Passionate Conservatism

Karl Rove's Republicans swerve right on the way to the middle

It looked like Karl Rove was going to get away with it: presenting a nominating convention the press would call "moderate." The Times reported the opening morning how the "party seeks to pivot to the center." The first day's reviews depicted undeniable success, the Christian Science Monitor, for example, reporting on the Republicans, um, "pivot to the center." MSNBC put up an astonishingly Orwellian "Question of the Day" on its website: "Did Rudy Giuliani's speech reassure you or move you to support the Bush-Cheney ticket?" You could click either "Reassure" or "Move to support."

Rove had to have breathed a sigh of relief. No one was yet on to Donnie McClurkin.

McClurkin is the gospel singer the Republicans chose to warm up the crowd for President Bush on Thursday night. His name had been on the schedule for a week. But this had only seen print in The Charlotte Observer, which mocked him and the NYPD's singing cop as among the GOP's "most notable musical acts," and The Baltimore Sun, which cast a seconding vote: like most of the bill, "not a star outside their narrow world."

Reassured, or moved to support Bush-Cheney?
photo: Staci Schwartz
Reassured, or moved to support Bush-Cheney?

This world the Sun calls narrow surely encompasses within its borders viewers of the 700 Club. That means one million viewers each day. Among them McClurkin is notable, and cherished, as the man with the guts to say homosexuals are "trying to kill our children."

Meanwhile, in another narrow world—that of the nation's five and a half million Mormons—activist Sheri Dew is famous for insisting supporters of gay marriage are on par with the folks who let Hitler get away with gassing the Jews. She delivered the convention's opening invocation Monday. That did not earn comment in any newspapers beyond Utah's Deseret Morning News.

It was only the first day. Maybe later the media would figure out that they were being punked: that for those with eyes to see this was not a "moderate" gathering in any recognizable sense of word.

Tuesday was compassionate conservatism night. Arnold Schwarzenegger was scheduled to rhapsodize about the immigrant dream, Laura Bush to wax gauzy about the man she calls "Bushie." At the Laugh Factory eight blocks away, on the other hand, it was "GOP Comedy Night," and the comedians must not have gotten the memo outlining that night's talking points. When the First Lady announced, "We are determined to provide a quality education for every child in America," she was perhaps disguising a sentiment expressed by the Laugh Factory's MC: "[We] have to face the fact that there are some dumb kids. It's time to give just a few of them coloring books, some crayons—press on to what we can save."

The only time you witnessed anger on the convention podium it came from a Democrat. That's all part of the hustle. If the bloodiest chunks are tossed out by someone who's not Republican, it can't be vicious partisanship, right? Even if the speech was the sheerest extrusion of rage since the days when Senator Joe McCarthy ranted and raved about Democrats as the party of twenty years of treason.

"My family is more important to me than my party," Zell Miller, the senator from Georgia, intoned, and no wonder: "In their warped way of thinking, America is the problem, not the solution." Democrats "don't believe there is any real danger in the world except that which America brings upon itself through our misguided foreign policy." And of the man his party has chosen to lead them—whom Miller called three years ago "one of the nation's authentic heroes": "This politician wants to be the leader of the free world! Free for how long?"

In a stunning display, MSNBC's Chris Matthews badgered Miller so mercilessly for his incivility that the Georgia senator nearly stomped off the air—but not before lamenting, not too unseriously, that he wished he could challenge the host to a pistol duel. This at least the media grasped: Miller traveled beyond the pale.

I give them little credit for the insight. It can't overcome the shame of the convention stories they so assiduously missed.

One of them concerns the central argument emanating from the podium: that George W. Bush is creating a new world of peace and stability in the Middle East. That story has shattered like a window pane, and the the administration's architects and implementers have been the ones wielding the bricks.

Men like Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who wrote the interrogation policy that, via Abu Ghraib, has rendered every American in Iraq vulnerable to the kind of savagery described in—well, an astonishing article in the previous morning's New York Times, on how the Taliban-like militias in control of the strategically crucial city of Falluja (of most of Western Iraq in fact), are beheading leaders of the American-trained security forces. Men like War on Terrorism guru Richard Perle, singled out in a report that dropped Wednesday for culpability in the looting of 95 percent of the net income of a company, Hollinger International, on whose board he sat. Men like defense department analyst Larry Franklin, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and who knows how many neoconservatives to be named later—not to mention Ahmed Chalabi, Laura Bush's State of the Union Address companion, announcing his return to Iraq's political scene on Wednesday—all implicated as details emerged through convention week on an eye-popping two-year FBI investigation of the passing of classified intelligence to Israel. It was Wednesday night that Vice President Cheney said, "Just as surely as the Nazis during World War II and the Soviets during the cold war, the enemy we face today is bent on our destruction."

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