The more colorful right-wingers have apparently been grounded, or at least relegated to “private” gatherings. Such entertaining moments as when in Chicago in 1996, hundreds of adoring Christians babbled in tongues as they greeted Dan Quayle are a thing of the past. Gary Bauer, who labored through the snows of New Hampshire in 2000 on his own fruitless quest for the presidency to explain to doubting high school students that the Constitution was handed down by God, will attend only private functions in New York. (The last time anybody can remember seeing Bauer is during a pancake-flipping contest in Manchester in the 2000 primary, when the candidate flipped a big one high in the air, then toppled off the back of the stage and disappeared.)
The convention will highlight John McCain, much adored in both parties, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, ever popular movie star and new embodiment of fiscal conservatism and moderate social policies. Bob Dole isn’t listed as a speaker, but he made a first major appearance over the weekend with an attack on Kerry’s war record; his wife, North Carolina senator Libby Dole, will address the convention. Then there’s Zell Miller, retiring Democratic senator from Georgia. He’s an example of what happened to the Democratic Party in the South when its conservative war-hawk leaders gave it up to Nixon-era Republicans. Ever since, Southern Dems have toyed with leaving the party for the GOP, and confronted this year with the prospect of a combined Teddy Kennedy–Bill Clinton clone in Kerry, they will consider the jump more seriously than ever. The high moment of the convention will come, as it did at the Reagan funeral, when Dick Cheney, accompanied by wife Lynne, who had joined him in the bunker on 9-11, takes the stage. Cheney is the best speaker in the Republican Party, and he can be counted on to inspire the rank and file by calling forth the memory of Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, and FDR (whom the Reaganites adopted), to appeal to our patriotism, and to probably call Kerry a liar and coward. Any appearance by the vice president is not to be missed.