PHILADELPHIA — Republicans put some bite into their feel-good convention Wednesday night, as Dick Cheney accepted the vice presidential nomination with a scathing attack on the Clinton administration and a promise of "a better way and a stiff dose of truth."
With blunt rhetoric that belied his mild manner, George W. Bush's newly installed running mate said Democrat Al Gore would carry on a pattern of "lectures, legalisms and carefully worded denials" that characterized the last eight years. "We can restore the ideals of honesty and honor that must be part of our national life," Cheney said. "These have been years of prosperity in our land but little purpose in the White House."
On the night Bush was formally nominated as the Republican standard-bearer--and a day shadowed by the hospitalization of former President Ford--Cheney and other speakers appealed to the economic heart and political soul of the Republican Party. They rallied the faithful with calls to reduce taxes, pare back government and partially privatize the Social Security system.
And after two nights of mostly toothless attacks, the rhetoric grew notably harsher as Republicans made a more explicit and aggressive case for change. While Cheney chided President Clinton's record on issues such as education, defense and tax reform, the overriding argument was a moral one. "On the first hour of the first day," Cheney said of Bush, "he will restore decency and integrity to the Oval Office."
Despite his flat, matter-of-fact tone--more suited to a boardroom than a convention hall--Cheney drew a foot-stomping, rafter-rattling response. By turning some of the Democrats' very own words against them, he loosed a torrent of pent-up partisanship that had built inside the convention hall over two days of mostly happy talk.
He drew one of his longest and loudest ovations when he said of the Democrats: "The wheel has turned. . . . It is time for them to go."
The line, used repeatedly, was a bit of political payback--it was the same one then-vice presidential nominee Gore employed against Bush's father in the 1992 campaign--and it drew knowing cheers inside the convention hall.
As one exemplar of the probity he promised, Cheney cited Ford, who helped navigate the country through the difficult period following the Watergate scandal. It was a poignant moment; hours earlier, Ford checked himself into a Philadelphia hospital after suffering one and possibly two small strokes.
Full Recovery Seen for Ford
Throughout the day, medical bulletins vied with political developments as physicians monitored the condition of the 87-year-old ex-president, who was honored at Tuesday night's session. By Wednesday night, doctors predicted a full recovery, although Ford was expected to remain under care for several days.
The news of his sudden hospitalization was the only damper for Republicans on yet another day brimming with carefully scripted conviviality. After a five-day journey through several key states, Bush arrived in Philadelphia to a mariachi-tinged rally that included a surprise walk-on by his erstwhile foe, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Bush embraced McCain and called the former Vietnam POW "a living example of duty, honor and country. And, Senator, I can't wait to campaign with you all across our country."
Around the city, which dripped under a blanket of humidity, tensions eased considerably after Tuesday's violent protests in downtown Philadelphia, roughly four miles from the convention hall. Fifty people were arrested in a day of sporadic demonstrations, but for the most part the streets were calm.
Inside the convention hall, the serious business of formalizing the GOP ticket was mixed with a meringue of entertainment and celebrities.
Steve Young, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, provided the invocation and a special prayer for Ford's recovery; Harold Melvin's Blue Notes, in pink-sequined bow ties, performed. The program was liberally sprinkled with appearances by "ordinary people," from a fifth-generation Oklahoma farmer to a single mom from Beaver Dam, Wis., offering testimonials and their life stories.
Hector Barreto, owner of a Los Angeles financial services firm, plugged elimination of the inheritance tax, one of several GOP tax-relief bills that Clinton has vowed to veto. Barreto said Bush's election would "break the iron grip of litigation, taxation and regulation to help mom-and-pop stores, manufacturers, high-tech start-ups and family farms."
Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan addressed the convention by satellite from the city's Museum of Tolerance. But his speech calling for "a revolution" in public education was largely ignored by delegates on the floor, where a loud hum of chatter nearly drowned out the mayor.