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Not so with Reagan. Achieving natural effects has never been his problem. Even when he stumbles—-“Facts,” he said in New Orleans, with gusto, “are stupid things” — the genuineness that lies at the heart of his political personality never fails to carry over. Nevertheless, his valedictory at the convention was a disappointment. Partly this was caused by the weak sound system in the Superdome, which was particularly unsuited to Reagan’s style; for unlike other effective orators, the President never raises his voice above familiar, conversational levels. But there were other problems as well. The speech was preceded by a video recapitulation of Reagan’s tenure, which reduced eight years of rather substantial achievement to: getting shot; honoring the boys of Pointe du Hoc; getting reelected; flipping the switch that lit up the Statue of Liberty; making a solemn speech after the Challenger blew; and clearing endless acres of brush from his ranch. (The place, incidentally, should be pretty much cleared out by now.)
This of course is what Michael Dukakis would like you to think the Reagan years amounted to. Reagan himself tried to correct the impression by quoting some of his favorite economic statistics, but the bulk of the speech was devoted to sentiment and trumpeting Bush. It fell short here, too. What should have been the killer line — “George was there” — was oddly placed: it followed a segment crediting the Vice President with reducing government-required paperwork “by an estimated 600 million manhours a year.” (George Bush: an office manager for the nineties!) And the prose poem at the end, brimming with sunrises and new days and the like, was swallowed up among the rafters of the cavernous Superdome. What made the old man’s exit graceful and touching, however, was his own spontaneity: at the conclusion of his speech the thousands of balloons fell about him and he gleefully batted them back to the crowd, toward the security guards, at the journalists on the podium, all the while beaming like a kid. Naturalness, as I say, has never been a problem for him.
IF I WERE ASKED to plan a political convention — a request this humble Hoosier is not anticipating — I would follow the Republicans’ blueprint rather than the Democrats’. Not only did the Republicans understand that such a grandly irrelevant event requires great emphasis on superfluities — silly hats, comely security personnel, lots of day trips — they also understood the utility of bars that never close. These particularly came in handy on Thursday night, after Bush’s successful acceptance speech, when the Republicans took to the streets seemingly en masse — to reassess their chances in November, to take stock, to appraise where they’ve been and where they’re going, but mostly to drink rivers of Hurricanes.
The convention was not only a coming-out party for Bush and (less happily) Quayle; it was also of course a farewell to Reagan, whose popularity has allowed the Republican party to recast itself as the party of forwardlookers and boogie monsters. Up and down Bourbon Street that Thursday night his legacy was discussed, usually at high volume and in varying degrees of coherence. This is a party in ferment, so disagreements are frequent and greeted with toleration, but on the subject of Reagan’s stature there was unanimity.
There was also a healthy lack of regret. Reagan’s parting, for all its flaws, avoided the sin of despair. Perhaps this is attributable to Bush’s strong showing, but it is also testament to the party’s resiliency and confidence in itself. On my way back to my hotel Thursday night I got caught up with an animated group of young Alabama Republicans outside Pat O’Brien’s bar. I asked them about Reagan’s farewell, hoping, I suppose, for some suitably sentimental quotes that would place the thing nicely in perspective.
They weren’t biting. “He was a great man,” one of them told me, apparently unaware he was using the past tense. “But we’ve got a good candidate now in Vice President Bush.” He assumed an air of mock gravity and intoned, “We Republicans refuse to dwell on the past.” With that he and his comrades lit into a chorus of “We’ve Only Just Begun.” It sounded terrible, but I got the point. A party of the future, like New Orleans itself, should never call last call.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
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It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
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