Uncle Shrub’s Cabin


PHILADELPHIA—As the Republican convention opened here, the celebrating delegates fervently mouthed the mantra that—despite the selection of a vice presidential candidate arguably to the right of Dan Quayle—George W. Bush had negotiated a new, upbeat politics that would leave in the dust the rancorous ideological debates of the last decade. After all, Bush senior had been a victim of right-wing fratricide in 1992, and young George has no intention of flaming out the way Poppy did.

Absent in the sticky Philadelphia heat was the drumbeat of the fire-breathing, nay-saying Christian Right. In its place, singing the praises of the Jesus-influenced candidate and following a script laid out by the Manhattan Institute, were Reverend Herbert H. Lusk II, the former “Praying Tailback” for the Philadelphia Eagles, whose Greater Exodus Baptist Church had been transformed into a Republican revivalist stomping ground, and Stephen Goldsmith, the ex-mayor of Indianapolis, who is Dubya’s main domestic-policy adviser. In June, Reverend Lusk told a GOP platform-drafting committee in Billings, Montana, that private, faith-based groups, such as his People for People, are better purveyors of social-welfare services than government welfare agencies. “The fact is, we are there—we do it better, and we do it cheaper,” Reverend Lusk said.

In the background on Sunday, thundering the gospel of the black church, was a mass choir. After an inspiring musical opening, the social scientists from the Manhattan Institute rolled out their charts and reported that kids who go to church in poor neighborhoods do fewer drugs and thus, churches, mosques, and synagogues “should be supported as uniquely qualified agencies of social control that matter a great deal in the lives of adolescents in America’s most disorganized and impoverished communities.”

Backing up this message was Jim Wallis, who for years has led the evangelical Sojourners group in opposition to the Christian Right, and Eugene Rivers, a populist black minister from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a powerful stump preacher. Also unveiling himself in his new role as preacher was Wilson Goode, the former Democratic mayor of Philadelphia who in 1985 OK’d the dropping of a bomb on MOVE headquarters. For years, the Republicans have salivated at the prospect of enlisting black supporters. Save for the odd exception, it never happened. But in Philadelphia, some black church backing seemed to be at hand.

Indeed, everything was clicking like clockwork, at least in the early hours. On Sunday, Shrub even had his own Trojan horse at Arianna Huffington’s “Shadow Convention” at the Annenberg Center, in the form of John McCain.

After Huffington opened things up by sweet-talking the Arizona conservative (“Senator McCain, there would be no shadow convention without you”), McCain gritted his teeth and ground into a tired version of his old stump speech, including the obligatory paean to Teddy Roosevelt (“his cause endures today”), huzzahs for the U.S. (“the last best hope on earth”), and support for market-driven Social Security, topped off by a straight-up endorsement of the ticket (“I am obliged, not by party loyalty but by sincere conviction, to urge all Americans to support my party’s nominee, Governor George Bush of Texas”).

At this point, there were boos, groans of “No! No!” and stuck-pig squeals of “Get him out of here!” As the muttering increased, McCain’s irritation flared and he threatened to walk off the stage. Huffington rushed up, whispered in his ear, and primly announced, “This is a convention where you can hear everything with respect.” Quickly, all was well again. Later, Shrub’s spokeswoman, Karen Hughes, said, “We appreciate Senator McCain’s very fine and gracious remarks.”