After the preemption of Day One of the RNC extravaganza by Hurricane Gustav on Monday, the GOP was finally off and running on Tuesday. And this time it wasn’t necessarily running away from George W. Bush. They actually let him start the evening. Sort of. One of the network anchors noticed that Bush’s video appearance from the White House was talked over by other TV figures. Ouch.
You got the feeling all night long that everyone had just sat down to dinner, biding their time talking over the standard meat and potatoes while waiting restlessly for the Baked Alaska. The big event was still ahead. But for the first time in a long time, the culmination of this convention won’t on the last day, when the nominee is formally anointed and delivers the traditional “speech of his life.” The climax of this convention comes the evening before that, when Sarah Palin makes her first big formal speech. I imagine everyone in the arena on Tuesday night was looking around and wondering if the Xcel Energy Center, would be fuller on Wednesday for Palin’s appearance. Granted, most of the vacancies were probably results of Hurricane Gustav. I’ll give ‘em that.
This was a most interesting way to reintroduce one’s party and by extension, oneself and one’s campaign. Yes, John McCain was mentioned throughout the day, but what hung over everything was Sarah Palin. Was it perhaps because we already know McCain’s story? Fred Thompson, who was the warm-up act to Joe Lieberman, began with an accounting of McCain’s early days in the military. The memories were glowingly recited, only accentuating the positive. For example, we heard about the Naval Academy alright, but nowhere was it mentioned of McCain’s poor placement as a graduate - 894th out of 899. I went downstairs to grab a piece of my husband’s homemade garlic bread and wound up having to appease our demanding dog for a few moments. When I finally returned, Thompson was still painfully intoning his way through a litany of every bruise and broken bone sustained during every long day in the Hanoi Hilton.
Look, I’m not trying to be glib or trite here, but I’ve heard this. I’ve heard the P.O.W. tale both described in all sincerity, and sold like a used car. I’ve heard it pulled out as a Magic Ouch-Away to silence any question or critic, as though it were the ever-present Neosporin tube that some moms keep in every purse to smear on their kids’ new boo-boos. I know there’ll be a veritable orgy of P.O.W. references throughout the convention’s finale, with liberal (pardon the pun) references to both 9/11 and the word maverick added in for extra zest.
We were called upon, at least by Fred Thompson, “to put country first with John McCain.” A little while later, odd-man-out Joe Lieberman got a big applause line by asking “what’s a Democrat like me doing at a Republican convention like this” and then answering that it’s to support McCain because McCain put country over party. They both, however, made those Grand Assertions after an entire day of open questioning throughout the media coverage – wondering exactly what McCain had put first by his unsettling and increasingly controversial selection of Palin.
She hung over everything, alright. I’m guessing that’s why there were some downright militant references to Subject A for the anti-abortion faithful. Evidently, it’s a priority to reinforce the GOP’s radical base and throw live chickens and pro-choice virgins at their crowd of carnivores along with the standard red meat. Thompson and Lieberman seemed determined to present a “bad cop/good cop” tag-team for the Tuesday night crowd. Thompson was the one talking blood, guts, and Rambo, while Lieberman sought to be the kinder, gentler emissary. Accentuate the positive, and try to cover the backside by talking nice about Bill Clinton and praising the wonderworks Barack Obama has the potential to do sometime farther down the road. Lieberman must think that’s all it’s going to take to be re-embraced in what looks like an increasingly Democratic Senate chamber when this is all over – and he has to face one of those big surnames again week after week.
Everyone in attendance at the convention might be forgiven for feeling a bit melancholy on the night before the big new day. They were served a study in jarring contrasts of Glory Days versus – Um – Hey, Let’s Just Forget About That Part. A fleeting tip of the hat to George Senior, Barbara, and Laura, and a video visit with George Junior changed the subject to a short film about Ronald Reagan. The film featured a leapfrog moment to presumed heir-apparent John McCain. George W. Bush wasn’t mentioned. But whether you were He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named or the Great Communicator, it didn’t matter. High or low, everyone on the bill on this night was basically a warm-up act for Ms. Great Unvetted. All these tough guys evidently don’t mind being upstaged by a girl, especially one they hope is the new political Angelina Jolie.
The First/Second/Other-First Night of the GOP convention was a night of somehow-connected disconnects. And we’ll likely know whether it all connects to John McCain before he even has his big night.