Holding the Republican convention in New York City in September, we are told — as RNCNotWelcome.org puts it, speaking for many on the left — is “a shallow attempt at exploiting the lives lost at the World Trade Center.” Further, peddlers of the liberal conventional wisdom have often speculated that this would prove itself a blunder, and that any reference to September 11 would turn off voters who would see it as a partisan exploitation of the “tragedy” (the CW doesn’t say “act of war”). New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer went even further during a speech in Boston, saying “Do not dare use 9/11 for political purposes… I tell the Republican Party: Do not go there. We will not allow it.”
To which, if night one is any indication, the GOP says: Whatever, Eliot.
Of course the convention is chock full of talk about the terrorist attacks. The finger-wagging is nothing but an attempt by the Democrats to bully the President into surrendering his biggest asset, his record of wartime leadership.
But the impolite transgressions of decorum don’t stop there. Rudy Giuliani’s speech included a passage critiquing Kerry that, despite the caveat that he was not making “a personal criticism of John Kerry” and that he respected Kerry “for his service to our nation,” was surprisingly harsh. “Maybe this explains John Edwards’ need for two Americas — one where John Kerry can vote for something and another where he can vote against the same thing,” quipped America’s Mayor.
The political calculation here is not simple: Giuliani is an asset to the Bush campaign because of his bipartisan appeal. By sounding partisan, Giuliani runs the risk of reducing that appeal. On the other hand, strong criticism of Kerry coming from a respected figure carries especial weight. What Giuliani and the Bush campaign have done is risk a small loss in pursuit of a large reward. They probably made the right call, though Giuliani may have threatened the balancing act when, after reading the prepared line, “I don’t believe we’re right about everything and Democrats are wrong about everything,” he ad-libbed this crowd-pleaser: “They’re wrong about most things.”
The best thing about the night’s speeches — which the networks, alas, ignored — was the forceful defense of the Bush Doctrine and the invasion of Iraq as part of a long-term strategy. Apart from Zainab al-Suwaij’s moving remarks — “I promise you: we will never forget what your sons and daughters did for us,” said the American Islamic Conference Executive Director, who fled Iraq in 1991 — John McCain and Giuliani articulated the case for war the way the administration seems incapable of doing either well enough or often enough.
Perhaps surprisingly, Giuliani was much better on this count. McCain was not nearly as effective as he is in interviews with his media admirers or even on the Senate floor; his delivery was a bit flat and he had trouble getting into a good rhythm, though he did get a huge response for his attack on “a disingenuous filmmaker who would have us believe that Saddam’s Iraq was an oasis of peace when in fact it was a place of indescribable cruelty, torture chambers, mass graves and prisons that destroyed the lives of the small children held inside their walls”; Michael Moore, there to cover the convention for USA Today‘s op-ed page, tipped his hat as the Garden erupted in boos. It was Giuliani who not only laid out the case for what has been done but looked ahead to specific challenges with governments whose practice of
blaming these [America, Israel, and other] scapegoats does not improve the life of a single person in the Arab world. It does not relieve the plight of even one woman in Iran. It does not give a decent living to a single soul in Syria. It certainly does not stop the slaughter of African Christians in the Sudan.
If that line rattles a few nerves in Damascus, Tehran, and Khartoum, then surely the evening was a success.
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