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The greatest feat of the Republican National Convention is to hide the GOP’s true beliefs. It’s a sign of great discipline that the party machinery would line up its most maligned moderates to speak during primetime, while shuffling the ghastly religious right off to the cold cut line, keeping its theocratic designs tucked under the Wonder Bread. The task of re-electing George Bush is left to marginal party figures like John McCain (reviled by the conservative press) and Rudy Giuliani, the pro-choice, pro-gay former New York mayor whose prominence at the convention doesn’t translate into influence on the party platform.


This cowardly ruse speaks volumes about the party’s intellectual forthrightness. The Democrats, observed Republican Governor Bill Owens to Jim Lehrer, put their most liberal speakers upfront, reflecting the delegates even if the party has drifted ever closer to the doughy middle. But Republicans have decided to make a play for the middle and in so doing, raised a serious question. If McCain, once considered a potential Vice Presidential nomination for John Kerry, is the person who best represents the opening event’s theme of “courage,” why on earth should anyone vote for an administration consistently at odds with the maverick Senator?


The first night’s proceedings included other oddities: Rob Khuzami, Former Assistant U.S. Attorney, popped on for a defense of the Patriot Act that seemed written for Sesame Street. A terrible public speaker, he sounded like he had his debate team index cards grasped tightly in his white-knuckled fingers: people who disagree with any of the provisions of the Patriot Act, he asserted, don’t care about the safety of Americans. Would that some delegate had bum-rushed the gong.


Zainaib Al-Swaij, of the American Islamic Congress, offered a heartfelt recollection of Saddam Hussein’s terrors. I felt so bad that I wanted to apologize for our longtime support and arming of the dictator. I’m glad we deposed him; I just wish the Administration hadn’t lied to do so. She claims that Iraqis embrace Americans. This must be when they’re not killing Americans, calling us occupiers, or furiously insisting we leave their homeland immediately. Her appearance was in itself striking: the Republican Party is whiter than my untanned ass cheeks, and I doubt you would find very many Muslims willing to stand in front of a microphone and thank George Bush. I just hope she’s not detained at the airport on her way home.


McCain’s speech took a long time to get off the ground. From his opening generalizations and quote from FDR to his hand outstretched to Democrats, it sounded like it was going to be a soft-dicked endorsement, poisoned by the fact that McCain still festers from the Bush 2000 Campaign’s impugning of his patriotism and sanity. In the end, he made a limited case for George Bush, based on vague assertions that the President made only the choices he had to, making Bush appear at once buffeted by providence and the only person who would have made these choices. With the exception of Iraq, McCain didn’t make it clear how the “war on terror” would have gone differently under a Democrat. Given the public’s shaky confidence in the war in Iraq, this seems like an odd anchor for a Bush endorsement. George Bush kicked ass and Saddam was a graver threat than going to war against him. (How, exactly?) McCain’s biggest applause line came in the form of an insult to Michael Moore. (Covering the Convention for USA Today, Moore sat in his booth and grinned, holding up the peace sign and mouthing the words “Two more months.”) At the end, McCain descended into Braveheart-inspired defiance, then morphed into a crumple of near tears.


People who lost family members in 9/11 were next. I’m sorry they lost their families. I’m even sorrier they think the Republican Party will do anything to make up for their loss. I was somewhat heartened that they didn’t shill directly for George Bush, but I still found the forum a distasteful place for their grieving.


It was left to Giuliani to rouse the Party faithful. He performed flawlessly, rehashing the GOP’s most heavily sledge-hammered sound-bite: Kerry is a flip-flopper and George Bush is a figure of historical greatness. Thank God that Bush is President, because anyone else would have ran his tighty-whities up the flagpole, thrown away his pork chops, and surrendered to Osama. The low point in Giuliani’s speech was when he blamed Europeans for the rise of Nazism and then creating a “culture of appeasement” that led to terrorists attacking our country. Somebody better start killing those French people, that’s all I have to say. According to the first day’s speeches, Bush killed some people and swaggered about it. We feel safer. We’d like him to kill more people.


The coming months will tell whether Republicans will succeed in determining the election’s frame and issues. Last time around, Al Gore was tarred and quartered for lying by one of the most corrupt groups of people ever to skulk onto the political scene. This time, Kerry is set to be saddled with another label, rope-a-doped into a talking point by Bill O’Reilly and assorted conservative editorialists who parrot the party line and call it a day.

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