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The Republican Convention | CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

For Republicans, It's All Manliness, All the Time

August 31, 2004|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

"This is a very big year for manliness and courage," said New York Times columnist David Brooks on PBS' "NewsHour" on Monday night.

A few minutes later, during an evening subtitled, "A Nation of Courage" (the words were projected behind convention speakers much of the night), the Republicans presented a large choir singing a medley of Armed Forces theme songs, accompanied by video of soaring jets.

The choir was followed by former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, and by a Milwaukee fire chief promising that he and the rest of his men would rush into the next big burning building for President Bush.

"You heard it right here!" a woman in a stars-and-stripes dress shouted into the C-SPAN camera.

Yes, we did. Monday night we heard it over and over: The U.S. of A. under George W. Bush will kick your butt. End of story.

Kicking your butt, it should be noted, is not necessarily the same as winning the war on terrorism. Bush, appearing Monday morning on NBC's "Today" show, seemed to concede this to host Matt Lauer: "I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world -- let's put it that way."

That sort of nuance would not have been cottoned to Monday night in Madison Square Garden. You knew the Republicans were going to play the Father/Protector card, after the Democrats tried to co-opt the military mantle at their convention in Boston last month, with a lineup of ex-generals introducing nominee John F. Kerry.

And so manliness and courage in the face of terror were the immutable twin themes of the night, although Republicans, cognizant of accusations that they would wrap the convention in imagery from Sept. 11, didn't pepper the night with glimpses of ground zero.

Instead of pictures, there were words. Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani came out shouting, "We're Americans! The land of the free and the home of the brave!" (Good Morning, Guantanamo Bay!) Giuliani then praised Bush's program of going on the offense -- as opposed to the defense -- against terrorism.

Monday evening also found actor Ron Silver telling the delegates that, yes, although he did come to them from that liberal bastion of Hollywood, he was a robust male, standing firmly behind the president's military response to Sept. 11. "The president is doing exactly the right thing. And that is why we need this president at this time," he said.

Silver seemed angry. He was seething, in fact. But since he's an actor, this is possibly not true. And later, as he was interviewed on Fox News Channel, Silver said he favored "a muscular, strong defense." Not just strong, but muscular. Asked when he last worked, Silver hesitated, then mentioned a guest shot on "Law & Order."

The least manly speech of the night, oddly, was the one from a man who had spent more than five years as a POW during the Vietnam War -- Sen. John McCain of Arizona. He was there to "bless the war in Iraq," as presidential historian Michael Beschloss said on PBS after McCain's speech. If I heard McCain right, he was telling us all to love one another.

Onstage, McCain praised Bush for his leadership but couldn't help betraying his untamed side. He began a reference to the "disingenuous filmmaker, who would have us believe that Saddam's Iraq was an oasis of peace." But he couldn't finish his sentence for all the booing, at which point cameras cut to "Fahrenheit 9/11" filmmaker Michael Moore, who was sitting in the press box as a guest columnist for USA Today.

Moore smiled, and McCain did too -- a naked TV moment shared between two miscreants who probably didn't belong here.

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