This national convention was held in New York City at the end of August and in the first few days of September. The choice of the city was symbolic after 9/11. It was selected before the Congressional committee’s findings on 9/11 when security arrangements within America were openly criticised – though it made no criticisms of Bush himself. New York has never had a specific leaning towards the Republicans – in 2000, Al Gore received four times more votes than G W Bush. Many feel that the city was chosen for emotional reasons as what was the Twin Towers is just a short drive from Madison Square Gardens and Ground Zero still remains a place that conjures up strong emotions. The Republicans deny that the city was chosen for its emotional impact – but it is the first time that the city has ever been selected for a Republican national convention.
The convention got off to a controversial start when two incidents occurred:
1) The Supreme Court banned an anti-Bush/war rally in Central Park that was expected to attract 250,000 people and was to have been held at the start of the convention. The Supreme Court decision stated that the grass in Central Park would be damaged beyond hope and banned it accordingly. Those who organised it claimed that their constitutional rights were being violated (freedom of speech and freedom of gathering). However, the organisers were willing to abide by the decision but said that they could not be held accountable for those who did turn up for any anti-Bush parades. Some, in fact, did turn up for a rally, but the figures were very small and it was well policed.
2) A senior aide to Bush resigned on August 25th after he was involved in a negative advertising campaign regarding John Kerry. In recent weeks, the Republicans have questioned John Kerry’s Vietnam War record. Benjamin Ginsberg, a senior member of Bush’s re-election campaign team, admitted that he had advised a group of Vietnam veterans who had cast doubt on the war record of John Kerry. The Kerry election team has made a formal complaint to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The Swift Boats Veterans has cast doubts as to the truth behind what Kerry claims to have done in the Vietnam War – therefore, casting doubt as to the honesty and integrity of Kerry. By advising the Swift Boats Veterans, Mr. Ginsberg was seen to be overstepping the mark, and he offered his resignation to avoid “distractions” to the Republican campaign. Not long after this, G W Bush publicly congratulated J Kerry on his war record in Vietnam. If this stops any further assessment of either man’s war record, both are likely to benefit. Bush does not need the public to be reminded of his Vietnam war record – service in the Texas National Guard - while Kerry might not benefit from his claims that he fought in Cambodia when apparently there are no records of him being there! When he served in Vietnam, any American incursion into Cambodia would have been illegal – so it is a curious claim to have apparently made.
As with any national convention, the party bigwigs were rolled out on day one. Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, spoke passionately about the patriotism of Bush as a leader of America in its time of crisis. Rudy Giuliani, mayor of the city on 9/11, compared Bush to Winston Churchill:
|“Winston Churchill saw the dangers of Hitler when his opponents and much of the press characterised him as a warmongering gadfly. George W Bush sees world terrorism for the evil it is and he will remain consistent to the purpose of defeating it while working to make us even safer at home. Ronald Reagan saw and described the Soviet Union as the evil empire when world opinion accepted it as inevitable and belittled Ronald Reagan’s intelligence. In choosing a president, we do not choose a Republican or Democrat, a conservative or liberal – we choose a leader. And in times of danger, as we are now, Americans should put leadership at the core of their decision.”|
Such a tribute from such a celebrated man (Giuliani’s star still shine brightly in America for what he did in post 9/11 New York) will go down well in many quarters – but the current indications show that it is the swing voters who will be critical in November and Giuliani may not be to their taste.
Giuliani is seen as a moderate Republican and he probably shares the concern some Republicans have expressed both privately and publicly that the party is becoming too conservative and is seen as being too right wing. It might just be possible that Giuliani was dipping his toe in the water to assess his chances of running for the Republican Party’s presidential candidacy in 2008. There are those who wish to see a more moderate Republican image – could Giuliani be the man to head this? Or George Pataki, governor of New York State, who is also seen as being a moderate? Both would make an interesting team in 2008.
However, in 2004, the party has a decidedly conservative approach to social issues and this may well appeal to those Americans who have ‘made it’.
In 2000, one of Bush’s opponents in the Republican Party’s primaries was Senator John McCain. He gave Bush fulsome praise on the first day of the convention:
|“He (Bush) has been tested and has risen to the most important challenge of our time and I salute him. I salute his determination to make this world a better, safer, freer place. He has not wavered; he has not flinched from hard choices. He will not yield – and neither will we.”|
The star speaker on Tuesday was Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California. In the past, he has been very open in his opposition to some of Bush’s policies. He is pro-abortion, the reform of gun laws and same-sex marriages, for example. But it is a classic example of how a national convention will bring a party together so that any differences are forgotten about and party unity reigns supreme.
