabrication—his claim that he turned to Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik after watching a man hurl himself from the World Trade Center and said, “Bernie, thank God George Bush is president.” The more egregious aspect of the former mayor’s speech was his simultaneous—shameless, really—effort to evoke the unity of spirit brought out by the tragedy of 9-11 and slash, even ridicule, the character of John Kerry.
The Democrats may have exercised altogether too much restraint during their convention in laying off the personal attacks on Bush. Even as the president last week voiced his respect for Kerry’s Vietnam service, 1996 G.O.P. standard bearer Bob Dole and former Pres. George H. W. Bush were floating sleazy speculation about the charges made by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth—both men saying in essence that they were in no position to refute the baseless claims the hapless Kerry-haters had lodged.
The cynical strategy by these putative elder statesmen reached its nadir as delegates began to appear on the convention floor wearing band-aids stamped with purple hearts, an ugly mockery of military heroism.
By the convention’s second day, North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole was railing about “activist judges,” while Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, her husband’s successor and Rick Santorum’s best buddy, told a packed house of religious conservatives at the Waldorf-Astoria of his goal to “win this culture war.” The event was sponsored by the Bush-Cheney campaign.
On Wednesday evening, Vice Pres. Dick Cheney hammered Kerry for his “habit of indecision,” and his “message of confusion.” The G.O.P. ritualistically repeats Kerry’ regrettable statement about voting for the $87 billion, before voting against it, somehow without ever addressing the real issue at stake—a war based on Iraqi threats of weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda that never materialized.
These Republicans are wolves in sheep’s clothing. If you doubt it, just ask the Log Cabin Republicans.