Schwarzenegger was fulsome in his praise of Bush as a man who has led his country well in its time of need. He also stated that only the Republican Party would have given him the opportunities to prosper in America as an immigrant. He claims he became a Republican in 1968 and
|“I’ve been a Republican ever since! And trust me, in my wife’s family, that’s no small achievement. I’m proud to belong to the party of Abraham Lincoln, the party of Teddy Roosevelt, the party of Ronald Reagan – and the party of G W Bush.”|
It was noted, however, that while Schwarzenegger was full of praise for the commander-in-chief with regards to his war on terrorism, he said very little about any of Bush’s domestic policies. He did mention the strength of the economy and told the convention that sceptics of the president’s economic policies should not be “economic girlie men” (he made a similar comment in California and received criticism for this from various quarters as it deemed to be a phrase you should not make).
It was generally accepted that Schwarzenegger put on a superb display. His speech was shown live on major US television channels and pundits are already claiming that it might do G W Bush a lot of good as it had a ‘feel good’ factor in it - and it was not made by the ‘usual’ politician. “Arnold Schwarzenegger is the John Wayne of the current generation.” Rev Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority.
On the same day, Laura Bush spoke to the convention in an effort to push the family image of the president. This also included a five-minute appearance by the twins who have been kept out of the public eye since 9/11. Laura Bush described her husband as a caring man who is not the gun-ho person some portray him as. She claimed that he did not go to war with Iraq out of fun and claimed that he had faced many moral dilemmas when making the final decision.
The main speaker on Wednesday was Vice-President Dick Cheney. The main thrust of his speech was a determined attack on John Kerry. Many see Cheney as his party’s rottweiller – and he lived up to his expectations. He told the convention that Kerry was indecisive and as a senator, he (Kerry) had made the wrong decisions on many occasions.
“He talks about leading a ‘more sensitive’ war on terror as though al-Qaeda will be impressed with our softer side.”
“Although he (Kerry) voted to authorise the use of force against Suddam Hussein, he then decided he was opposed to the war, and voted against funding for our men and women in the field.”
As a comparison, Cheney was full of support for Bush.
“I have seen him face some of the hardest decisions that can come to the Oval Office – and make those decisions with the wisdom and humility Americans expect in their president.”
A very curious platform speaker earlier in the day was Zell Miller – a Democrat Senator from Georgia. He backs Bush!
“Senator Kerry has made it clear that he will use military force only if approved by the United Nations. Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending. I want Bush to decide.
G W Bush spoke for just over 60 minutes at the New York Republican convention. Though his speech contained references to domestic issues (reform of social services and health care, for example), the bulk of his speech was in reference to security, terrorism and making America “safer”.
Bush vowed to stay “on the offensive” against terrorism worldwide. He defended his decision to attack the governments in Afghanistan and Iraq and claimed that his government had “fought the terrorists across the Earth.”
“We have led, many have joined, and America and the world are safer…..We are staying on the offensive, striking terrorists abroad, so we do not have to face them here at home.”
“Do I forget the lessons of September 11th and take the word of a madman (Saddam Hussein), or do I take action to defend our country? Faced with that choice, I will defend America every time.”
Bush referred to there being no let up “on his watch” to the campaign against terrorism.
Away from foreign policy, Bush targeted 15 domestic programmes in his speech, which included education, Social Security, taxes, job training and health care.
“I believe every child can learn, and every school must teach. I believe we have a moral responsibility to honour America’s seniors, I believe the most solemn duty of the American president is to protect the American people.”
“To create jobs, my plan will encourage investment and expansion by restraining federal spending, reducing regulation, and making tax relief permanent. We will create American opportunity zones. In these areas, we’ll provide tax relief and other incentives to attract new business, and improve housing and job training to bring hope and work throughout all of America.”
Immediately after the end of the Republican convention, Bush moved 2 points clear of John Kerry in polls. However, nothing should be looked into this as the party, which is hosting its convention always moves ahead in polls immediately after its convention. More worrying for Kerry would be the polls that state that far more people believe Bush would be stronger/better as president on issues of national security than Kerry.